Ergonomics Wednesday – 14 – Let’s Get Cooking on Ergonomics

Last week I wrote about the ergonomics of writing implements, and the week before the ergonomics of hand tools. I’ve been doing these less obvious topics to continue expanding on the idea of ergonomics being about more than your desk chair, keyboard and mouse (although I have written about all of those things), it is:

an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely

— called also biotechnologyhuman engineeringhuman factors

Because of this, ergonomics is an entire field of engineering. No, seriously, you can get a degree in this stuff. Ergonomists apply psychology and physiology to design, with the intent to make products, processes and systems easier and safer to work with, resulting in greater safety, comfort and productivity.

So, what about the terrible pun in the headline? I mean, there’s got to be a terrible pun in the headline, right?

Well, yes.

You see, an hour ago when I was trying to think of a topic for today’s post I was failing miserably, so I went to make myself a nice cup of tea. I think better with a hot cup of caffeine beside me.

Anyway, I was picking up the kettle to pour the water in the teapot when it hit me, cookware.


Those two common kitchen objects, the kettle and the teapot illustrated for me a very important point in the ergonomic world. There are things that are designed to look nice, and there are things designed “so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.”

My kettle has a nice, thick, curved, textured plastic handle.

  • It fits my hand comfortably
  • The handle conducts no heat from the kettle to my hand.
  • The weight of the water is below my hand, not cantilevered off to the side

In short, it’s safe and comfortable.

In contrast, my lovely little Brown Betty teapot, whose handle is at the back of the pot, is too narrow, smooth, and too close to the body of the teapot itself. What does this mean for ergonomics? It:

  • Is harder to hold because it’s small and narrow
  • Is slippery in the hand
  • Requires a lot more strength from the cantilever action of the weight of tea inside
  • Is too close to my knuckles so they can touch the hot body of the teapot

Now, I love my little Brown Betty, and wouldn’t make tea in anything else, it makes a truly wonderful cup of tea. However, it is terribly designed from an ergonomics standpoint.

Having discovered today’s topic, cookware, I took a look around my kitchen and I noticed this dichotomy extends to more than kettles and teapots. We have:

  • Pots and pans with large, comfortable, insulated handles
  • Pots and pans with narrow, uncomfortable, bare metal handles
  • Pot lids with big, heavily insulate knobs
  • Pot lids with tiny knobs you need a dishrag to grasp (so you don’t burn your fingers)
  • Knives with small, poorly contoured handles
  • Knives with larger, well contoured handles
  • Coffee mugs with big, easy to grasp handles
  • Coffee mugs with crappy little handles so small I hold the cup, not the handle

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Years ago I took a course at the Ontario College of Art and Design. While I learned a crap ton of stuff about design, the thing I learned that really stuck with me is this,

There are designers who design for art, and designers who design for the user.

When you are shopping for kitchenware, make sure you pick up what you are buying. It may look beautiful and stylish, but there is a much more important question. Will it be easy and comfortable to use?

A “yes” answer to that question is the most important thing you should look for in your every day tools, whether screwdriver, pencil, or paring knife.