World Engineering Anthropometry Resource


The Dimensional Divide by Karen Bredenkamp

10 Mar 2015 8:09 AM | Daisy Veitch (Administrator)

One of our WEAR founding members, Karen Bredenkamp (ERGOnomics TECHnologies, South Africa) has written an interesting piece on "The Dimensional Divide":

I am of the opinion that an ‘oversized’ gap exists between scientific analysis of anthropometric data and anthropometric inputs used for apparel and product design. So, where does the problem lie? Is it with the training courses for designers? Do they not have enough (if any) exposure to all types of (traditional and three dimensional (form)) anthropometric data or the software used for analysis thereof?

If designers do not get the required exposure, why is this? The question of availability of anthropometric databases comes to mind. In most cases, the anthropometric data that is available freely to the public, including students, are small datasets and more often processed data such as minimum, maximum, average and some percentile data. The range of variables might not be extensive enough to include all dimensions required by the designers. Therefore, they are forced to do the unthinkable: add and subtract percentile data to derive variables not
included in the original dataset. Some insightful teachers and professors might warn the designers of the future, of the risks involved in deriving variables in this way. But with the lack of other data, what are the students left to do? Another issue is the unavailability of population specific data. As a result, designers resort to using whatever data they can find… because we are all human and humans look “similar”.

For some disciplines, this assumption of similarity might be sufficient, but within the science of anthropometry this assumption is detrimental! As a result of the unavailability of RAW, population specific, and especially three-dimensional form anthropometric data, there is limited to no exposure to the development of analysis know-how, specialised methodologies and software tools by which to analyse body form and size data for implementation in design.

So, why is anthropometric data not freely available? I like the statement made by Wilson et al. (2014) “Data management and stewardship problems continue to be addressed piecemeal. Each organisation responds to its own needs with its own data standards and policies”. Funding an anthropometric survey is costly. Especially a well thought through survey which includes all the ‘cheques and balances’ to ensure high levels of data accuracy. In today’s cut-throat, cashstrapped times, organisations which can see their way through spending their money on such a survey, want to see some form of return on investment! Normally, this could be in the form of a product which will sell to make LOTS of money. This product will have competitor’s edge since it was based on access to data that ‘noone else has’. This edge ends up being a double edged sword because now we end up right where we started: anthropometric data for designers who don’t have the required know-how, procedures or tools to analyse.

Then we get to the question of “Is it really fair to expect designers to be experts on anthropometry?” Designers find themselves preoccupied with development and design aspects, such as latest material technologies, design tools and software, design rules and principles to mention a few.

On the other hand, the scientists specializing in anthropometry normally have a scientific background in anthropology, anthropometry or other related disciplines. This knowledge together with the knowledge of the potential added benefit of raw, population specific anthropometric data, is used to motivate for population specific surveys with appropriate decision makers and funders. Normally, such funding institutions also make funding available for research which could include exposure to analysis methodologies and software tool development. So now, the data can be analysed, extracted, compared and studied. Unfortunately, because they are scientists and not designers, this is normally where it stops. Or, the processed data is handed over to designers. In the event that there is a close working relationship and shared goals between the anthropometry specialists and the designers (normally because they work for the same organisation and they have shared goals and interests) it might be possible to get to an end product which incorporates all that
the latest anthropometric data and analysis tools have to offer. However, in most cases, the anthropometry specialists and the designers speak two different languages and have isolated expectations, work pressures and deliverable priorities.

Either, the anthropometry specialists cannot provide the anthropometric inputs in a format that the designer can use, or the designers do not have the know-how of how to design from anthropometric data ‘from scratch’. Designers might have become so accustomed to design using design guidelines (typically taught during their design course) based on long forgotten, processed anthropometric data (I can assume that it most probably was not population specific). So, all the advantages of advancements in anthropometric data quality and analysis tools are lost.

So, what is needed to bridge this gap? An industry that is keen to evolve and embrace everything that new technologies and advances in the field of 3D anthropometry has to offer! A closer working relationship, tolerance and willingness to share and learn attitude between anthropometry specialists, apparel and design training institutions and industry designers. And finally, but most importantly, funding sources that are willing to spend money on POPULATION SPECIFIC anthropometric surveys (focused on ensuring high levels of data accuracy) and make data freely
available to industry!

Wilson, A., Downs, R.R., Lenhardt, W.C., Meyer, C., Michener, W., Ramapriyan, H. and Robinson, E. 2014. Realizing the Value of a National Asset: Scientific Data.
Eos 95: 50 (16 December 2014).

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