SharkyExtreme.com: Interview with Microsoft's Dan Odell
By Vangie Beal
April 17, 2007
SharkyExtreme.com: Industry Interview with Dan Odell, Microsoft Hardware Group
Here is our latest in a series of interviews with industry company executives, PR persons and general know-it-alls. The unique feature of this series is that you, our readers, are the ones asking the questions. In the spotlight today is Dan Odell, an Ergonomist and User Researcher for the Hardware Group at Microsoft, who will be answering your questions - which mainly focus on how users can be safer while computing, Microsoft ergonomic products, Odell's role in development, and much more!
Meet the Interviewee
Aurora asks: Can you please introduce yourself and telling us a bit about what you do at Microsoft?
Dan Odell: Hi, I'm Dan Odell and I am an Ergonomist and User Researcher for the Hardware Group at Microsoft. In that role, I am responsible for providing ergonomic expertise and championing the user experience to the design team to help the team deliver comfortable hardware products that enhance productivity and the overall user experience.
Aurora asks: How long have you been involved in the profession of developing ergonomic products and specifically computer peripherals?
Dan Odell: About 10 years ago I was working as a designer for treadmills, where I discovered my passion for product development. I didn't know anything about ergonomics, and spent tons of time working on CAD. I wound up developing a shoulder injury from all that time on the computer that ultimately led to my passion for ergonomics in the workplace. I then went on to earn my doctorate at University of California, Berkeley, which concentrated on ergonomic issues of comfort and efficiency in computer input devices. My research focused on exploring the ways that workstation configuration affects user comfort, posture and efficiency. I have been in my role at Microsoft since 2004.
Reader Submitted Questions General Ergonomics
Aurora asks: What are some of the most common problems faced by long-term improper posture and incorrect usage of peripherals for computer users?
Dan Odell: The biggest issues that you see are shoulder and neck pain, but there are a number of symptoms that can result from improper computer use, such as numbness, tingling, pain, cold hands, weakness, etc. If these symptoms aren't addressed, they can develop into very serious chronic injuries. These injuries are much easier to prevent than they are to treat, so it's very important to address them early. Pay attention to your body, and don't ignore the "little things" like thinking that it's ok if you ache or your hand tingles every day when you go home from work.
Aurora asks: There is a lot of talk about the importance of using ergonomic mouse and keyboards, but what role does basic office equipment such as your computer chair and desk play in computer-related pain?
Dan Odell: The workstation is a system, and all parts of the system need to be properly configured for an individual's comfort. In addition to using an ergonomic mouse and keyboard, factors such as desk height, monitor position and chair configuration all play very important roles in providing a comfortable work environment.
Aurora asks: I usually work for hours at a time on the computer and find that after a couple hours my mouse hand will start to feel numb and tingly. What design features should users look for in a mouse to offer the most comfort for long periods of use?
Dan Odell: This past year we actually introduced the first Microsoft mouse to wear the coveted "natural" name: the Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 6000. This mouse was designed to address some of the common problems that we see with mouse use. One of the problems we most commonly see is when people place their hand flat on their mouse, crank their wrist back, and plant the base of the wrist (the area directly under the carpal tunnel) on the desktop. The Natural Mouse has several features to help with these issues:
1. Ergonomic curvature, which gives the mouse a pronounced elevated surface and a rounded shape, allowing fingers to relax and curl naturally to reduce finger extension.
2. Vertical side of the mouse to allow the user to rest comfortably on the side of the hand, rather than on the carpal tunnel area.
3. Elevated thumb scoop to keep the user's hand in a natural position by rotating the hand into a more vertical position. This posture has been associated with a reduction in carpal tunnel pressure.
Aurora asks: I've seen monitors on stands, up in the air and beside users. When a user is seated, can you give us an idea of where the monitor should be for the best comfort and risk-fee usage?
Dan Odell: You definitely want to consider monitor position and glare of the working environment when putting your workstation together. Typically, you want to keep your monitor directly in front of you, with the top of the screen near eye level (although bifocal wearers may need to set it lower). Position the monitor about an arm's length away. Make sure to avoid glare, keep your screen clean, and adjust your font size, brightness and contrast to comfortable reading levels.