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  Ergonomics (Greek, ‘work-organization’) is the relationship of design to the way men and women actually use objects. Its purpose is to increase efficiency, comfort and safety. As an intuitive process ergonomics has always been a factor in design. A spade or a knife, for example, must be designed in such a way as to do its work, or there is no purpose in making it at all. (In recent years we have seen ‘ergonomically designed furniture’, which suggests that traditional chair-shapes and table-shapes completely misfitted the needs of the users—and which baffles as many present-day users as it benefits.)

A notable exponent of good ergonomic practice is the 18th-century English pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood, who tested his teapots in his own kitchen for balance, stability, ease of pouring and other such practical properties. As a ‘science’, however, ergonomics developed during World War II when ergonomists studied the working environment of such people as fighter pilots and submarine crews. They studied the most efficient way of using the available space and operating the controls, and applied scientific research to matters such as the range of the human eye or the power of the hand grip. After the war the same research techniques began to be applied to the design of domestic appliances, factory machinery, vehicles and so on. However, in spite of the huge amount of literature and research into the subject, many believe that ergonomics is not an exact science but only a small component in the design process. But it has undoubtedly improved the areas of comfort and use, and is particularly beneficial in designing for the old, sick and handicapped. CMcD



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