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Cognitive Ergonomics Essay

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2019


Cognitive ergonomics is focused on modifying processes to suit the human capability (Budnick 2001, p. 1). Ergonomics in its entirety is focused on redesigning processes to suit human meaning. This can be done through modifying equipments, tools, environments and such like elements to increase efficiency or production (Budnick 2001, p. 1).

For example, a lifting job can be redesigned to happen at the waist level for ease of functions; or a tool can be redesigned to reduce awkward postures and instead be more comfortable for human use (Robertson 1995, p. 279).

There are many other applications that employ the concept of cognitive economics and some of them include the design of software interfaces (for easy human use), the design of airplane cockpits and automobile controls to reduce human errors and the likes.

The concept of cognitive ergonomics is especially relied on when designing complex machines and hi-tech equipments because they are normally difficult to operate, thereby posing a challenge to many people, regarding how to operate them (Cohen 1997, p. 2).

For example, a hi-tech mobile phone may not necessarily cause an accident but if it poses a challenge to customers regarding its operability, it may eventually turn out to be a market failure (because it will be shunned by customers).

In industrial processes, the concept of cognitive ergonomics cannot be overemphasized because if a plant or equipment is poorly designed, it may consequently lead to the occurrence of errors or accidents, besides increasing the probability of reduced production or the production of low quality goods (Talty 1988, p. 702).

Often, people are known to over-trust ergonomics but in other times, they are known to mistrust the concept altogether (Moray 2005, p. 546). For instance, if a ship’s system indicates that all the valves are in working condition, but in real sense, not all of them are working as perfectly as they should, the captain may carry out subsequent procedures based on the assumption that, all the valves are in working condition.

This could lead to an accident (Shahbazian 2008, p. 165). Often, people would blame the captain for the accident, but in real sense, the systems are to be blamed. This is a clear example of an over-trust in ergonomics. A case of ergonomics mistrust has also been evidenced in the past.

For instance, in an American prison, administrators installed motion sensors to trigger an alarm if a prisoner tried to escape. Within the first month of installation, the motion sensors went off all the time because it was triggered by wind motions and flying animals. This prompted the officers to start ignoring the sensors. One inmate took advantage of the officers’ attitudes and managed to climb off the prison walls into freedom.

The Importance of cognitive ergonomics can therefore not be underestimated because in the above scenario, if the same situation was observed in systems, such as fire alarms, the consequences would be disastrous and adverse. Cognitive ergonomics is therefore crucial in the society because almost everything is controlled by systems.

This study however focuses on a case of establishing cognitive ergonomic issues of the Toyota Pruis model to establish strategies that can be used to improve the same. Since this study is focused on the cognitive ergonomic issues of the Toyota Prius model, emphasis will be made on the vehicle’s controls.

To do so, a brief description of the product will be made in the first part of this paper, and secondly, ergonomic principles will be applied to the product to constitute the second part of the paper. In subsequent sections of the study, the ergonomic principles identified will be used to identify how best to redesign the car’s system controls. Finally, a summary of the study will be contained in the conclusion segment of the paper.


The Toyota Prius model plays a significant role in the evolution of the global automotive industry because the model is a “green” car and so far, it has had immense success in the global automotive market (Green Car Congress 2011, p. 1). In California, the Toyota Prius model was rated one of the cleanest vehicles in America because it is run on a hybrid power engine (Green Car Congress 2011, p. 1).

The Toyota hybrid car was first launched in Japan (in the year 1997), and since the year 2001, when it was launched in other markets across the globe, the car has been received very well by the consumers (Product Team 2011). So far, Toyota Prius model has been launched in more than 70 markets across the globe but its highest success has been witnessed in Asian markets and Northern Europe.

In 2008, the model was rated one of the highest selling vehicles across the globe because vehicle sales reached the one million mark in the same year (Green Car Congress 2011, p. 1). Two years after that, the company attained the two million vehicles sales mark (Abuelsamid 2011).

Since the Toyota Pius model has received great sales across major world markets, there has been increased interest about the vehicles ergonomics especially regarding the vehicles safety.

Seeking a vehicle with the right type of cognitive ergonomic safety controls is not a simple task for people willing to find the right type of car for their convenience. Having the right car with the right cognitive ergonomic control is however very important in today’s society because many people spend most of their time driving (when compared to the past).

