Ergonomics Wednesday – 15 – Don’t be a Knob About Ergonomics

Lately I’ve been writing about the ergonomics of writing implements, hand tools and even cookware. 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 headed to the kitchen, which required opening my study door, and today’s topic hit me; doorknobs.

Yes, there is an ergonomics to opening stuff:

  • Walk through doors
  • Sliding doors
  • Car doors
  • Cupboard doors
  • Drawers
  • Sliding panels

Do you know what all of these things have in common? The same thing I complained about last week with cookware. There are two kinds of designers; aesthetic designers and user based designers.

The aesthetic designer starts with artwork, and applies it to what he is designing. It is I elegant, stylish, and even beautiful. If you’re lucky, it’s also functional.

The user based designer start with function, and the form follows.

Interesting thoughts, Andrew, but what does it mean in the real world?

Well, for example, the paint on my kitchen cabinet handles has almost all worn off, because they are too small for my hands. Being too small for my hands, I have to grip extra hard, or force my too-thick fingers behind them. In either case, the higher level of friction has worn out the paint.

By contrast, all the internal doors in my house have levers, not knobs. I can pull them up, or push them down, with great ease, so there’s no extra effort to wear on them. In contrast, every door knob I have ever met has either been too large (rarely) or too small (commonly) for my hand, so using them is uncomfortable. More so now that I’m getting arthritis in my wrists and knuckles.

What does this mean for you?

When you go shopping for door knobs, or handles, or drawer pulls, consider

  • the size of your hands
  • the height of the door latch (thus the height of the doorknob)
  • the type of door (sliding vs swinging)
  • function (drawer pull, doorknob, window pull, etc.)

All of these factors play into the comfort/discomfort you will have in repeatedly using them.