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Individual Fit Over Average Fit

2016.03.05 15:15 PT

[ The Star ] The U.S. Air Force had a problem writes Todd Rose:

In the late 1940s, the United States air force had a serious problem: its pilots could not keep control of their planes.

The cockpit was designed with the “average pilot” in mind. Pilots were uncomfortable in one way or another and had difficulty reaching with their arms and/or feet. Lt. Gilbert S. Daniels figured out the problem:

There was no such thing as an average pilot. If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one.

The solution:

By discarding the average as their reference standard, the air force initiated a quantum leap in its design philosophy, centred on a new guiding principle: individual fit. Rather than fitting the individual to the system, the military began fitting the system to the individual. In short order, the air force demanded that all cockpits needed to fit pilots whose measurements fell within the 5-per-cent to 95-per-cent range on each dimension.

The equivalent in the automotive space would be: telescoping steering wheels, adjustable mirrors and seats. (Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something like an ‘auto-adjust’ feature where the steering wheel, mirrors, and seats automatically and optimally adjust to our physical dimensions, every time we get in the driver’s seat?)

There are many other products that would be much better if they were designed for individual fit rather than average fit. One obvious product is the keyboard, especially for children who have smaller hands. Smaller keys for smaller hands? Sounds like a crazy idea, but sounds like we’ve been living in a crazy world where little kids learn how to type on keyboards designed for adults with much larger hands.