Ergonomics for kids is a relatively recent area of research. This new paper addresses childhood ergonomics during computer usage.
A new study by human factors researchers in Australia suggests that students’ posture is affected by the height at which they view classroom learning materials. The researchers cited computer screen displays positioned at mid-level as causing less musculoskeletal strain than high- and book-level displays. Their findings were published in the February 2008 issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
The rapid increase in computer use by children over the past few years, say the authors, “has outpaced the development of knowledge about the ramifications for the health of children.” For example, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that in 2006, 80% of children aged 5 to 14 years used a computer at home.
Carmaker Nissan Motor is using a specialized driver’s suit and goggles to simulate the bad balance, stiff joints, weaker eyesight and extra five kilograms (11lbs) that may accompany senior citizenry.
Associate chief designer Etsuhiro Watanabe says the suit’s weight and constriction help in determining functionality and accessibility within cars by putting young designers not only in the minds of the mobility-challenged, but also in their bodies.
Verizon Wireless shows no shame in revealing that its Coupe by UTStarcom ($39.99 with a two-year contract) is aimed at retirees. And when you open this clamshell, you’ll know why. Besides its large, easy-to-read screen, the device has a large numeric keypad.Though the phone has these “senior” features, it still has the mobile utilities we all demand, including a built-in speakerphone, a tip calculator, and T9 predictive text capability for text messaging.
In the past year, there has been an explosion of interest in the very low end of portable computing. This started with the introduction of the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC). Quickly followed by the Asus EEE pc, Intel Classmate PC, and Everex Cloudbook. These bare bones and ultra portable laptop computers are ostensibly targeting users who would like a computer but can’t afford one. But one topic I have yet to hear about is an analysis of the usability or human factors aspects of these machines.Only the education-focused OLPC (and maybe the Classmate PC) is explicitly targeting an international, student-aged audience. Incidentally, only the OLPC has a somewhat novel interface (dubbed Sugar). The interface is dominated by pictographs with little use of text:
Given the extremely wide audience for these types of computers, I wonder how much work has gone into testing the usability of Sugar, or the other operating systems in these machines. In addition, given the extremely varied audience (in age, educational level, technological skill level, socio-economic status, just to name a few), does this one-size-fits-all strategy work? There has been research illustrating that even within a culture, pictograms are not universally understood.
My experience with open-source software (which all of these machines can run) has been that ease of use has never been a priority. Here is a quick visual comparison of the current machines.
There was a report on electronic voting irregularities in South Carolina (during the Republican primaries last week) this morning on NPR. The person that was interviewed,a representative of the State Election Commission, naively stated that the machines were fine, but it was the users who were not following operating procedures. Here is a quote:
“Any voting system is dependent on its user following the proper operating procedures and, in this case, Horry County election officials missed a step,” he says. That step was closing out tests performed on the machines before the elections, which left some test votes still recorded and any affected machine locked up.
Unfortunately, this widespread view of blaming the user prevents designers and engineers from coming up with easier to use voting machines. If the problem lies with the user, the manufacturer/designer is off the hook in terms of fixing the problem.
From a user-centered design perspective (which has roots in human factors), you never blame the user! With the prevalence of voting system usability issues in the news, clearly, there are no usability or human factors people working within the manufacturers of electronic voting systems.
However, there is some hope. Human factors researchers Tiffany Jastrzembski and Neil Charness, at Florida State University, examined electronic voting machines to improve accuracy among older adults. The article, published in Ergonomics in Design, is a good example of applying the science of human factors to human-machine problems.