Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We-Design-Day: An Introduction to Ergonomics

With the first We-Design-Day project nearing completion, it is time to start looking at how to make the new 'family' computer workstation usable, friendly and organized. The office space in the studio will be used by all of us. Me, my husband and TroubleMaker. Additionally it is likely that visitors will use the station as well (to check email or surf).

It is open to the rest of our family room so the space is always in view and always accessible. This is a risky endeavor for me. As some of you may have come to realize, I am... Well, I'm a clutter bug. I attract clutter like honey attracts bees. It doesn't seem to matter how often I purge and organize, whenever I turn around, more clutter and piles have appeared and I never can quite figure out how. Well, I have a theory, but I don't quite understand how bunnies could be responsible...

We have limited layout space. We have one 24"x39" table butted up to a 24"x60" table. This is our flat work surface. I also have a 24"x39" table on castors to wheel around when extra space is required - at tax time and my husband's company year end. I just have to make sure I don't pile it three apples high with papers!

There are a few things a person can employ when designing their own work space. Now, I know the tables I purchased and our existing chair aren't exactly perfect specimens of ergonomically designed furniture but with other devices, we can work to make the space more comfortable and usable.

Keep in mind the people who will be working in the space and these considerations:
1. How tall are the users?
2. Do they were glasses? (Bi or trifocals will also add another level of complication)

A workstation can be flexible and adaptable. Adjusting chair height and the position of the monitor can often be enough to make a station usable for people of varying heights and sizes.

Posture is a key concern, especially when one spends much time at a computer. Ergonomically, often the correct position is uncomfortable as we've become so accustomed to having poor working posture. The rule of thumb is:
The computer workstation should allow you to sit with:

  • head held upright to follow the curve of the spine
  • arms held horizontally with an approximately 90-degree angle at the elbow
  • wrists in neutral position
  • thighs parallel to the floor so that the hip angle is 90-degrees
  • feet should be supported by a foot rest or the floor so that there is a 90-degree angle at the ankle

As a right-handed person but a left-hounded mouser, I can also tell you it is essential to ensure your forearm is supported while using the mouse. Avoid pressure on the wrist - those gel wrist rests are garbage - toss them out! I spent a good long while drafting at a kitchen table on a plastic lawn chair (in a design office, no less) and it trashed my arm.

I've been asked about office chairs. I've specified chairs for a variety of people and at a variety of price points. Chairs, like footwear, glasses and blue jeans, change with the season. What is the hot seat (haha) this year is different than it was ten years ago. But like blue jeans, glasses and shoes, they all have basic principals that never change much regardless of the colour or style.

Here is a link to some basic chair terminology.

Chairs have several parts. Some move, some don't. They all provide support and hopefully, comfort. Choosing a chair is a personal thing. I once had a client who wanted the cheapest, most basic chair she could get out of the office supply store catalogue and I've had clients have me bring in 10 different chairs to 'test drive' before committing to a model.

PhotobucketBasic Steno Chair

PhotobucketTeknion's Contessa Chair

PhotobucketHerman Miller's Aeron Chair

The latter two pictures are the "hot" items at the moment. I've sat in both and both are great seats. The Aeron is "the" chair and it is a great chair. It comes in sizes (a first for a chair, I might add), has a breathable mesh back and seat and is truly a comfort to sit in. It retails for around $900 CDN. The Contessa is Teknion's answer to the Aeron. It is a good chair too, nice comfort and a good fit. It too has a price point around $900 CDN.

I don't know about you, but that's a lot of money for a chair. That said, I have a super nice executive chair in my husband's office. But that's because I got it at a design fundraiser for a SONG! My office chair is a $50 Staples special.

Before making a decision, it's important to identify how you will be using the chair and anything specific about your physical need. I am tall, I like a deep seat pan and a waterfall edge. The seat has to adjust up and down (height) and have adjustable arms - even though I don't use them, not having them makes me feel like I'm falling out of the chair!

Want more info? Looking for some additional help in setting up an ergonomic workstation?

Ergotron Workspace Planner
Ortho Info

Aeron Chair Image courtesy of Gabriel Ross
Contessa Chair Image courtesy of Teknion

If you have any seating questions, feel free to send me an email or post a comment and I'll do my best to help you out! Thanks for stopping by and see you next week!

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