What we do here at Anthrotech depends upon a lot of data. Heaps and gobs of data, to which we apply our decades of experience and expertise – ultimately resulting in projects which create products and environments that are more comfortable and safer for people around the world. If you’re new to Anthrotech, or simply adding to your store of knowledge – you’ll find our next few articles particularly useful. We’ll take you through the history of anthropometry up to the state of the art as it is practiced today – as well as promising new developments. But first, let’s talk about the basis of any useful scientific endeavor involving humans- participant recruitment. We spend a lot of time and devote a lot of expertise to developing research protocols, training our measurers and making sure the data quality will be top notch. But if we don’t have anybody to measure, all that effort is wasted. So in some ways, participant recruitment is the most important part of our work.
Anthrotech is the leading provider of body size information for use in the design and sizing of countless products and complex workspaces. We started out like many businesses do, with just one client – ours was the U.S. Air Force. Through numerous projects for the United States military (like updating the Anthropometric Survey of US Army Personnel), recruitment is quite a bit easier than with civilian participants. Military personnel are not ordered to participate in anthropometric surveys to update valuable and life-saving data, but they are strongly encouraged, so all we have to do is collect the high-quality measurement data. Working with the military also obviates the need for us to provide participant incentives. Just knowing that they are helping to improve equipment for future generations of airmen, soldiers or sailors is often incentive enough.
In-House Surveys aka Test Panels
When we expanded to serve commercial clients, some of the earliest studies we performed involved measuring a company’s own personnel for the creation or renewal of internal databases of body size and shape. The personnel in these databases provide the client with their very own test panel. With commercial clients, we may work in concert to plan for recruitment goals, and then typically the company would handle identifying and scheduling participants prior to our arrival. For example, one client who makes industrial respirators had us come to their headquarters and we measured the heads and faces of a few hundred employees. When it came time to test prototypes of a new mask, they were able to identify specific employees who would represent worst-case design challenges – John with the large nose, or Mary with the narrow forehead. Of course, they did more comprehensive testing on the final product, but were able to streamline testing of initial prototypes and get the new product to market more quickly.
At other times, a commercial client needs to recruit participants that accurately represent the entire US market. In these cases, the research is not typically tied to a specific product, but the client wants to have a proprietary database that contains the specific dimensions they need for product development. In many of these cases, we work with marketing and recruitment agencies to find participants that fit a specific sampling matrix representing the US population. So, the recruiting firm would be looking for a certain number of people who are White, aged 20 to 29, African-Americans aged 30 to 39, and so on. The recruitment firm identifies people in each of the sampling cells, schedules them to come in for the research, and then compensates the participants directly.
For studies that can be conducted in our Ohio headquarters, we will recruit people directly. Since we’ve been doing this for a while, we have a healthy database of locals willing to perform the role of citizen scientist – coming in to be measured or to test products or help us understand (via observation) an ergonomic question we are looking at. Since we always measure our participants, it’s then possible for us to call people back for another study based on specific demographic or anthropometric criteria (when that’s needed for a project). We also use social media and word-of-mouth to add to our pool.
Sometimes we must go off into the world to find the people we’re trying to understand (we love it when this happens!). When we recently performed a study of truck drivers, we set up at a very busy truck stop on I-80 in Iowa and asked people to participate as they walked by our booth. We also (with a commercial client) had a booth at the Mid-America truck show, and nabbed drivers as they walked by our setup. To capture the best data from European truck drivers, we measured them during the ferry trip between England and France.
All of our data come from people, so finding, persuading, encouraging, cajoling and sweet-talking people to get them to participate in our research is a critical part of our work. Being measured can be a bit of an odd experience. For most people, their only experience being measured is when they were fitted for a formal outfit for a wedding or prom, and our measurements are usually much more in-depth. Our staff is quite experienced at recruiting people for unique studies and are able to answer all their questions regarding the measuring, scanning or user/fit testing process, making participants more likely to be ready and willing to be a part of the research process.
Though technology is increasingly automating and improving the efficiency of applied anthropometry – the human factor cannot be wholly nor appreciably replaced. Anthrotech is committed to working with people around the world to collect, understand and apply human factors data to turn interesting ideas into awesome products.