Making Things Better: An ergonomics exhibition at the Design Museum

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Design

Abstract

Ergonomics has been described as the science of everyday life. It's an interdisciplinary field which uses knowledge of human performance in conjunction with design and engineering in order to create systems, products and processes which are safe, efficient and enjoyable to use. It's not restricted to work domains, since there are ergonomic issues whenever we interact with any kind of artefact - from a mobile phone to a commercial airliner. Nor is it just about chair design or human-computer interaction - recent ergonomics success stories have been in the realms of transport safety and patient safety, for example. Indeed, some believe ergonomics will come into its own in the 21st century, as technology comes to play a more prominent role in our lives. These are exciting times in ergonomics.With such broad relevance, it is perhaps surprising that the field isn't more widely acknowledged. There is a certain perception amongst ergonomists that wider acceptance of the discipline remains limited. As such, people persist with 'old views' of human error - more often than not, it seems, when problems arise it is the people who usually get the blame. If a user cannot operate their mobile phone, they might write themselves off as technophobic. If an accident happens at work, the employer will likely take remedial or disciplinary action against the individual(s) concerned. Rather, we would like to see a more ergonomic stance against such issues - look at the design of the equipment or the procedures to see why the humans were making errors in the first place.Thus the aim of this project is to 'give ergonomics away' - to run a public exhibition on ergonomics at some of the key science centres in the UK, with the intention of bringing ergonomists and the public together to enhance appreciation of ergonomics and its relevance in today's society. The exhibition will run initially at the Design Museum in London, before moving on to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, and then to At-Bristol. There are long-term plans to take it to other venues afterwards as well. The tangible nature of ergonomics makes it something everyone can relate to, and this will be reflected in the exhibits, which will be designed to intrigue and enthuse as well as demonstrate the scope of ergonomics. One aspect which we particularly intend to get across is the way that the same ergonomics principles apply across consumer products and more complex systems. For instance, the same types of errors you might make in setting your alarm clock led to the crash of a commercial airliner in 1992. At the exhibition you'll be able to find out why.To complement the exhibition, we will run special events at each location, such as public seminars and invited receptions at the opening and closing ceremonies, which will facilitate a dialogue between researchers and consumers of the science. It is equally important to us that we ensure the engagement process is two-way - we would like to see more researchers and practitioners making their work accessible and relevant to today's society.At the end of the project, we plan to demonstrate an improved awareness of ergonomic issues and increased prominence on the scientific agenda as a direct result of the exhibition. By raising its profile in this way, we hope that people will be encouraged to become more informed consumers, employers and employees.

Publications

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Young M (2012) An ergonomically designed ergonomics exhibition: lessons from and for public engagement in Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science