Ergonomics: a key to success

Ergonomics: a key to success

Central to Fujitsu's success in the commercial PC arena has been its commitment to ergonomics, as a key differentiator between its products and its competitors.

Perhaps springing from Nordic traditions of good design, it is a commitment now demonstrated through the Fujitsu ergonomics labs, where the useability of all kinds of computer hardware and software is tested.

The ergonomic labs operate as a separate business unit and provide consultative support to the Fujitsu design teams.

"Our design philosophy is that we take the ergonomics people into the product development," says consumer product's useability man-ager Juhami Vitikkala.

He and a small group of specialists such as engineer Jarkko Mattila believe the input they provide has given Fujitsu an edge over its competitors.

One of the more recent developments to pass through the labs has been the x105 ergonomic split keyboard. The x105 began life in 1991, when the team tested a number of keyboards to build up a useability database based on the ISO 9241 standard for keyboards.

From this emerged the traditionally styled ergonomic keyboard currently sold with Fujitsu systems. But the research also gave rise to the possibility of an entirely new style of ergonomic keyboard, based on natural hand positions. What emerged was a sloped keyboard with keys separated for both hands, perhaps most resembling the Microsoft Natural keyboard.

The key difference is that the keyboard can be physically reconfigured back to standard keyboard layout. Designed for high-speed touch-typists, it also gives two-finger bashers the opportunity to adapt to a new mode of typing without an awkward learning period.

"We believe that ergonomics is letting people adjust their own work," says Vitikkala. "We believe that people are the best judges of their own work, and so they are able to tell themselves. So we seek to give people the most flexibility they can have in their work space. That was one of the goals of designing the x105 keyboard."

While many developers design from the point of view of meeting the needs of an average user, Mattila says there are very few average users in the world.

"We don't seek an average sample, but we seek the extremes, and try to make it as comfortable for everyone rather than simply getting the average and only covering the one point in the middle," says Mattila.

"We are not trying to only fulfil standards, we are trying to fulfil the needs of users."

While the x105 represents an area where the labs had direct input into product development, much of its work is in testing products already on the market.

These include input devices, monitors and software, and a new range of notebook PCs. While the team uses traditional methods such as observation and user feedback, it has also developed its own custom software for measuring the useability of such things as pointing devices.

At the end of the day, the key factor is useability. "I believe it's not the technology any more," says Vitikkala. "it's the combination of software and technology in such combinations that our customers are able to use them without any outside assistance."

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