Thursday, 28 November 2013

Ergonomics of new technology changing office design

Technology we use at work is changing.  Laptops, smartphones, tablets are all providing mobility over the predominant desktop PC.  Much of this has developed to help us work on the road but it is also having an impact on the way our offices and workspaces are designed.

The shortcoming of the desktop has always been that it fixes us to a desk, a single work position.  The experience of many people suggests that whether this work position is provided in a cubicle or an open plan office, none of these environments work for all the tasks we need to do during a working day.

This mobility has meant we have discovered new workspaces like coffee shops as an alternative both for collaborative work and for solo work: for many of us there are fewer distractions sitting in the hubbub of a public space - we even came across the Coffivity app recently that pipes the coffee shop sound into our headphones!

How is office design adapting to this?  Designers are truly considering the ergonomics of the office.  By this we mean the true definition of ergonomics which is about designing around human capabilities and the performance of tasks (it's not just comfy chairs and health & safety!)

Office design now recognises that we need a range of work spaces to support different working modes and styles.

In our studio (below) as an example, we've included a single large desk that has no defined working positions - it's like  working on the kitchen table with mates and encourages people to sit together or to spread out when they need to.

This is great for encouraging collaborative team work.  New offices are proving other work spaces like coffee house/cafe spaces, meeting rooms in different forms with different media and spaces to encourage those accidental interactions.

Learning the lessons of the productivity failing of the open plan space, more offices are being design with quiet spaces where you can move and retreat when you need to.  Technology helps by not tying us down to a single space.

All this is good for our welfare.  Not only are we likely to be more productive and less stressed by spaces like open plan but it gets us moving around.  And there is nothing better for our bodies than getting up and away from our desk.

This remains important as these new technologies are changing our posture - for a great longer read on this, check out this article in Metropolis.

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Is the ticket dead?

The news that London Underground are to close ticket offices ( is set to change the nature of the "ticket" and the interaction between operator and customer.

The days of the little bit of paper clutched in our hands are clearly numbered.  Tickets moving onto our smart mobile devices creates a range of opportunities to enhance the passenger experience by offering a more joined-up, journey-orientated service.

With a ticket on a smartphone, the operator knows who you are.  This could be an enabler for more personalised and individual services.  Preferences, likes & dislikes can all be remembered and bookings and offers tailored accordingly.

The operator might also know where you are.  This might allow individual travel information to be pushed to you as you enter the station - "Welcome to King's Cross, your 12.43 train to York is running 5 minutes late and will be ready for boarding in 10 minutes from Platform 6".

Knowing where you are could help eliminate the current advance booking of seats that sit empty for the journey.  The system would only allocate the seat as you enter the station.  This could also provide more flexibility for you to change seats or even change which train you are going to get.  This could be the end of the ticket barrier too - no need to go through a gate as the "station" knows that everyone on the platform is a valid ticket holder.  No more ticket inspections?  Wouldn't that be nice.

This kind of consist information could be really useful to train operators who currently have no idea who is on their train.  It can help with ensuring passengers are spread through the train and enable a range of new personalised services to be offered on-board.

The removal of the ticket office could change the nature of the interaction between passenger and staff.  The current mode is very "over the counter" and is transactional in nature.  Removing the physical separation might allow more of a personal concierge-style service to be provided which is of more value to passengers.

The only loss is the old romance of that collectable bit of paper.  But that probably disappeared long ago anyway.

Let's hope that as this technology becomes more widespread, operators take the opportunity to provide genuinely better services to passengers and do more than get rid of some staff, sell us a ticket and push loads of advertising to our phones.

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Thursday, 21 November 2013

Wayfinding tech - does it help?

There have been a number of technology solutions emerging with the potential to support wayfinding.

For indoor environments there is a move to more dynamic signage that offers the potential to adapt the message as necessary.  A new product suggests we might also be able to do it with the floor soon -  The product uses LEDs in the carpet to be able to show pretty much whatever you want.

Indications on the floor obviously have some limitations especially in crowded environments (when you can't see the floor!) but we can see some value in moving images to encourage crowd flow or in providing supporting messages to reassure people they are moving in the right direction.  We'd see it more in encouraging behaviour rather than being used in isolation to navigate.

In an outdoor environment there is a new paint finish that is being trialled in Cambridge that glows in the dark.  The inventors claim that it could be bright enough to do away with street lights.

If it works (we saw the path soon after installation and on that evening it wasn't as glowing as the images), we can see a wayfinding value in showing primary routes through a space.

Finally, there is the ever-present Google Street View now coming to an airport near you.  Street View has now mapped the interior of Gatwick Airport allowing passengers to tour the airport before they arrive.  The wayfinding value of this is pretty limited as the chances are we will have forgotten what we have seen by the time we arrive.  

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Monday, 18 November 2013

Ergonomics Design Award 2014

Once again, CCD is sponsoring the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors Ergonomics Design Award. It always attracts a high level of entrants from across the globe, and there are now less than two months left for companies to submit an entry to this prestigious competition.

The Award is open to anyone who has worked on a project, product or design that can show ergonomics excellence. Submissions need to demonstrate some or all of the following elements: creativity, innovation, usability and a high level of client/customer satisfaction. This year for the first time, the winning entry will be able to display the Institute’s Award logo on their marketing material for the winning project as well as receiving a cash prize at the EDA ceremony at the Institute annual conference in Southampton next April.

Last year, the award was won by a team from the Loughborough Design School at Loughborough University which used ergonomics thinking to develop the UK’s first nation-wide unified livery for police vehicles and motorcycles. Previous winners have included 3M™ Speedglas™ 9000 Series and 9100 Series Welding Shields, Bombardier Transportation for ‘S’ rolling stock for the London tube network and the V.A.C. (Vacuum Assisted Closure) Via™ Negative Pressure Wound Therapy System from Kinetic Concepts Inc.

John Wood, our Executive Chairman is the lead judge and he says, "The Institute's Award aims to encourage the use of ergonomics in all areas of design by recognising and rewarding designs which demonstrate excellent ergonomics. Ergonomic thinking is making a substantial difference to the modern world with products and services which are better matched to peoples’ needs. Putting people at the heart of design will make it a better, safer and even more enjoyable world for us all. Companies that understand and apply this are finding greater commercial success and higher profits."

For more information about the award, an information leaflet and downloadable entry form, visit

Finalists will be notified in January and entrants with questions, should ring the IEHF office on 01509 234904 or email Amanda Bellamy on

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Good usability & design in changing home heating behaviour

Seeing the new Phillipe Starke designed thermostat ( made us think about the role of good usability and design in changing behaviour.

There are lots of factors in play in ensuring we heat our homes efficiently - good insulation etc.  But often ignored is the often poor usability of the thermostat and control devices that come with our heating systems.

The lack of good usability means we don't adjust the heating to reflect more accurately the use of our homes - so, for example, the heating gets left on when we are out etc.

Hopefully more systems will be able to be connected to the internet or wifi and we can start to control them through a website or smartphone app.  Then we might start to see some better usability and can gain some real control over our heating.  We want better behaviour - make it easier.

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