Dr. Dan Odell is a Design Ergonomist and User Researcher in Microsoft Hardware Group and he is currently visiting Australia (came all the way from the States). I was given an honor to meet up with him and Dan Bleakman from Howorth for a short breakfast meeting today.
It was a short but valuable meeting as we talked about the importance of having ergonomics keyboard/mouse set-up and how his team at Microsoft has spent a lot of time in the research, design, manufacturing, and also testing of the ergonomic products before they hit the shelves.
According to a research done by Microsoft Australia, about 49% Victorians (Note: Victoria is a state in Australia) have suffered from repetitive strain injuries and back pain while sitting in front of their computer desks. The causes varied but having a cheap keyboard and mouse set-up definitely adds to the cause! It’s funny as how people don’t want to spend their money on an ergonomic keyboard and a mouse and say that they actually feel the same as the cheap ones.
According to Dan (and my own personal experience), you won’t feel the difference by using an ergonomic hardware on a short period of time. I actually felt this when I stopped using my Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 keyboard to review a non-ergonomic keyboard. I could feel the stiffness on the new keyboard and gave me an uncomfy feeling when I had a long chat session with friends. You can’t appreciate the comfort of an ergonomic keyboard until you stop using it (which is true in life – you’ll never appreciate what you have until you lose it!).
There are lots of process involved from getting an ergonomic product ready from the business proposal (“What we are going to make”) until it hits the shelves. According to Dan, the process normally takes about 12-18 months. It involves people from the industrial designers, user researchers, marketing, engineers, and others to make the “complete package”. Before you even see the final product, there could be 4-5 design prototypes involved during the process, with up to 20 testers helping out.
Dan himself has a shoulder injury, developed from bad posture composition over the span of 3 years. Who else knows better whether a product is ergonomic or not than Dan himself? You can also see customers’ testimonials on the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000 such as:
Fingers have stopped hurting and that was really the whole point of getting this keyboard
I got this to use at work after having some aching in my wrist from using a traditional mouse for 8 hours a day. The ergonomic mouse really got rid of the wear and tear on my wrist with its very comfortable grip and feel
Too much time at my laptop was causing neck, back, and wrist pain. I raised the laptop so that screen was at eye level, and purchased this keyboard and mouse. Spending the same amount of time on the computer, but my pain has disappeared.
Now, there are also complaints and all that from the customers but some of them are just because they are not used to using an ergonomic hardware. I had this weird feeling at first too when I typed with the Comfort Desktop 5000 keyboard but after a few days of actually typing on it, it felt sensational and more comfortable than the other keyboards I’ve used (I was sponsored to review it but this is my pure and honest feedback!)
So, if you are still using a cheap keyboard and mouse set-up, it is time for you to think again. There must be a reason why Microsoft launched products such as these. Most of you may think that it’s just some marketing strategy to squeeze some money out of your pocket. I challenge you to actually pick up an ergonomic keyboard, really use it (and ONLY it) for a few weeks, and then go back to your old cheapo keyboard. If by the time you still think that it’s the same, feel free to ask for a refund. Chance is that you will keep the ergonomic keyboard and throw away your old one!
Don’t wait until you get an injury especially if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer. Injuries don’t happen instantly – they build up over the years without you realizing it. A hundred bucks is nothing compared to the pain you’ll suffer for the rest of your life and there is no amount of money that can heal you up by then.
In the meantime, check out an interview with Dr. Dan Odell at Microsoft.com