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I don't know who designed this chair but they didn't use Project Dreamcatcher

I don't know who designed this chair but they didn't consider ergonomics

A recent thread on Reddit proclaimed:

I don't know who designed this chair but they are the devil. I'd like to sit and wait for the train without developing scoliosis.

The discussion in the thread seems to settle on a number of things about the design:

  • the chair is not aesthetically pleasing
  • the designer wanted to make a chair that people would only sit on if they really had to, an elderly person who was tired for example, and
  • the chair would not be comfortable to sleep on so that people would not loiter in the train station
  • it may be part of a public art installation
Chairs are often designed with poor ergonomics to make sleeping in public places uncomfortable
These chairs are not meant for sleeping on - Image by Alan Light and shared under the Creative Commons 2.0 License

As a designer, it's good to create things that generate discussion. It's preferable that the dicsussion is positive and that what you have created is a deemed as useful and beneficial to the target audience.

The Autodesk Research Ergonomics Group wants to help you make things that are well received for their human factors. The Ergonomics Group aims to put the human at the centre of the design process. Whether you are creating something as large as a community, an office, house or factory, a vehicle, a handheld tool, a shoe or as small as a medical device that might correct a fractured bone, torn muscle or blocked artery, designing these things with human ergonomics in your toolset will help.

Considering the variety of scales that humans operate at, from very small with blocked arteries all the way up to very large when placed in a community, the Ergonomics Group is researching the navigation and visualization of multiscale datasets. In thinking about this scale, one example of the kind of things the group is looking at is called Splash. Splash helps to keep some representation of the dataset available and running in real-time so that you can always work in context.

Autodesk Research Splash Framework for Real-Time Navigation and Visualization of Complex Datasets
The data used in the Splash example may not look exactly like a human. If you combine this framework with the model being pursued by the Parametric Human Project it may make more sense.

The Parametric Human Project brings together industry and academic experts to create a fully functional, data-driven, digital human model. Working from the inside outwards, project members have captured high resolution scans of bones and the tissues that cover and connect them.

Scanned Arm Muscles from the Parametric Human Project
Scanned Arm Muscles from the Parametric Human Project
Over time, this project aims to add the human biomechanics, so an arm moves like a human arm, and parametric controls so that you could tune your digital human model, intelligently interpolating between physically correct models to represent a variety of things like age or physical impairments. A doctor may use this to compare injuries of their patients to known datasets to choose the best course of recovery.
Taking this back to our chair example, as a designer, this research may help you to answer:

Is this digitally designed chair comfortable? 

Autodesk Research Ergonomics Group Wants to Know if this Digital Chair is Comfortable

Comfortable is somewhat subjective but for a chair could include things like:

  • Does it prevent fatigue and support good posture?
  • Is it free of awkard pain points?
  • Are the arm rests positioned well or sufficiently adjustable?
  • Is it easy to get in and out of?
  • Could you write an exam to join a secret organization that supervises extraterrestrial lifeforms while sitting in this chair? 

One of the best ways to determine that today is to build or print a physical prototype. As good as a solution as that it, it can be both time consuming and costly. Prototypes are often designed to test certain product qualities like so you may need multiple prototypes to test things like:

  • Is the chair strong enough to support an average adult?
  • Is this combination of foam and fabric aesthetically pleasing and comfortable?
As this works develops, we can imagine a future state where you could use your digital human to design the intial proportions of your chair and then place the digital human in the chair to test it against your comfortability measures.

The Parametric Human Project is welcoming new contributors who may help in a variety of ways - from doing research to providing equipment and funding - please join in if you can.

The Parametric Human Project


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Jamie Ibbett

Having worked for many years with ergonomics, I can say this is great to see as an initiative. Every design that is human centric for me starts with the user. In one instance though working on a medical device, that there is very little available on the data side regarding ergonomics as they relate to the aging population which involves it's own nuances. Having looked through even what the military has on hand there is very little useful data and what does exist is pain staking to trawl through. There are two decent books and the usual adjustable cards that most designers use and they are very dated in their scope now. I would love to be involved in any way possible. I also think it would be worth speaking with a physio therapist (my fiancee is one) as she could enlighten you on many issues surrounding poor design.

Mark Gorecki

Just my two cents, taking queues from the first part of this article. Wheras ergonomics is important in designing items used in public places, it is also important to think about the mentality of society. Leather upholstery and thick padding would be nice to sit on while witing for your train, but how long before it's ripped to shreds? Using an aesthetic material as the "shell" for your item, can that material be coated so that markers, spray paint, etc. can be removed easily? As in the picture at the start, in certain areas you wouldn't want people taking up multiple seats to sleep on the, so your design would be a success if sleeping would be made impossible. Human thoughts and actions play a huge part, in my mind, when you design for public use.

Mark Gorecki

Checking my spelling and grammar should be just as important. :-)

Cory Mogk

@Jamie, thanks for the feedback - we'll talk live soon! We do have a biomechanics expert on staff (http://autodeskresearch.com/people/jeremymogk) and are trying to work with others.

Could you list the books and cards just to make sure we're on the same page?

Cory Mogk

@Mark, this is a very good point. I have a follow -up post planned on how one might design a chair with Project Dreamcatcher so that one could explore the possible outcomes of using different materials as you mention. Stay tuned!

Cory Mogk

The follow-up post is now live: http://autodeskresearch.typepad.com/blog/2014/08/i-dont-know-who-designed-this-chair-but-they-didnt-use-dreamcatcher.html

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