Friday, 13 February 2009

Ergonomics is 60!

On BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme this morning, there was a piece on the 60th anniversary of Murphy's law - the law of physics which states that "everything that can go wrong, will go wrong". It was prefaced as one of the year's anniversaries that will affect us more on a day-to-day basis than, say, Darwin or Galileo's discoveries.

I've got another one. This year coincidentally marks the 60th anniversary of ergonomics in the UK - as it was in 1949 that the Ergonomics Research Society first formed. Now known as The Ergonomics Society (and changing its name this year to the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors) the Society is the UK's professional body for this field, with some 1500 members.

I'm involved with The Ergonomics Society as its Chair of External Relations, and we're planning a host of events throughout the year to mark the anniversary. There is a series of breakfast meetings for industry practitioners, there's an historical Society lecture at the Royal Society of Arts in May, a prestigious anniversary conference at the Royal College of Physicians in April, and we're culminating with an ergonomics exhibition at the Design Museum opening in November.

The exhibition, which we've called Real World Design, is being run in partnership between Brunel University (myself and Fergus Bisset), Loughborough University (Prof Roger Haslam), the Design Museum and Laura Grant Associates, with support from The Ergonomics Society and the Office of the Rail Regulator. The project is funded by the EPSRC, and I dare say I'll be keeping you updated on it here as it progresses.

I like the synergy with the Murphy's law anniversary - ergonomics affects us all at an everyday level, and in many cases it is also about things going wrong. That is, a good application of ergonomics can stop (human-made) things going wrong in the first place. Maybe then, some years in the future, we could be celebrating another big milestone for ergonomics and everyone will have forgotten about Murphy's law...

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