SUNY/Buffalo Department of Architecture

Ergonomics in Design (Spring '11)

Edward Steinfeld, Instructor

Course Description


Ergonomic design is a search for a "well fitting" environment, an environment that will reduce stress, insure safety, maximize the fulfillment of human potential and support the goals of individuals and organizations. It is an evolutionary, evidenced based practice; principles and strategies of design evolve as we discover new ways to improve human performance. So, ergonomic design is not simply following rules, it involves creative and critical thinking as well. It's underlying knowledge based comes from the interdisciplinary field of ergonomics and human factors (HFE). The HFE field includes research from sources as diverse as industrial engineering, perceptual an cognitive psychology, the biomedical sciences, rehabilitation science and social psychology.

Both research and practice have demonstrated that many ordinary design problems that appear simple are actually quite complex. Thus, it behooves designers to learn more about this field and not use precedent and codes too readily. This is particularly true when practicing inclusive design because knowledge about design issues for underrepresented groups is not well integrated into design thinking.

Ergonomic design is a human centered design approach that applies scientific knowledge about people and their interaction with the world around them to understand the true complexity of design problems. There are well developed principles for practicing ergonomic design to develop innovative products and environments that will be both effective and highly desirable in use. A new focus on understanding the emotional impact of designs provides insights into how to design products and environments to which people are attracted and value greatly.

The pursuit of "good fit" is as much an art as it is a science. Not only must the design principles be soundly based on good evidence but creativity, imagination, craft and skill are required to integrate design principles based on research into designed artifacts. The ultimate goal of good ergonomic design is supporting the highest level of human performance and satisfaction with a design. When this is achieved, people get pleasure in using an object or place; they feel good about using it and it becomes attractive and meaningful to them.


This course is an introduction to ergonomic design of buildings and building products. It will introduce students to principles and knowledge bases relevant to architectural and product design problems and demonstrate the value of ergonomic design in solving them. An introduction to some basic principles will be provided. The framework for the course is a model of evidence based practice that integrates research with design activities.


The course will include required readings, lectures, discussions, homework assignments, quizzes and an independent project. The organization of the course is divided into two parts although the date of Spring Break necessitated some overlap. The first part is an introduction to the concept of evidence based practice and the basic knowledge base of ergonomic design. The second is an in-depth look at three topics of great importance to architecture, all of which are being studied at the IDEA Center.The semester will culminate in a final independent project on the topic of wayfinding.

Student Responsibilities

Students are responsible for attending all classes, completing the readings prior to the class for which they are assigned, completing the quizzes, tests, homework assignments and independent project. Attendance will be taken in all scheduled classes. Those that miss classes without an acceptable written excuse as per University policies or who consistently come late will receive lowered grades for class participation.


Grades will be based on class participation (25%) , quizzes (25%), homework assignments (25%) and the independent project (25%).


A key reading for the course will be a Emotional Design by Donald Norman. This book can be obtained in paperback through It can be received within a day or two. Buy it as soon as possible so you have it when you need it. A set of readings has also been prepared and is on reserve. The readings are all scanned and on line through the libraries reserve department. You can download them as PDFs and print them if you want. The specific readings required for each topic are listed in the Reading List. A set of supplementary reference books are provided on the reading list but are not on reserve. These have been selected to assist students in completing their Independent Project but they should not be viewed as the only sources to use. Readings must be completed before the class at which they will be discussed. Note that the readings are listed under the topics listed in the course schedule. The date the readings are due is the date that the topic is listed in the Schedule.

Homework Assignments

Homework assignments are short project intended to increase familiarity with the material on a project. Each is related to a research and development activity at the IDEA Center. Each will be conducted in teams.

Independent Project

The Independent Project is designed to provide practice in using the ergonomics literature, analyzing problems in practice and applying ergonomic principles in design. It will start in mid semester and continue to the end of the course.

Designers can learn about ergonomic design best in the context of an actual project. Thus, the Independent Project will be developed within the context of three IDEA Center development projects, all related to wayfinding. Each student will use the Need to Knowledge Model to identify a research need related to one or more of the development projects, devise a "real time" research project using the scientific literature and produce a meaningful information product that can assist in product development. Examples are available on the IDEA Center's website and will be shown to the students.

The following criteria will be used to evaluate the independent project:

Format of Report: 8.5 x 11 in. Word Document with illustrations as necessary. Target length is about 20 pages of double spaced text.

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