Software ergonomics

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Software ergonomics (for the origin of the word, see software and ergonomics ) is the work towards easily understandable and quickly usable software under the given technical possibilities and in compliance with defined or empirically developed standards and style guides . Software ergonomics is a branch of human-computer interaction , and its result is the usability of computer programs .

The subject area of software ergonomics in the true sense is the working person in the context (software use at workplaces ). The use of or interaction with computers is generally considered today . This means taking ( neuro ) psychological aspects into account when designing the software - as is methodically also aimed at by engineering psychology - in order to provide an optimal human-machine interface . This should be expressed in particularly easy-to-understand functional units (e.g. simple dialogs in systems with GUI). The development of usable software is carried out within the framework of usability engineering .

In the field of software ergonomics, there are formal guidelines for the design of computer workstations , for the display of information on the monitor and its manipulation by input devices . These guidelines are set out in the Workplace Ordinance (ArbStättV) and in the EN ISO 9241 standard and should therefore be taken into account when creating application software .


In the 1980s, neglecting ergonomic aspects, the focus was on the functional requirements in the development of a software system. This can be explained by the low prevalence of software and the lack of reliable knowledge. With the proliferation of graphical user interfaces, the user and his needs came to the fore. The EC directive 90/270 / EEC (regulation on safety and health protection when working on display devices) prescribes the use of software for newly installed display workstations that has been developed according to ergonomic principles . This commitment has made the importance of ergonomics for software development continue to grow in recent years.

In Germany, since January 1, 2000, the VDU Ordinance of December 1996 came into force for everyone, including older VDU workstations. If a company violates this, there is a risk of a fine of up to 25,000 euros.

Areas of application

The most important subject area of ​​software ergonomics in the narrower sense is the software use to be optimized at workplaces. In general, it deals with basic rules and methods for designing and evaluating interactive software (such as work software , WWW , games , etc.), which is to be optimally adapted to the needs of the user (user orientation) and the requirements of the work task (task orientation). The focus is on reducing stress and supporting action by the system.

Programs that are not ergonomically designed can lead to psychological stress (e.g. stress , frustration ) for users . While hardware ergonomics errors, for example flickering screens or can be detected too small keyboards with physical methods, the software ergonomics continues with interdisciplinary methods as "interdisciplinary science" of industrial science , computer science , engineering , industrial anthropology , occupational medicine and psychology at.

For example, the following disciplines are involved:


The ABC model , which describes the context of use of ergonomics as the relationship between task , user and computer , is suitable as a basis for the definition of ergonomic principles . A system is appropriate if it provides the functions required to solve the work task. A system is manageable if it enables the user to learn , operate and understand easily . A system is personal if it is adapted to the skills and knowledge of the user ( user model ) and corresponds to the principles of work design . The standards parts 11 to 17 and 110 of the EN ISO 9241 series of standards "Ergonomics of human-system interaction", which were passed in the years 1996 to 1999 and subsequently both European and DIN Standards have been adopted. In Part 110 Principles of Dialog Design , the following quality criteria are defined, which result from the refinement of the criteria of the ABC model:

  1. Task appropriateness - appropriate functionality, minimizing unnecessary interactions
  2. Ability to describe yourself - comprehensibility through help / feedback
  3. Controllability - control of the dialogue by the user
  4. Conformity with expectations - consistency, adaptation to the user model
  5. Fault tolerance - undetected errors do not prevent the user goal, detected errors are easy to correct
  6. Customizability - adaptability to user and work context
  7. Ease of learning - minimization of learning time, metaphors , guidance of the user

The 7 principles of dialog design were supplemented by the multimedia standard of May 2000 DIN EN ISO 14915 software ergonomics for multimedia user interfaces Part 1: Design principles and framework conditions by four further basic principles:

  1. Suitability for the communication goal - the information / media used support the intended communication goals.
  2. Suitability for perception and understanding - content is prepared in such a way that it can be well received and is easy to understand.
  3. Suitability for Exploration - Information should be well structured so that it is easy to explore and browse the information.
  4. Suitability for user motivation - The program should motivate users and achieve a high level of user loyalty.

The criteria are measured using methods designed for them. A distinction is made between expert-oriented and user-oriented methods. In the case of expert-oriented methods, a software or a prototype is analyzed and evaluated by usability experts using a procedure specified by the specific method. An example of such a method is the cognitive walkthrough . In the case of user-oriented methods, future users of software are asked to use them for certain tasks. This use is evaluated with the help of different approaches and thus based on the above. Criteria closed. An example of user-oriented methods is the usability test . Improvements to the software can be derived from both procedural models.

Software ergonomics using the example of a word processor

User guidance consistency
The search function and the " search and replace " function have the same structure. The user recognizes the input and can use his knowledge from the other function again.
Constant availability
The program's spell check runs in the background. When typing, the user does not notice any delay. His work is not interrupted.
Immediate understandability of the user guidance
The "Replace" function is placed in the same menu as the "Search" function. The user recognizes the similarity of the functions and looks for them in the same menu.
Automation of repetitive tasks
With the "search and replace" function, the user can confirm each replacement individually or he can automatically replace all of them at once.
Immediate feedback to the user
The user is saving and the save failed. The user is immediately notified of this by an error message. A short text in the status line also informs him of successful storage.
Self-explanatory ability
During the spell check, the wrong words are marked with a red wavy line and a line along the right edge of the document. These markings are still known from school.
Adaptability to individual needs
The recently opened files are displayed in the menu in an organized manner so that the user can quickly access his recently edited files. The number of files displayed can be set.
Fault tolerance
The user replaced a wrong word. He can undo the whole replacement process with an undo function.
Conformity with expectations
The user presses on “Replace all” in the “Find and replace” function. He expects only his search term to be replaced and not all words.
The user wants to replace a word. However, this word does not appear in the entire text. The user is politely made aware of the situation with “The word to be replaced does not exist in the text” and not unfriendly with “Word wrong”. This system property does not increase the effectiveness or efficiency, but the satisfaction of the users.


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