Today’s computer mouse may look slightly different from its first incarnation, but the fundamental design of this important input device hasn’t really changed over the decades. Unfortunately, that also means that the problems associated with this old design aren’t really gone either, especially those that cause physical harm in the long run. There has been a lot of interest lately in redesigning the mouse to make it more ergonomic, but not everyone agrees that changing the shape is enough. For example, this design concept takes a very different approach to solving the problem of RSI or RSI, usually by taking the movement away from the arm and wrists and giving your upper body a workout instead.
Designer: Simon Hochleitner
The computer mouse and even the computer keyboard are very unnatural interfaces for our bodies. With the mouse in particular, the hand and arm to which it is attached are forced into an unnatural position, whether in motion or at rest. The movements associated with prolonged and repeated use of the mouse eventually lead to what is sometimes referred to as “mouse arm,” as do the injuries associated with it. You might think your arm is getting some exercise, but it’s really the wrong kind of movement and resting position that’s actually causing those injuries.
Ergonomic mice can only do so much because it simply transfers tension and strain to other parts of the hand and arm. Orthopedists and physiotherapists may have a different idea of how to solve this problem, and unsurprisingly, correct movements and postures are used. What may come as a surprise, however, is how this can be done by simply changing the way we use the mouse.
The national winner of the James Dyson Award Orbit is redesigning the mouse not by changing its shape, but by changing the way we move it over a flat surface. Rather than simply sliding across a mouse pad, Orbit has three resistance bands that keep the “mouse” centered. To move the mouse, you have to put in a little effort to counteract the resistance, which in turn shifts the force to other muscle groups, especially those responsible for posture. With this system, the body is forced not to slump and use those muscles of the upper body instead of relying on wrist and forearm muscles to move the mouse.
Orbit changes the design of the mouse by turning it into a joystick. However, unlike a typical joystick, you still have to move it across the surface, just like a mouse. The only difference is that the joystick shape keeps the arm in a more natural position to reduce stress. The touch-sensitive ring on the top acts as a mouse wheel, so you don’t have to change the position of your hand or stop the movement to use it. There is also a “flat” version that looks more like a traditional mouse designed for gamers.
Whether changing the shape of the mouse or adding some resistance, it’s encouraging to see designers challenging the status quo when it comes to this input device. It may be some time before the industry embraces these ideas, but raising awareness about the problems of computer mice is an important first step in changing people’s perceptions.