“Sensing” our need for technology

A recent research article I read brought to light a fascinating concept.  What if technology was not designed for us, but rather our needs were “sensed” and technology was developed based on those needs?

The article “User Experience as a Challenge for Cognitive Psychology and Ergonomics. Mauro Marchitto and José J. Cañas” discusses this very cool idea.  From an ergonomics perspective, this concept ventures beyond the ergonomics manta “fit the worker to the task, not the task to the worker” and adds a new dimension.  This dimension could be described as “sense the workers’ needs, then design the task” (perhaps this will become a more fitting mantra!).  The authors of the article suggest that the focus of evaluating user performance with technology is changing to an exploration of how humans “sense” while using technology and what positive experiences they have.  This is based on the concept that technology for humans “is a means, not an end. The end is the experiences they engender, the stories we tell, and the way that they enriched our lives”. (Krippendorff, 1989)  This concept has been referred to as “emotional usability” and focuses on how we feel when we use something.  If we feel good, entertained, stimulated, motivated, etc., while using a certain type of technology, then that type of technology we will use more often and it will potentially enrich our life.

To tie emotional usability into ergonomics, I think of many ways this could be used to promote key ergonomics concepts.  One of these is posture.  People want to change their posture and feel better at work, but posture is hard to change, and when the going gets tough, posture is forgotten.  Could there be some sort of technology where changing your posture to reduce ergonomics risk factors makes you feel good?  Entertained?  Motivated?  Is there a computer program that could be designed to induce a positive feeling upon reaching a good posture?  Is there a chair that could be designed that provides positive feedback to postural changes?

Even better from an ergonomics point of view is having designers observe workers with no particular type of technology in mind.  Observations of how people work; biofeedback with regards to breathing, heart rate, perspiration; determinations of how people are feeling – positive or negative – with various tasks; questionnaires with regards to motivation after performing certain tasks could all be quite helpful in designing for humans.  Results from these tests combined with tasks that need to be performed could be analyzed to come up with some very creative designs for reducing challenges at work.

This is a wonderful concept that I hope to see more of in the future.  For more information, please visit this link to the article:

http://www.humantechnology.jyu.fi/articles/volume7/2011/Marchitto-Canas.pdf

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