Nature and Ergonomics

As I wrote in an earlier post (Cognitive Ergonomics; June 2010), cognitive ergonomics is a branch of ergonomics that deals with how the brain interacts with a task and how this can be optimized.  In a working sense, the purpose of cognitive ergonomics is to allow your brain understand things more clearly and quickly.  One way to help your brain understand things is to redesign equipment and/or tasks.  An example of this would be to redesign a user manual so information can be found easily and rewriting the manual so that explanations are clearer.  But what about other outside factors that affect mental cognition?  Are there other more organic things that can help your brain be more efficient and creative?  This came to mind recently while reading this article: “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature”; Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan; Department of Psychology, Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering, and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan  The authors were interested in exploring links in cognition to natural environments vs. urban environments as related to the Attention Restoration Theory (ART).  The ART is a belief that being in nature will improve concentration by allowing involuntary attention to take over while giving voluntary attention a time to replenish (involuntary attention is when you concentrate on things in your environment that are stimulating, while voluntary attention is when you tell your mind to concentrate on something).  The authors predicted that once you give your voluntary attention a break, you will be better able to concentrate when you get back to the task at hand.  This prophecy was validated as they found that the subjects who walked in nature were able to perform a directed-attention task better that the subjects who walked in a downtown urban environment.  In a second task, even just looking at pictures of nature improved performance in the task.

The best thing about the results of this study is that it is so easy to implement nature into our daily lives to improve our concentration and creativity.  If you work near a park or nature reserve, walks during the work day will help your attention and focus improve.  If you don’t work near nature, looking at pictures of nature allows you the same break in order to recharge your concentration.  So sit back, enjoy the view, and work better.


Ergonomically designed pill bottle

I recently read an article titled “THE NEXT GENERATION PILL BOTTLE: AN ERGONOMICS APPLICATION OF PATIENT-CENTERED DESIGN METHODOLOGY; Beril Behruz, Jackie Herriage, Yalda Khashe, Yixin Luo, Jae Kim, Mansour Rahimi; Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, University of Southern California”…/SHS/SHS…/Behruzb_SHS2012paper.doc

This was a very interesting article on redesigning the common pill bottle for easier use, especially among elderly patients.  I think everyone, not just the elderly, can attest to the problems with the current pill bottles:  small font is difficult to read, caps are hard to unscrew, warnings and drug interactions are on a separate piece of paper, pill bottles all look the same, etc.  This can result in mix-ups when taking medication, taking expired medications, and taking medications at the wrong time.

The redesigned bottle looks great.  It has:

  • Three sides which makes it easier to grip and easier to read (by panel not circling around);
  • Font is bigger and clearer making it easier to read;
  • Warnings and drug interactions are right on the bottle;
  • A picture of the medication, a description, and a picture of what organ the medication is for;
  • The name of the medication on all three sides to reduce errors in taking the wrong medication;
  • A calendar for tracking medication;
  • A colour coded band to indicate frequency of medication;
  • A side pocket with supplementary information;
  • A flip top for easier opening and one hand use;
  • Blue highlighting instead of yellow for easier reading.

The design still needs to be evaluated to make sure it is user friendly.  The team will use:

  • Time measurement studies to determine the speed at which patients find the information;
  • User surveys and eye tracking studies to evaluate how easy it is to read and how clear it is;
  • Data collection in field studies to see if errors are reduced;
  • Customer satisfaction surveys to see how much frustration or confusion the patient feels;
  • Another look at providing child proofing for the lids so the new design can be adopted.

I have no doubt that this new design will be an improvement on the current prescription pill bottle.  This is a great example of “fitting the task to the person, not the person to the task”.  With these improvements, patients will be able to take their medication with less confusion, less errors, less physical strength, and more confidence and safety.  A truly “ergonomically designed” product!