Cognitive Ergonomics

Most of the time ergonomics is portrayed as something that can help your physical environment.  For example, lumbar support in your car seat to maintain the natural curve of your spine, tools that have their grips at a right angle to maintain a neutral wrist position, and keyboard trays that adjust in height so that you can keep your elbows at a proper 90 degree angle.  But ergonomics is also something that can help you cognitively – that is, ergonomics can be used to help your brain understand things more clearly and quickly.  Take instruction manuals for example:  who hasn’t bought something that comes with a manual that is extremely hard to understand?  If ergonomics was a factor when that manual was written, it would have been written with the end user in mind (“fitting the task to the person, not the person to the task”).  Instructions manuals should be clear and concise without a lot of technical jargon.  The table of contents should have relevant sections that are easy to find and well marked.  Each section should be clearly marked and consistently started in the same way e.g. bold lettering within a lightly colored box.  Pictures and diagrams should be abundant.

Another example of cognitive ergonomics is exit signs on the highway.  If exit signs are not clear and the exit name/end location changes from sign to sign, it will be difficult for people to find their correct exit.  Without ergonomically designed signs that are consistent for each exit, combined with signs that announce the next exit; people are more apt to get lost.  People also become more dangerous drivers as they search for their exit because they are paying less attention to driving.  One last example to put it in to perspective:  if cars didn’t have a low gas flashing indicator on the dashboard, how many more cars would you see on the side of the road out of gas?


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