Martina Lundin and Lovisa Persson Hansson completed their thesis project in collaboration with us at Avalon. Martina and Lovisa studied Mechanical Engineering with Technical Design at LTH. Both of them have a passion for product development and are driven by creating great user experiences and products for everyone.

During the spring, they worked on exploring the possibilities of developing a digital tool to guide product developers in ensuring ergonomics in new products. By studying how product developers work with ergonomics today, a great need for such a tool was identified. The thesis work resulted in a prototype of a tool that helps product developers to objectively assess the product’s ergonomics, namely HOPA – Human Oriented Product Assessment. Hopefully, this can lead to more healthy products in the future!

Hello Martina & Lovisa! Why do you feel it’s important to consider ergonomics in product development?

Innovation and product development are continually enhancing people’s quality of life. However, we often observe that many products that make it to manufacturing, or even the marketplace, are not as ergonomic as one might hope. For instance, it was only in May of this year that the first crash test dummy, designed to represent women for car safety testing, was introduced. The fact that women have a higher risk of sustaining serious injuries in car accidents underlines the urgent need for inclusivity and comprehensive ergonomics in design considerations. Additionally, numerous work-related injuries due to physical strain are reported annually. Such incidents can be mitigated by creating products that are not only more ergonomic but also inclusive.

How do you perceive current practices regarding ergonomics?

Based on the information we’ve gathered through interviews, surveys, focus groups, and field studies, we’ve observed that ergonomics isn’t always an integral part of the product development process and there’s significant variability. Ergonomics is often not included in the requirements specification, which largely dictates where time and resources should be allocated. In many cases, it’s up to individual designers or engineers to make the product as ergonomic as they see fit, which is often constrained by other requirements demanding time and money. Additionally, it’s heavily reliant on experience, with those having significant expertise in ergonomics often using their intuition to design ergonomically. For others, it can be very difficult and time-consuming to find resources and recommendations for ergonomic design. In our survey, product developers stated that they have a significant need for concrete guidelines and recommendations to design ergonomically for all.

We have also noticed issues within manufacturing involving manual assembly. Even if the product offers good ergonomic conditions for the end-user, the assembly process can be very demanding for the assembler. It has been proven that a more ergonomic assembly leads to improved quality, efficiency, and cost reduction in manufacturing. For a product to be truly ergonomic, it should not only be ergonomic for consumers, but also for the assembler during manufacturing, as well as during disassembly.

Is it possible to set ergonomic limit values in design to fit all people?
We’ve found that there are indeed such values and recommendations for more ergonomic design. There are substantial variations in size, ability, and capacity within the human body. The key is to examine research and data to ensure that the design fits as many people as possible. As designers, there’s a lot we can do in the early stages of product development to reduce injuries and increase comfort, as long as we have the right guidelines.

While we have found some design recommendations and guidelines to avoid harmful strain, we have also identified a lack of them. Much of the material used in our thesis work dates from the 1960s to the 1990s. At the beginning of the 21st century, there was a noticeable shift in priority away from continuing to develop research on such guidelines. We see a significant need to continue developing ergonomic guidelines for designers in order to create healthy products in the future.

Could you tell us a bit about the project’s outcome, HOPA?

Our thesis project has resulted in HOPA – Human Oriented Product Assessment. Currently, HOPA is a prototype of a digital tool that evaluates the ergonomics of handheld products. Product developers input parameters related to the product they are developing, such as dimensions, grip, forces, repetition, and more. They then receive an assessment of the product’s ergonomics. Next, developers can also receive customized design recommendations on how to adjust their design to make it more ergonomic. We see HOPA as a valuable complement in product development, providing an objective assessment that can assist in decision-making.

How do you envision the future of ergonomics?

We hope that ergonomics will be an integral part of the product development process in the future. By making ergonomics more accessible and increasing understanding of what ergonomics actually is, we hope that investors, product development companies, purchasers, and consumers will choose to prioritize ergonomics. We see HOPA as a step in the right direction.
We’ve identified a significant need among product developers and believe that a tool like this could be a valuable addition to the design process. We hope that HOPA will become the natural choice for ergonomic design and contribute to making ergonomics an essential part of product development.