At first glance, the ShuttlePro V2 has little connection to ergonomics, apart from the fact that it’s manufactured by Contour Design. Still, this little device – intended as an efficiency tool for A/V editors – could be an interesting way to enhance the ergonomics of any workstation. Let me explain.
What is a ShuttlePro?
Contour Design, a computer accessory outfit best known for the RollerMouse and Perfit Mouse, developed the ShuttlePro (and its smaller cousin, the Shuttle Express) to meet a need within the A/V editing community. While computers have put sophisticated A/V production tools within reach of everyone, the physical devices used to interact with those tools have lagged behind. Most often, the standard computer keyboard is expected to fill in for a whole range of controls, manipulating everything through keyboard shortcut sequences. While this approach is way more efficient than using a mouse for the same tasks, it still leaves somewhat to be desired. A good memory is required, the awkward movements can disrupt productivity, and certain types of controls, such as the video editor’s jog wheel, just aren’t there.
Enter the Contour Shuttle, neither mouse nor keyboard, but a fully programmable human interface to put commonly-used functions at the user’s fingertips. In the middle you have the jog wheel and shuttle, which are much more intuitive to use than their corresponding keyboard shortcuts. These are surrounded by an array of programmable buttons, which video and audio people commonly assign to things like playback and skip. Nine of the buttons on the ShuttlePro even have removable clear plastic caps so that their functions can be labeled for those with less-than-perfect mental recall.
Just put one hand on the ShuttlePro, Contour advertises, the other on the mouse, and you’ll forget why you needed a keyboard. While that may be a slight exaggeration, video editors really do like and use this thing – some to the extent of buying a second one for the extra wheels.
Greater efficiency = Greater ergonomy
Okay, that isn’t a real formula. (But then, ergonomy isn’t a real word either, so it all comes out even.) When you can accomplish more work with less effort, most types of stress are reduced – and thus, the likelihood of injury in the long term. For instance, most programs map Undo (a function I use frequently!) to Ctrl + Z – two keystrokes. On a ShuttlePro, you could set the same function to a single-touch button. One keystroke instead of two may not sound like a big deal, but repeated many times a day, almost any efficiency gain of this type is significant. The benefit gets bigger, of course, as whatever action you’re replacing gets more complex. The ShuttlePro software comes with what amounts to a macro programming system, so you can take this line of thinking as far as – and probably further than – you want.
Customizable for each program
You can use the ShuttlePro with as many different programs as you like, and you’re not stuck with just one set of shortcuts for everything. The ShuttlePro software monitors which program you’re using and can change the shortcut set accordingly. You could, for instance, use the jog wheel for its intended purpose in Audacity, and automatically switch it over to being a scroll wheel the rest of the time. If you play computer games, this functionality could be particularly useful.
Have more than 15 things to shortcut in a given program? No problem. The ShuttlePro has a theoretically infinite number of buttons (with no need to warp the time-space continuum). This “infinity” comes from the fact that you can create multiple behavior sets associated with one program, and switch between them using – you guessed it – other buttons. For me personally, this gets confusing pretty fast – but for efficiency freaks with elevated intelligence, the capability is out there.
Tools at your fingertips, no keyboard required
I don’t currently do much with audio and video editing, but I do have occasion to do a lot of design. Traditionally I have worked with one hand on the mouse or stylus, and the other resting by the keyboard to help out with modifier keys and shortcuts. Back when I used a Microsoft Natural Elite keyboard (ask your grandfather) this worked pretty well. Today, however, I use the Kinesis Freestyle with a V3 kit, meaning the center of the keyboard floats up about an inch from the desk. This is great for typing, but not so great when my left hand is in standby mode. If I float it in the air the wrist can get tense and start hurting. If I rest it on the desk, the keyboard is out of fingertip reach.
With the ShuttlePro resting under my left hand, its functions mapped to the things I need for designing, my secondary hand can relax and still remain on call to help out with the work. The jog and shuttle wheels are more intuitive for pan and zoom than their corresponding mouse controls, and are particularly useful when I’m working with a graphics tablet.
Potential ergonomic issues
No comfort cushioning
Most ergonomic devices are designed with cushioned surfaces and sometimes nice resting pads. Not so the ShuttlePro, which is made from what feels like cold textured metal. Rest your hand on that for a few hours and you, like me, might experience some discomfort. If I were on the ShuttlePro team at Contour, I would be looking at some nice rubber cushioning for the next version.
The lack of padding is not the only potential problem with resting your palm straight on top of the ShuttlePro. There’s also the hand-flattening, wrist-twisting thing, a problem that vertical mice like the Evoluent exist to address. Given the current ShuttlePro design, I find it most comfortable to rest the side of my hand mostly on the desk surface beside the unit, putting the controls within reach of my fingers without flattening my palm on a hard metal surface.
Fairly sticky buttons
I’m a big fan of easy-action buttons and keys, whether they be found on keyboards, mice, or any other device I use continuously for long periods of time. I’d like to say that the ShuttlePro features super-smooth, think-to-click buttons, but that just wouldn’t be accurate. Its buttons do require a fair amount of force to use, which would have to be considered a point in the negative column.
Is it worth the price tag?
The Contour Design ShuttlePro costs around $100. If you’re looking to enhance the overall ergonomics of your workstation, that money would probably be better spent on a good quality ergonomic keyboard. If you’ve already got a great ergonomic setup and are looking to add the final touches of efficiency, a ShuttlePro can put a lot of power in your hand – literally.
For myself personally, I’m not currently using the ShuttlePro as of this writing – not because I don’t love it, but because my wide-split Kinesis Freestyle keyboard doesn’t really leave enough room for it to stay within reach on the left, so I don’t end up using it as much as it deserves. I’ve passed the sample on to another ergonomic bliss-seeker, who will hopefully go further than I have into the brave new world of ShuttlePro efficiency.