Avatars help design ergonomic washing machines

To understand what happens when users load and unload washing machines eight hours every day, five days a week, Electrolux Professional took a rigorous and creative approach to ergonomic design. They used avatars.

“Today, more and more hospitals and nursing homes are doing their laundry on-site for cost and environmental reasons, as well as to provide suitable work and work-training for people with disabilities,” says Anders Hiltunen, Head of Professional, Operations Nordic Countries.

“As a result, people are using the machines several hours a day, which means good ergonomics is extremely important to avoid injury from biomechanical stress: With well-proven ergonomics, we are creating long-term value for our customers.”

In order to deliver equipment with good ergonomics, Electrolux Professional turned to avatars.

Sophisticated 3D body-motion data-capture wearables

Seven volunteers were hooked up to computers via sophisticated 3D body-motion, data-capture wearables. This generated an avatar which could simulate all critical movements, thus allowing medical and ergonomics experts to analyze the results.

The study was carried out ‘live’ at a facility in Ljungby, Sweden. Six washing machines and four driers machines, from Professional and competitors, were connected to water and electricity, drains and air outlets. The participants, with a mix of ages, height, gender and background, were given a range of tasks to perform.

Ergonomics and usability under the looking glass

The participants made some interesting discoveries, such as a large door opening not always being better than a small one, since items fall out. The height of the doors and displays vis-à-vis the users, were also found to be critical.

“Everyone should be able to use our machines,” says Christine Gustavsson, Design UX Specialist, Electrolux Professional, who ran the study. The Electrolux machines compared well with the competitors. Doors could be opened with less force, for example, thanks to the form and shape of the handles. The position of the lint filter also won favorable comments.

In terms of usability, the volunteers found that they understood how to use more advanced functions such as delayed start without using a manual, which was not the case for all machines.

“The two-day study generated a raft of invaluable data, which will be used in developing the next generation of laundry machines,” says Gustavsson.

More structured way of working

“At Professional, we have many opportunities to talk to and observe users, whether at our Innovation Center, in field tests, market tests, or just during visits,” says Michele Cadamuro, Design Director. “However, we wanted to work in a more structured way.”