Designing any research project can be daunting, and those in the anthropometric arena are no exception. Many elements are required, like articulating clear grounds for questioning, qualitative and quantitative measurements, defining outcomes, and measuring results. Unfortunately, many researchers focus far too much on the details of the project before asking the important questions that determine whether the project should get started in the first place.
Ensure a successful outcome by considering these questions before designing your next research project.
What are you trying to solve?
Sometimes you are collecting data to build a database, but sometimes you may be doing a product fit test or be validating changes to a product that has been through testing once before. Each of these types of studies requires different approaches, different strategies and different resources. If you’re building a database, we recommend following the procedures in ISO 15535, General Requirements for Establishing Anthropometric Databases, which contains advice on the types of ancillary demographic information that should be collected, as well as formulae for determining the proper sample size, among other useful information.
The sample sizes are generally smaller in product fit or validation tests. The challenge here is the ability to determine up front what sort of information you want to get out at the end. For example, if it is an upper body garment, you may be concerned about sleeve length. In that case, you may need to measure excess sleeve, in cases where the sleeve is too long. But, if there is no plan to make any changes to the sleeve length, then there is no point in collecting data on it.
Similarly, when choosing which anthropometric dimensions to measure, think through how the whole human interacts with the product, which may not be obvious at first. For example, you may be designing or testing a seat. It’s tempting to think about hip width as the critical anthropometric dimension. And certainly hip width is important, but you would also want to measure the breadth across the shoulders, as that is generally a larger dimension in the seated person. Once you have determined what information will be used in modifying or validating the product, try to set up the test so you get the needed information in the most direct way possible. It’s always a good idea to walk through the planned final data analysis to make sure that you’re collecting data that can be analyzed to get the answers you need.
Who are you trying to accommodate?
Ideally you will be able to collect data from the population of interest, whether it is a general civilian population, or a unique sample of special forces operators. In either case, it’s imperative that you understand who the target is. Once that is clear, then the next question is, ‘are we accommodating everybody in that population, or just some?’ In commercial clothing, for example, some brands are specific to certain body types or age groups. On the other hand, military equipment is generally expected to accommodate all body types. But, individuals on the extremes of the body size continuum may be excluded for reasons such as cost and logistics.
Once the accommodation target is clear it becomes much easier to establish a sampling plan. In the case of fit tests or validation tests, it is usually a good idea to make sure that you have a strategy to test individuals who fall in each of the sizes, if it is a sized product. However, if the product is not sized, you should make sure to include the widest variety of people that might be expected among your eventual users. A good sampling plan should help in that effort. If your target is the US civilian population, you can validate your sampling plan against the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which has excellent, if limited, anthropometric data on the U.S.
What’s your time frame?
Many research projects maintain a longer duration than expected which can lead to frustration for all parties involved – including the researchers – when the foreseen time frames are not met. Establishing a clear and realistic time frame and schedule can allow for projects to progress in an executable manner.
It would be a great treat to have all the time in the world when undertaking a research project. Of course, that never happens. Often, the time frame is dictated by product release dates, or production requirements from overseas factories, but regardless of where they come from, there will always be some external factors determining how much time is available to complete the work. Once you understand the amount of time available, create a detailed timeline with estimates of how long each step will take to complete. This exercise serves as an excellent way to outline project details and allows stakeholders to understand exactly what is involved in the project. That said, sometimes there is simply not enough time to do the project as originally envisioned. In that case, the timeline can serve as a useful tool for working with the stakeholders to determine what aspects of the study can be dropped in order to meet the deadline.
What’s your budget?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have an unlimited budget for your project? Of course, just like timelines, that never happens! An accurate assessment of project costs is critical in making sure that the key research questions can be answered. Estimating the costs of data collection is usually the easiest part – How much time do you need with each participant? Is there special equipment that must be purchased? How much will you compensate participants for their time? Will travel be involved? Will there be a dry run prior to data collection? (You get the idea). Additionally, it’s equally important to allow enough time and funds to fully analyze the data after they are collected. It’s easy to focus on the costs of data collection, because they can be most easily estimated in advance, but the costs of analysis can sometimes be even greater than the costs of collecting the data in the first place. And of course, once the project is underway, it’s imperative to monitor the costs as they accumulate, to make sure the final bill will come in on budget.