For my third post in a series focused on the benefits of ergonomic devices, I want to share the reasons behind one question I often get asked: “If ergonomic products are so great, why doesn’t everyone use them?”
In the last post, we established that there are some really strong benefits to using good ergonomic products. In fact, there are several large, well designed, long-term studies that demonstrate the benefit of using Natural split keyboards in terms of reducing pain over time and preventing injury. Since properly designed ergonomic mice and keyboards are measurably better over time, it makes sense that you might wonder why we all haven’t started using them.
In my experience, there are three types of issues that prevent ergo products from being used by everyone: awareness, difficulty in perceiving benefits, and cost concerns.
The awareness piece is pretty obvious. Ergonomic products aren’t carried as frequently as standard products, so you’re less likely to find them at the local store. That means that we, the manufacturers, have a challenge to raise awareness and educate about ergonomic benefits. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing: if customers don’t see products, they don’t buy them. If people aren’t buying ergonomic products, stores are less likely to carry them. This can be a tough hurdle. Some of my work involves raising awareness, and I’m hoping that these blog posts will help out.
Perceiving the benefits
Once people become aware of ergonomic products, the next challenge is convincing them that there’s actually a benefit to using them. There are some interesting human perceptual things going on that make it hard for people to notice what ergonomic products are doing for them. The first issue is the difference between short-term comfort and long-term comfort. The basic idea here is that it’s hard to tell how comfortable something will be a month from now when you only have a few minutes to try it in the store. Most people can relate to sitting in a chair that felt fine at first, but got progressively more uncomfortable over the course of the day. Similarly, if two keyboards feel similar in the store, you wouldn’t expect there to be a big difference over time. But, the studies show that there can indeed be a big difference.
Back to the awareness piece, this means that we, the manufacturers need to have credibility for people to believe in long-term benefits if they can’t feel them themselves during a trip to the store. My approach is to back up our claims with well-designed studies, let people know that I’m here in Microsoft’s labs working on these things, and, most importantly, to make sure that the ergonomic products we make deliver an excellent experience. Good products speak for themselves. That’s the best way to get good reviews, encourage people to become repeat customers, and provide some word-of-mouth awareness.
Another reason that people can’t quickly perceive the benefit of ergonomic products is that it is much easier to feel discomfort than it is to feel comfort. If you’re used to a certain type of product – you’re not likely to notice how uncomfortable it is. Conversely, if you’re used to the comfort of a good ergonomic product, you can more easily feel how uncomfortable a traditionally designed product is by comparison. It’s a barrier at first , however people who switch to ergonomic mice and keyboards tend to stick with them because they can quickly feel how uncomfortable traditional products are by comparison.
[Image: Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000]
The final barrier to people adapting ergonomic products is the perceived cost of using them. Of these, the first big concern is usually about learning curve. It’s usually something along the lines of “That seems hard to use, I don’t want to re-learn how to _________ [type, mouse, etc.].” There often is a learning curve associated with new products, but it’s not as big as you might think. For Natural keyboards, we’ve found that people adjust to them in two weeks on average. It depends somewhat on your typing style. If you’re a touch-typist, you’re likely to adjust faster. If your fingers cross over the centerline of the keyboard while typing, it’s going to take you a bit longer to adjust (because crossing over the split in the keyboard will be more difficult on a split, and you’ll have to unlearn this behavior). For Natural mice, there isn’t a learning curve. People can point just as quickly as with a traditional mouse immediately. However, the Natural mouse does feel a bit strange in the hand for roughly 3 days as you get used to the new posture.
Another practical barrier includes the fact that ergonomic products tend to be a little more expensive than traditional products (again, often due to the lower sales rates). Microsoft’s ergonomic products are not our cheapest products. But, they’re not our most expensive either. So, what can I say? The data on the benefits of our ergonomic products speaks for itself. Everyone has to make up their own minds about what they’re willing to spend for comfortable mice and keyboards.
People have concerns about costs that you may have to pay now for ergonomic benefits that you receive over the long term creates inertia against switching to ergonomic products. The attitude is something along the lines of “I feel fine today, so why should I worry about it?” The answer is that there’s a lot to potentially lose and relatively low cost if you look at it over the long-term. The transition period is very short when you consider that you’re going to be using a computer for your whole life.
If you have a story about pain at the computer, or if you have a story about a product that has helped you, I’d love to hear from you. That concludes my three-part blog series, but it won’t be my last post!
-Dr. Dan, Certified Professional Ergonomist