Friday, November 10, 2006


Ergonomics can apply to physical aspects, psychological, and organizational aspects:

the design and evaluation of tasks, jobs, products, environments and systems in order to make them compatible with the needs, abilities and limitations of people (IEA, 2000).

Thinking about that definition, the guiding principles of ergonomics should be: design with the end user in mind, and KEEP IT SIMPLE! According to the eminent designer, Milton Glaser: "Less isn't more; just enough is more." link. This is an interesting concept and worth contemplating as it applies to librarianship. Jim Milles has suggested that the new direction should be "just in time" librarianship, buying materials on demand for patrons rather than stockpiling them for "just in case." I would argue that libraries need something in the middle -- buy the things you are pretty sure somebody in your patron base will need or at least find helpful. Then, make sure they will stumble accross it -- point to it, display it, make sure reference and reserve staff know where to find it when a question comes up. Then, be prepared to purchase or borrow materials that are more single-use or less demand. The hard part, as we all know, is recognizing what materials fall into those two categories!

What other ways do ergonomics apply to librarianship? Obviously, the set-up and design of work spaces, both for staff and for the patrons, should be guided by ergonomic principles. The design of OPACS and web pages should also be ergonomically designed. Think about the end user, and make it simple. There are so many temptations to put buttons on the front page, so many items you'd like to highlight (see paragraph above!). And yet, clutter is the enemy of use-ability. And finally, do ergonomics apply to library organization? Wow! Maybe just apply it to the info sheets on who to call....

Interesting links about simplicity in design and ergonomics:

Cornell University Ergonomics Web link
Fantastic link page, including links to the Human Factor Design Standard at the FAA, and lots of Cornell sites as well. Lots of helpful and useful advice, including a self-help workstation set-up from a design class in 2002. Fun stuff, too. Excellent.

Bad Human Factors Designs link
Multi-year list of bad designs, with illustrations and even cute symbols to note particularly cool or new listings. Cute, and thought-provoking. The author often includes his suggestions on how to fix the bad design.

Fast Company article link: "The Beauty of Simplicity" by Linda Tischler, Nov., 2005.
An excellent article discussing the new focus on simplicity and user-oriented design. Looks at the individual who keeps Google's main page SIMPLE (Marissa Mayer brief bio), and how that came about in the first place.

Also discusses MIT Media Lab Simplicity project link, and the work there guided by Dr. Maeda link. He is not only a technorati hero, but also has a PhD in art. What a cool combination!

And the article also discusses Continuum link, a Boston-area design firm that works with clients to focus their designs. They also sponsor a design mentoring project for youth.

And lastly, the article discusses Royal Phillips link, as an example of the power and difficulty of designing with simplicity and users in mind. Follow their site in to read about their implementation of "Sense and Simplicity" (link) as a corporate philosophy, not just a marketing tag line.

Photo illustration "Keep it simple" courtesy of link

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