Ergonomics application

Researcher & designer for a mobile training app

When I worked as a wellness consultant at a North American energy services company, I was given a brief to develop a 2-hour interactive, hands-on training module to highlight concerns about musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and provide guidelines to prevent injuries.

MSDs are injuries that affect the muscles, bones, and joints and include carpal tunnel, as well as muscle sprains and strains.

The goal was for the health, safety, and environment (HSE) coordinators and specialists to use the curriculum to educate technicians (techs) on how to reduce their risk of developing MSDs, which would keep them in the field longer.

I had originally created a PowerPoint presentation and recently wondered: What could this look like as a mobile app? 

Watch a video of the prototype or you can navigate through it yourself.

Overview

GOAL

Initial goal: Design an ergonomics training workshop.

Current project: Conceptualize a print-based training curriculum into a digital format.

MY ROLE

I completed all the research and final design of the deliverable.

METHODS & TOOLS

Contextual inquiry, interviews, personas, information architecture, Sketch (wireframes, screens), Axure (prototype)​

TIMELINE

I had 2 months to research and design the original training module.

Research & Discovery

I gathered and applied research from a number of sources. First, the HSE team leader provided data gathered a year earlier from a survey completed by techs across Canada.

Survey

The results of a survey (n=unknown) showed that techs were most concerned about pain developing in the knees, low back, and shoulders.


Techs were being shifted into office jobs because of pain sustained on the job, leading to increased turnover. So business leaders wanted the techs to stay healthy and productive.

Knees
29%
Low back
20%
Shoulders
11%
Various (combined)
40%
Survey results of the parts of the body exhibiting the most pain. 

Secondary Research

The first week of the project was spent meeting site coordinators and acclimating to the office. I really wanted to observe the techs on site to learn what movements, postures, etc. contributed to the survey results, so I began advocating to get permission to accompany them to job sites.

Because I only had 7 weeks to complete the project, I sought out secondary research while waiting for permissions to be finalized. I used Physical Demands Analysis reports to learn more about the physical and environmental demands of jobs in this (and adjacent fields) to get a better idea of the MSD risks as a whole.

Heating, refrigeration and air conditioning technicians spend a significant portion of their day:

  • lifting and reaching from floor to overhead
  • walking and climbing stairs
  • in standing, kneeling, crouching, and twisting postures
  • handling tools 

Industrial electricians:

  • spend several hours daily lifting and carrying objects
  • spend more than half the workday standing, walking, climbing stairs, reaching overhead, and gripping hand tools

Contextual Inquiry

It took another week, but I finally got permission to accompany 5 techs to residential and commercial sites. Not only were the techs eager to be observed, they were happy the company was taking steps to address their concerns.

During the visits, I captured typical work postures and movements, as well as the ways in which they adapted their workspaces (for example, using wagons to wheel in equipment rather than carrying it). 

We also chatted about how their daily work affected their physical health. Some just dealt with the pain, while others became more proactive about looking after their health after sustaining injuries.

Ultimately, they wanted to continue to work in the field, as free from pain as possible.

“My advice to people doing this job? Get a good masseuse. If I didn’t have a masseuse, I’d probably be in the office by now.”

Being immersed in the environment along with the techs was crucial in helping me learn more about why they did what they did on the job. Ultimately, the techs tried to change their posture while working (moving from standing to squatting to sitting on their heels to kneeling on one knee), but they were constrained by the demands of the job.

So these postures still presented risks (such as contact stress, awkward and static postures, force and repetition) that could contribute to the development of MSDs.

Postures showing contact stress on the knee.

Personas

I developed two personas based on the research gathered. These allowed me to remain focused on the needs of the audience.

Persona of Harry, the HVAC tech.
Persona of Heather, the team lead.

User Stories

Next, I specified the techs’ requirements to ensure the content met each user’s specific goals. (The team leads’ requirements came from the initial brief.)

As a technician:

  • I want to learn what exercises to do so I can stay strong and avoid getting injured.
  • I want to learn easy ways to reduce my risk so I can stay safe without affecting my workflow.
  • I want to know how to find medical resources so I can get help when I need it.

As a team lead:

  • I want techs to learn about anatomy so they are informed about the effects of the job on their body.
  • I want techs to know how to find medical resources so they get timely treatment.
  • I want to quiz my team members on the material so that I know it was understood.

Ideation

The main constraint was making sure the content could be taught within a 2-hour timeframe. The original deliverable included a 60-slide PowerPoint presentation and handouts. Translating the print material into a mobile app environment required a complete overhaul of the information design.

Step #1: Sketches

I began by sketching out several ideas around how best to organize the content. What content should take priority? Which content could be categorized as secondary?

I debated categorizing the information by symptom, but settled on categorizing by body part.

Initial sketches for the MSD app.

Step #2: Wireframes

Next, I translated the sketches into wireframes in Sketch, using a silhouette of the body, with the areas of concern (low back, shoulder, knee) as entry points.

After selecting a body part, the user sees two tabs: RISK and ANATOMY, addressing the needs of the techs and the business leaders, respectively.

Wireframes created in Sketch of the home, shoulders and resources screens.

Step #3: High-fidelity screens

Inspired by Material Design, each card introduced a topic and allowed the user to save the information for future access.
They were created in Sketch, then imported into Axure for the prototype.

Risk-and-anatomy-screens
Information cards created in Sketch showcasing the Risks (left) and Anatomy (right) tabs.

Lessons Learned

I presented the original print-based deliverable to the HSE team leader and team leads in a train-the-trainer session.
Unfortunately, the contract ended before it could be evaluated. Had I had access to the original stakeholders, I would have conducted usability testing to evaluate the content and ensure it met the needs of the techs and the business.

This project gave me a chance to apply the UX process to tackle re-purposing content from print to digital.

Portfolio