When designing rubber keypads for new technology, it is important to consider keypad shapes and sizes, among other things. One segment of the industrial population that is sometimes forgotten is the user who wears gloves daily. These operators of machinery, vehicles and devices face challenges in properly and accurately using standard rubber keypads. When designing industrial or medical keypad molding, it is helpful to consider the situation and environment in which the user is typically managing the controls. Factoring in the likelihood of someone wearing gloves or who has large hands could affect the product’s usability and therefore its success.

While there are typical industry standards for rubber keypad sizes, some users may not be able to use smaller key sizes. For example, construction workers using heavy machinery or equipment may be wearing work gloves. Larger custom rubber keypads will make it easier for them to use without hitting the wrong keys. This strategy is also helpful in work truck consoles, where landscape crews, delivery service personnel and people in cold weather climates wear gloves on a regular basis. By making molded silicone rubber keypads wider and longer, the person using them is less likely to make a mistake by activating the wrong function.

Sometimes gloves are worn for warmth in cold weather. They are also used for protection from contamination in sterile medical environments or in food preparation. Performing finger motions in cold outdoor temperatures or while wearing latex gloves or rubber fingers reduces dexterity and accuracy. Other environmental elements that affect dexterity and should factor in to the industrial, automotive or medical keypad molding design include working in wet or sweaty environments and low lighting.

Dexterity Factors
One of the most notable dexterity functions of the fingers and hand is push force, where a single finger uses the force of the entire hand to complete a motion. While it requires less dexterity than other grips, such as pinching or grasping, it also requires accuracy of finger placement on the area that needs force. Given a choice between pinching a knob between the index finger and thumb versus pushing a button with the index finger, a gloved individual will have more success pushing a button. Choosing a flat rubber keypad design is one way to simplify controls for users whose dexterity is compromised by large gloves or those with diminished fingertip sensitivity. The extra space needed on the keypad’s design to accommodate gloved hands with reduced finger dexterity while pushing is another factor.

The most common shape in rubber keypads, including medical keypad molding, is a round-shaped button. It typically has a consistent feel in key contact from side to side and front to back. It also has the same response no matter what part of the button is depressed. Odd shapes are doable in molded rubber keypad design, but the response from all parts of the button are not always uniform. The designer should consider using a shape that’s easy to negotiate with gloved hands and has a uniform feel across the surface. A cross shape or half moon, for example, may be more difficult to use, depending on how it’s mounted.

Tactile Response and Snap Ratio
For individuals wearing gloves, part of the disadvantage is the inability to feel what they are touching. Landscapers and construction workers in cold weather or harsh environments wear heavy gloves for protection. These minimize the feeling in the fingertips, making it difficult to manipulate rubber keypads and controls as efficiently as those with non-gloved hands. Medical workers can feel the surface and keypad response more easily, since the glove thickness and material allow for more finger sensitivity. The snap ratio on rubber keypads, or feel of the click when the button is depressed, plays an important role for gloved hands. The tactile feel, or the rubber keypad’s response when depressed, affects the user experience and product function.

When designing new products  that will potentially be used for a specific segment of the population or a certain industry, it’s important for the product to be functional. Considering whether the users will have gloved hands is an important factor in the ease of use and the product’s eventual success.