CSUN Presentation, On-Demand: Be the Helvetica of Ergonomics

Presenter: Ashley Bischoff

Watch the recording of “Be the Helvetica of Ergonomics.”

Many of us spend our workdays hunched over our laptop screen, and maybe that seems fine—or is it? We might not give much thought to ergonomics, and it can be easy to put it out of mind if our joints and ligaments aren’t making a fuss. But for those of us who use computers for a living, our ability to continue typing can make all the difference in whether our livelihoods remain within reach. Ergonomics act as assistive technologies to help reduce the chances of future injuries and ailments that could happen to any of us—although for some of us, they already have.

Ashley started noticing aches in here wrists while in university, and with hopes of a career in computing, she didn’t hesitate to make an appointment at the campus health center to have things looked over. The doctor asked some questions, and he looked over her hands and wrists—and sure enough, she had some of the early signs of repetitive strain injury. And at that point, she had little choice but to immerse herself in the nuances of how one can work with computers without bringing on injury.

Conveniently, the typeface Helvetica contains a number of handy mnemonics toward workaday ergonomics. Helvetica, for those who may not be familiar with it, is a sans-serif typeface that was designed in 1957 for the type foundry Linotype. And it was so named because “Helvetica” means “Switzerland” in Latin. This talk goes over not only how one can pick out Helvetica from its sans-serif doppelgängers but also how Helvetica’s design throughlines can make many ergonomic guidelines more approachable.

Helvetica’s design choices can serve as mnemonics for how we can position ourselves to lessen strain during computing sessions. For example, one of Helvetica’s signature design characteristics is that the endpoints of each of its letters—such as the two endpoints within the letter “c”— are always positioned parallel or perpendicular to the writing line. And the parallel endpoints of letters like Helvetica’s “c” can offer a reminder to keep our forearms parallel to each other while typing.

This talk also covers a number of ergonomic traps that many of us may have fallen prey to over the years. For instance, keyboards often include flip-up stands toward the back that can increase the keyboard’s incline. And if a keyboard offers those adjustments, then they must be fine, right? As it would happen, those flip-up stands can often aggravate one’s ergonomic stance worse by forcing our wrists into an upward angle, which can in turn can cause our hands’ ligaments to rasp against their surrounding bones.

So many of us might not pay much attention to our ergonomics because we might think to ourselves, “Well, I feel fine—why should I worry?” But feeling fine now is no guarantee of feeling fine down the road. And with that being said, it’s never too late to start making adjustments. And by taking on the tips and recommendations that will be covered in this talk, we can put ourselves in the best position to be able to continue using our computers safely and comfortably for many years to come.

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