Saturday, May 02, 2009

Apple Option Ouch: Ergonomic Keyboards

Helping yourself when it hits you ...

In my reckless youth, I dismissed ergonomics as a passing fad—a marketing gimmick targeted at discontented office workers eager to milk their employers for every last company-subsidized freebie. But when I hurt my shoulder and any prolonged typing became an excruciating experience, my skepticism turned to curiosity.

To familiarize myself with the basic principles of ergonomics, I flipped open Merriam-Webster, which provides this definition: "an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely." In other words, we function better sitting upright at an expensively customized desk than slouched over a laptop in bed.

Somewhat versed in this dubious-sounding theory, I moved on to practical advice: I asked a friend at Google—that bastion of workplace perks—to send me a complete inventory of his most essential ergonomic tools. "It's all about the keyboard," he told me. I admit I remained unconvinced: Could such a minor office accessory really improve my workday and possibly even halt the aging of my body? As part of my never-ending quest to conquer back pain without relinquishing all contact with computers, I decided to find the best ergonomic keyboard on the market.

I tested six ergonomic keyboards ranging in price from $57 to $299. To ensure my impressions were accurate, I used every keyboard exclusively for at least two weeks, subjecting each one to the thrilling gamut of my daily activities: spooling out interview transcripts, entering numbers onto TurboTax, and just futzing around on the Internet. Each keyboard could score a possible 30 points, with five, 10, or 15 points assigned for the following categories:

- Painkiller (15 points): A well-designed ergonomic keyboard should make the business of typing as efficient and pain-free as possible, which is why, in evaluating each model, I paid careful attention to how my body felt after long sessions at the desk. Did the keyboard force my body into more correct habits? Did my fingers move less; were my shoulders more relaxed? Were my wrists better aligned with my arms?

- Ease of use (10 points): Most ergonomic keyboards require some degree of adaptation—but are these little adjustments worth the hassle? How long does it take to get used to the new style of typing and to master each keyboard's idiosyncrasies? Are the function keys (Ctrl/Alt/Shift and so forth) logically placed?"    (Continued via Usability News, Laura Moser)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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