The importance of healthy computing

An interview with Edie Adams, certified professional ergonomist

Q: What is ergonomics?

A: Ergonomics is the science that addresses human performance and well-being in relation to jobs and activities, equipment, tools, and the environment. Ergonomics applies an understanding of the physical, sensory, cognitive and emotional aspects of people in order to make safe, effective, comfortable and desirable products.

Q: Describe how you became an ergonomist.

A: I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, where I learned about human behaviour and research into what people do. I also have a graduate degree in environmental design in industrial design, where I learned about how things come to be in the built environment through design.

When I was learning to be an industrial designer, it seemed that my best ideas for products came from what I knew about people, so I made an effort to use that knowledge more in my work. As I was finishing my graduate work, professional recognition of ergonomics was beginning. I saw value in the credential so I did what I needed to do to become a certified professional ergonomist (CPE).

Q: How did you get connected to Microsoft?

A: In 1991, Microsoft was designing what was to become Microsoft Mouse 2.0. They came to me seeking help with understanding human capabilities and limitations related to hands. I was already in Seattle doing ergonomics training and design, and I was able to help out a bit. I have been doing ergonomics as part of product design and user experience ever since. Microsoft has long been committed to great computing experiences through exceptional hardware.

Q: Why should people care about the ergonomic design of their mice and keyboards?

A: Mice and keyboards are the tools we use every day to access our online worlds of productivity, social interaction, entertainment, and self-expression. The myriad benefits of technology are made accessible to us primarily through our interaction with mice and keyboards. All the experiences we have with technology build upon this foundation of physical comfort. Why wouldn’t someone care about making that the strongest foundation possible?

Q: What kind of injuries can result from poor ergonomics?

A: The categories of injuries are called cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) or repetitive strain injuries (RSI). They’re mainly soft tissue or musculoskeletal injuries that defeat the body’s natural defences over time. If you twist your ankle when you are out for a trail run, you can identify exactly the cause of your stiffness and pain. But if your wrist aches it can be hard to even remember all the activities you did with your arms and hands, and you may wrongly attribute causality to a co-occurrence.

There are three main factors that contribute to the development of a CTD: Position (how you hold your body, such as the angle at your wrist); Force (how much muscular effort to hold still or to move your body); and Frequency (how often you find yourself in awkward postures or using excessive or prolonged muscular exertions).

Knowing these factors and recognizing when they show up in your own activities can help you make good choices about using your computer most comfortably. Prevention is so much more effective. Look to the Healthy Computing Guide for some tips and tricks to effectively enhance your comfort while using your computer.

Q: Why are Microsoft Comfort Curve and Natural products difference-makers in preventing or avoiding these types of injuries?

A: The underlying geometry of the keyboard and the structure of the mouse are designed specifically to support the human body as you use your computer. These products look different because they are different. Their design is optimized for physical comfort. When you put your hands on them, you feel that difference.

Finding the right keyboard and mouse to meet your situation is key to experiencing comfort. A mouse should support the top of the palm of your hand so that your fingers can drape over the mouse and click the buttons with very little finger movement, while keeping your wrist flat. Likewise, a keyboard should let your fingers float over the keys, keeping your wrists flat.

Q: How did you develop your designs for Microsoft ergonomic products?

A: The designs for the new Sculpt keyboard and mouse started with a deep connection to our customers. We started by asking, “What is going to make the biggest difference to our end users?” When the answer was comfort, we built on all the research and investigation that had gone into our Microsoft Hardware ergonomic products since we launched Microsoft Mouse 2.0, and the first Microsoft Natural Keyboard in the mid-1990s. Along the way, hundreds of users have contributed their feedback to our ergonomic products through user trials, model evaluations, ergonomics assessments, and posture/performance studies.

Meeting our users’ needs in the designs of our mice and keyboards takes an incredibly talented and dedicated team of folks. The comfort of the devices needs to be matched by exceptional engineering and flawless functioning. Collaboration across disciplines as the product is being designed, manufactured and marketed ensures that the user gets the full benefit of all that comfort!