Monday, November 27, 2006

Are mouse designers taking the mickey?

Are new mouse designs helping or hurting? ...

"Watching the grainy 1968 video demonstration by mouse inventor Doug Engelbart, I was struck by how little has changed in the intervening decades. He fluffs the presentation somewhat, things don’t work properly, and he seems to have trouble getting his primitive mouse prototype to point at the right bit of the screen.

But it’s certainly sobering when you realise exactly what he’s doing – cutting, copying and pasting text, using hypertext and participating in a multi-user video conference complete with shared electronic whiteboarding.

But the thing that most strikes me about that ground-breaking demo at Stanford Research Institute at Menlo Park, California, is the mouse. It doesn’t look radically different in form or function to the one that’s probably near your hand right now.

The way we see Engelbart holding and using the mouse is certainly no different to modern times. For many years no one really gave any thought to mouse design above and beyond pure functionality. But as problems with repetitive strain-related injuries (RSI) started to surface as PCs took over the workplace, this gradually changed.

These days there are perhaps a few dozen good designs, but hundreds more bad ones. Sadly, many people – even those who should know better – still can’t tell one from the other, until it’s too late and one day they find out, as I did a year or so ago, the sheer misery that RSI can bring.

I’d edited many articles about ergonomics and usability over the years, yet somehow viewed myself as immune. Luckily, in my case it wasn’t too severe and I cured it by the simple expedient of throwing my ordinary mouse away and adopting a vertical model that I found suited my working style. But it’s a sad reflection of the general state of awareness of ergonomics that no one I’ve met (including many work colleagues who, like me, fall into the “should know better” category) has ever heard of a vertical mouse. But everyone is different and other people find trackballs, trackpads or even more exotic designs a better solution."    (Continued via IT Week)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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