If a product is ergonomic it is specifically designed to be comfortable and easy to use, physically and psychologically. Ergonomic products are often advertised as reducing fatigue and repetitive strain, and boosting productivity.
In recent years ergonomics have been associated more and more with computer products, such as ergonomic mice and keyboards. While a standard keyboard is said to place the wrists in an unnatural position, an ergonomic keyboard is split with each half set at an angle to the other, forming a slight V-shape. A more natural posture can be maintained while resting the hands upon an ergonomic keyboard, thus facilitating a comfortable experience even for extended periods of use.
However, the simple claim that a design is ergonomic doesn't necessarily make it more comfortable. There is no governing guideline for creating an ergonomic product, and research used for designs can, in some cases, be faulty. This can lead to a product that, by popular standards, is even less comfortable than its traditional counterpart.
As an example, in the late 80s a backless ergonomic chair was purportedly less fatiguing. The chair was designed is an inverted S-pattern that allowed one to "kneel-sit." While it might have been technically better for posture on paper, after a short time sitting without back support, many people found it more fatiguing than a traditional chair. Most of these chairs are now made with lumbar support.
According to the U.S. National Institute for Health (NIH), an ergonomic chair should have a variety of adjustable features, including seat height, tilt, adjustable arm rests, and other specific characteristics, (e.g. a "waterfall" seat pan that dips towards the floor). The NIH also emphasizes creating an ergonomic workspace and lays out guidelines for optimal monitor height, lighting, keyboard and mouse position, and so on. Along with creating a physical environment that is conducive to natural movements of the body, the NIH lists some simple exercises one can perform throughout the day, while sitting at a desk, to relieve fatigue.
Aside from workspace, another area where ergonomic design figures prominently is interior automobile design. Car seats with adjustable height, seat pan tilt, and lumbar support; dashboards and consoles laid out with controls placed in intuitive locations - even the control knobs themselves are designed to be easy to use.
Although any product can have some ergonomic value - ATMs, power tools, and racing bikes to name a few-as a general rule, the more continual use a product gets, the more time will go into ergonomic research in designing it. Hence, the emphasis on workspace products and automobiles.
The goal of ergonomic products or environments is to interface with humans in the most natural way possible. In buying products and creating environments with ergonomic design at home and at work, one should be able to enjoy one's work or play with added ease and reduced stress.