My colleague, Blake McGowan, a board-certified ergonomist, is in Austin, Texas this week gathering the latest research at the 2017 HFES International Annual Meeting. An estimated 1,200 professionals will attend this conference to learn how to improve workplaces, systems, and tools to better accommodate people.
Understanding human factors, or person-centered design, is something most of us don’t think about on a daily basis. Ergonomists, kinesiologists, engineers, and other professionals from varying fields are generally tasked to “figure us out”. For instance, when a product is in the design phase, they consider each sense and presumably ask, “Can the average person see it? How loud does the decibel need to be to hear it? Can we grasp it?” Imagine if those questions weren’t asked. What if the chief engineer at a major automotive manufacturer didn’t consider human factors? We’d be lost somewhere on Route 66, at the bottom of a ditch, or worse, dead.
Recently, I ran a 100K trail relay just west of Ann Arbor. In the early fall, when colors begin to change from green to yellows and reds, the terrain is beautiful—so beautiful that if you’re not paying attention to where you’re going, you’re bound to get lost. Luckily, the race organizers place color-coded flags to direct the runners along their four to ten-mile leg. Each team, comprised of five runners, is expected to complete at least three legs, totaling 10 to 15 miles.
During my last leg, yellow flags marked my path. Halfway through the leg, after descending a steep hill, I came to a screeching halt. Too much yellow. All the trees, leaves, and grasses were the same shade as the flag. The human eye could not have spotted the flag quick enough to proceed without delay. At this junction, I could have gone straight, to the left, or to the right. I’ve known people, including myself, who have run an extra mile (or four) in the wrong direction during similar trail races. With temperatures in the mid-90s, running an extra half-mile was not an option. I examined the entrance of each new trail for my marker. Seconds were wasted—minutes, perhaps. If this was a work-related activity, production delays and injuries could have occurred.
Well, I eventually found the yellow flag and took a photo to prove it.