Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Fitting a doo-dah to the job

Ergonomics has nothing to do with ergo (therefore); it’s a latin/greek trick. The prefix is greek for work and the whole word is the study of man in his workplace. A comfortably grabbable kettle might well have been caressed by an ergonomist but easy to use doesn’t always mean nice to look at. The target rifle above no doubt fits the shoulder of the shooter (it’s adjustable) but it’s hardly elegant.

Ergonomics is often central to industrial efficiency, something I was supposed to know about when I was paid to write. A seminar on the subject I attended proved to be a reverse example of how careful design can help people do their job.

The seminar started – as many do – with a complete cock-up of what Americans call show-and-tell. Slides appeared upside down, in the wrong order, “flopped” or just not at all. Using the projector was non-intuitive; its ergonomics had not been tuned for the non-expert human. Speakers rested notes on a lectern that was too steeply raked; the notes repeatedly slipped off. Hilariously the microphone dangled from a necklace loop; when handed over, the next speaker had hell’s own job getting the loop over his head.

Journalism often means profiting from others’ mistakes. I reported the seminar straightforwardly, then added a comment piece. The Society of Ergonomists replied with a rueful letter which we published. During my career I attended many seminars on many subjects and I’ve forgotten them all. But not that one. Definitely a do-as-I-say, not -as-I-do.


Sir Hugh said...

"...do-as-I-say, not -as-I-do."

After years of pontificating to each other my thirty odd year old daughter and I have come up with a phrase that is now embedded in the family archive: "I think you'll find it better if you do it my way."

The Crow said...

Heavens! I wouldn't have been able to continue sitting in the audience at that performance.Either I would have been rolling in the aisles laughing my face off, or they would have had to carry me out. No matter which, I'd have been out of control with mirth!

How did you manage to get through that, BB?


Barrett Bonden said...

Sir Hugh: I'm surprised it eases any of the friction. Doesn't it regenerate it in a slightly different direction?

The Crow: Oh no. Inside, a little voice was telling me: "This is fish in a barrel. The comment piece will virtually write itself."

Avus said...

AS you say, what a wonderful job to report on.

The cock-ups are the ones we remember (Tommy Cooper would not have been so successful as a "straight" magician).

I still recall the course on "Presentation Skills" that I was required to attend. The speaker used an overhead projector with which he projected very wordy transparencies, which he proceeded to read to us. (He also stood in the way of its light frequently). Still - his negative performance certainly taught me a lot about what not to do!