Chapter 23: Selling ‘Ergonomic’ Products: Different Approaches for Different Applications

by Guy Osmond

Practitioner summary

This chapter considers issues in the selling of ‘ergonomic products’, emphasising different approaches for different applications: individual, departmental and organisational. The supply of ‘ergonomic’ products is most effective in individual cases to address disabilities or musculo-skeletal problems. In dealing with new activity or specific departmental needs, ‘ergonomic’ product vendors can be highly effective but are often introduced after problems have started to arise. In enterprise installations, ergonomics may be sidelined by aesthetic considerations. IT channel companies are now involved in the supply chain of ‘ergonomic’ products but may have no idea about their function of purpose.

Chapter quotes

“In the context of office furniture, workstation accessories and (especially) seating, the word ‘ergonomic’ is widely used and widely misrepresented. Many products are marketed as ‘ergonomic’ in much the same unregulated way that foods are labelled as ‘low fat’ and all sorts of products are labelled ‘eco’ or ‘green’.”

“British ergonomists tend to think that no product can be ‘ergonomic’ in and of itself: it must be given a context and an application before the situation can be considered ergonomic. In US English, this differentiation is often not made and products are routinely described as ‘ergonomic’, frequently by ‘ergonomic consultants’.”

“Whilst in no way underestimating the contribution of, for example, an occupational health professional, it is most important that they keep up-to-date with product information as well as their own medical knowledge. To this end, many consultants and occupational health professionals have their own preferred ‘ergonomic’ product vendor, whom they contact for specific product knowledge and intervention advice.”

“Barriers to early interventions are often caused by silo cultures within organisations and interested parties not being involved early enough.”

“There is a substantial demand for ‘ergonomic’ products and a strong cohort of capable and knowledgeable organisations to deliver them, together with the training, support and customer service necessary for optimal interventions. However, the understanding of ergonomics, its role and its benefits is inconsistent, and many outside the ergonomics community have only a superficial understanding of what it entails and what it can achieve.”

Practitioner reflections (scroll down to add your own reflection)

Reflection by Lisa Duddington (author of Chapter 24)

The misrepresentation of the word ‘ergonomic’ is very interesting as I’ve also noticed the same in the field of User Experience. Many designers now sell themselves as UX Designers, many agencies claim to do UX but in reality they do not. When looking for a new hairdryer I couldn’t help but notice the amount of products claiming to be ‘ergonomic’ that clearly weren’t. It’s become a marketing gimmick.

On the ‘Apple look and feel’ in many products, we’re seeing this also in UI design. Despite the increased awareness of usability and the vast amount of UX designers now in the world, we’re still seeing form win over function. A recent trend is clear call-to-action buttons placed over photographs. It goes against everything we’ve learnt works with a call-to-action button but visually it looks very Apple-like, even if it often has poor contrast and bad readability.

About drclairewilliams

I am a senior consultant at Human Applications and Visiting Research Fellow in Human Factors and Behaviour Change at the University of Derby. Most of my work just now deals with leadership and culture in the health and safety realm; trying to support organisations to take a systems approach to understanding behaviour. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @claire_dr
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