Vehicle safety is an important part of cognitive ergonomics because safety is an essential determinant of vehicle sales. In other words, consumers are becoming increasingly aware about the need to buy vehicles which have a high safety standard. This standard can be determined by a vehicle’s safety controls.

The Toyota Prius model is special in this regard because the car is fitted with power seats, automatic headlights, automatic climate control features and selective parking lights, all which add to the vehicle’s cognitive ergonomic features (Silverman 2011, p. 1).

The selection and design of a right ergonomic car is often important in the automotive industry because many individuals seek products which are safe and easy to use (Dainoff 2007, p. 19). The market has a variety of ergonomic cars, but it would be misleading for anyone to buy a car, simply because it is deemed “ergonomic”.

In this context, it is important to note that, ergonomic cars are designed to suit a variety of clients, but the variety is evidence enough that not everybody will find ergonomic cars appropriate for their use. For instance, some cars are designed to suit people of different genders, disabled people and the likes. Moreover, not all ergonomic cars blend well with a market’s environment, or even how a given terrain is perceived.

The right selection of an ergonomic car is therefore a tricky affair (but yet a simple one) because the right ergonomic car is only obtained when it suits the user’s purpose and safety requirements (Reilly 2007, p. 12). Moreover, the right ergonomic car should also suit the user’s task. From this analysis, it is important to understand that, the right ergonomic car can be obtained, although the process may be cumbersome.

Application of Ergonomic Principles

Recent cognitive ergonomic trends in the automotive industry incline towards developing cars with a high ease of use and a strong sense of automation (Silverman 2011, p. 1). Disabled drivers using the Toyota Prius model have benefitted a lot from the focus on ease of use and automation.

For instance, in the Toyota Prius model, the automatic temperature feature has been cited as a major feature in the user control panel because users only have to set the temperature right (at 22 degrees Celsius) and the car does the rest, (in ensuring safety concerns are upheld) (Silverman 2011, p. 1).

However, the Toyota Prius model falls short of accommodating all its customer subgroups. The car’s ease of reading control instructions is especially wanting, when it is perceived in the context of elderly drivers using the car. The text sizes in the car’s controls are small, and elderly drivers may find it difficult to read the small print when driving.

Not only do elderly drivers find the readability of the texts difficult, other drivers may find it difficult to read the text too because when driving, a lot of attention is focused on the wheel as opposed to reading texts on the car’s dashboard.

Since the readability of the user interface is wanting, drivers waste a lot of time trying to understand the commands on the car’s dashboard. This technical fault may be dreadful when driving because drivers are likely to cause an accident if their attention is shifted from the road.

The position of the Prius model steering wheel is also placed in a wrong position which inhibits the visibility of the vehicles controls. Moreover, the high steering position is a barrier to good visibility when driving. Experts note that, this poor steering position obstructs the driver’s view of blind spots and may subsequently cause accidents (Silverman 2011, p. 1).

The control panel of the Toyota Prius model is also a victim of poor lighting which hampers the visibility of texts in the control dashboard. The lighting is deemed too dim by most drivers and therefore, they have to strain to understand what is written in the control panel.

People with poor visibility are therefore likely to find the readability of the texts on the control panel very poor. This may cause an accident or engine failure if there is a communication breakdown between the car’s system and the driver.

On another negative front, the Prius model is criticized for lacking an adjustable seat height that facilitates easy visibility of the road. Other cars which lack this feature are criticized for poor visibility of the road because they fail to factor the average distance of driver visibility, between the driver’s eye level and the dashboard (Silverman 2011, p. 1).

This distance always varies because the height of the driver seat fails to allow the driver to have the maximum visibility of the road. This feature is more serious for short drivers because they do not have the ability to see the road at all. Cars which do not allow for easy adjustability of the driver seat hinder the driver’s ability to have a maximum view of the road.

The Toyota Prius model has however shown some positive cognitive ergonomic attributes in the development of its recent models. This observation is based on the fact that, recent models have been designed with a hands-free device to enable drivers to communicate without deviating their attention from driving.

This control device was recommended for integration into the car’s user interface after it was affirmed that, driver attention was consistently lost with the absence of a hands-free device in most cars (Silverman 2011, p. 1). The Prius model was therefore designed to include this feature and it has proved beneficial to most users who want to communicate over the phone without putting their lives at risk by using a handheld mobile.

