Thursday, February 20, 2003

Nonergonomic! Long Live Analog!

Nonergonomic! Long Live Analog!
[人因工程 ]

Long Live Analog!

The author/editor likes living in the Digital Age. On the whole, I prefer digital technology over older analog technology. I definitely prefer smaller, lighter, more durable DVDs to bulkier, heavier, easily damaged VHS video tapes. I even prefer audio CDs, warts and all, to easily scratched vinyl LPs. Audiophiles should admit that the problem with "gritty" or "harsh" sounding audio CDs is not that the music has been digitized, but that the digital "bits" are too coarse, because the recording industry set the bar too low when they established industry standards for the compact disc.

Digital data displays however, are another story altogether. For many purposes, analog dials are vastly superior to digital data displays. The reason should be obvious. Traditional circular analog dials communicate far more useful and important information than modern digital data displays consisting of a horizontal row of arabic numerals.

Many engineers and designers assume that the function of a clock or a speedometer is to provide the user with the time of day or the speed of the vehicle, and nothing more. They assume this bottom line data is all the information available and all the information worth communicating.

They could not be more mistaken. The traditional analog speedometer dial in the accompanying illustration doesn't merely inform the driver that he is standing still at the moment, it provides the driver with all sorts of additional, valuable information. Even with the engine turned off and the handbrake pulled, the traditional analog speedometer speaks to us, revealing the vehicle's theoretical maximum speed.

The general position of the needle on a large circular analog dial can easily be determined out of one's peripheral vision. Once a vehicle is in motion, the position of the speedometer needle along a 270 degree arc instantly informs a driver where his speed falls within the vehicle's "performance envelope". A race or rally driver can continuously refer to his analog speedometer and tachometer to time his gear changes, without ever taking his eyes off the twisting road ahead. Try that with a digital data display! Even the movement of the speedometer needle as it alternately swings clockwise and counterclockwise constantly updates a driver about his rate of acceleration and deceleration.

Now turn to the illustration of the digital speedometer. Contrast the poverty of information provided by a conventional numeric digital display. No comparison is possible.

Note: The terms "analog" and "digital" in this context refer only to how instruments display data, not how they process it. Therefore a PC clock that displays an old-fashioned circular clock face featuring hour, minute and second hands on a LCD monitor would be defined as "analog".

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Long Live Analog!
Illustration: Nonergonomic! Long Live Analog!
Author: Bevin Chu
Affiliation: CETRA Design Information Section
Publication Date: 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

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