Moreover, this feature has made the compliance to new automotive legislation in the automotive sector very easy. Most automotive manufactures are nowadays required to integrate hands-free mobile features in their cars, to reduce chances of vehicle accidents caused by the use of handheld mobile phones (Silverman 2011, p. 1). This is a positive cognitive ergonomic feature for the Toyota Prius model.


To rectify the small font size hindering the readability of the user interface, it is crucial to redesign the user interface of the vehicle control system to accommodate large texts. Large fonts should therefore be used to improve user readability and improve the overall understandability of the information conveyed (Sedlack 2011, p. 1).

Achieving this objective may involve changing the entire control software or accommodating a user interface where drivers can change the size of the fonts, depending on their readability level.

For instance, the elderly may have the opportunity to increase the size of the fonts, while young drivers may find that reducing the size of the fonts is effective. Regardless of the variables, the drivers would be in a position to adjust the font’s size to suit their reading capabilities.

To correct the poor seat height that hinders the drivers’ visibility of the road, users or buyers of ergonomic cars should be able to identify certain common features of any good driver ergonomic seat. These features identify the benchmarked factors to be considered before selecting the right ergonomic car. Also, these benchmark features should be useful to all drivers, regardless of their purpose of car use.

The first benchmark feature is adjustability. Adjustability is crucial in cognitive car ergonomics, especially in defining the right seat height to be set by the driver because at times, it is difficult for automotive companies to design seats which are suitable for all heights (International Labour Office 1996, p. 138).

However, adjustability should also be evidenced in other features of the seat to enable the driver have maximum visibility of the road. The depth of the seat is also important in the selection of the right ergonomic seat because the right ergonomic seat should be suitable for tall and short drivers.

The last benchmark feature is stability. Stability is important for the drivers’ comfort because unstable seats are known to be frustrating and possibly dangerous to drivers. Stability is crucial because it sustains driver concentration on the road. The standard base should be at least five-points (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety 2005).

To rectify the poor brightness hindering the visibility of the driver interface panel, it is important for the interface designers to integrate a lighting control system that is able to adjust the brightness of the texts (or its background), depending on the lighting environment in the car.

When it is too bright, the texts should be brighter to make the texts more visible and when it is darker, the texts should still be bright to enable the users to easily read the controls.

To rectify the poor steering position hindering the visibility of the driver’s view, it is crucial to observe an important ergonomic feature in the automotive industry which dictates that, the driver needs to have enough space between the steering wheel and the legs (Silverman 2011, p. 1).

The same distance should be maintained between the control dashboard and the steering wheel for easy visibility. This adjustment ensures drivers have the maximum view of the road and vehicle controls. It also ensures that drivers are in a good position to control the vehicle and comprehend the engine’s attributes from the control system.


Designing the best cognitive ergonomic controls for the Toyota Prius model is a matter of precision. However, the user’s preference is at the centre of the design process because this study establishes that, not all ergonomic cars are suitable for use in all environments. Moreover, not all aspects of a car’s ergonomic controls can be designed for everyone.

This is the main motivation for categorizing drivers into different profiles with different needs. For instance, this paper categorizes the drivers into disabled or elderly drivers. From this understanding, it is crucial for the designers of the Prius model to consider the cognitive ergonomic needs of the users.

This should especially be observed during the design of the car’s user interface because it influences important issues on car performance, such as safety. However, considering the fact that, not all cars can be designed for everyone, this paper establishes several benchmarks, in terms of recommendations that should be factored at the design stage in the manufacture of the Toyota Prius model.

From this understanding, this paper advocates for a strong focus on the interface font size, interface text brightness, driver steering position and the driver’s seat height and depth. In making most users comfortable, it is crucial to ensure the fonts and brightness of the texts in the user interface board of the car is easily adjustable to ensure all drivers comprehend information conveyed in the user control board.

It is also crucial for the steering position to be placed in a manner that allows for the full view of the road and the user interface on the vehicle’s dashboard. The seat height should also be positioned in the same manner so that drivers can have a maximum view of the road.

The recommendations provided in this study should be the default standards to be used in the automotive industry. For instance, if the adjustable features are installed in the user interface, many users would find the Toyota Prius model appropriate for their use.


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