Don't put your neck on the line...

Investing in long lasting, good quality ergonomic work furniture costs about the same as a new computer, but isn't as seductive as a new Apple laptop despite many great design attributes. (...I bought an expensive new office chair and am justifying it to myself!)
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

The medical profession are making a fortune from computer related postural injuries, yet many people wouldn't dream of spending the cost of an Apple laptop on a good quality ergonomic chair. I was one of those people ...until this year when I finally bought a Herman Miller 'Embody' chair as my main office chair.

Even though I spend quite a bit of time traveling, like most people my office is my place to get organized and oriented, which is tough when your desk chair makes flying economy seem like a luxury experience. Board rooms have comfortable chairs for a reason - if you're making important decisions, the fewer distractions the better.

The advent of the laptop has been a godsend to chiropractors and are a great way to screw up your back - particularly when you are concentrating and forgetting about the way you are sitting...It's a bit of a ticking time bomb for many people. Back pain costs US companies $7.4 billion a year, so a combination of good design and ergonomics is clearly a winning combination.

Herman Miller are arguably the Apple of office furniture - but while Apple's physical product industrial design is stylistically skin deep, Herman Miller continue to put a huge amount of thought into what makes comfortable working conditions, both for the individual and across office spaces. A $1.6 billion global company, most people associate them with the higher end of the office furniture market, but there's a lot more to this iconic US company, who had a long association with the wonderfully inventive Ray and Charles Eames and continue to feature the designers of their furniture on their website.

Apple have done very well by featuring Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Sir Jonathan Ive in their marketing efforts: I think Herman Miller is comparatively a little stodgy in their presentation, which is a shame given the work that goes into their products.

The Embody chair (principally designed by Jeff Weber and the late Bill Stumpf) I'm sitting in as I write this is a bit of a revelation: it's one thing to spend a bit of time in a decent chair at a clients, quite another to calibrate your own chair to your body and then get used to spending most of your working day in it. Like good user interface design the chair no longer gets in the way - it's comfortably supportive but otherwise invisible.

A chair is one half of the equation of course, the other half being the desk and monitor.  My main office desktop computer is currently an iMac, and I've had it perched on piles of printer paper in the past to get it to the right height. As a doctor told me last time I got my back fixed, think of your head as being like a bowling ball - if you're leaning forward over your computer all that weight puts a lot of pressure on your neck, shoulders and upper back. Regardless of how fancy your office chair and desk are, getting your eyes lined up with the top of your monitor so you're not putting all that head weight on your upper body as you lose awareness while focusing on your work is imperative. This common sense is free regardless of the quality and age of your working area.

Healthycomputing.com has a useful page on monitor set up and usage which tells you how to set up your workspace, and Herman Miller's site has a more academic take with various useful pdf's on their ergonomics pages on 'Screen distance and seating posture'  and 'Maintaining Concordance as Seated Postures Change' ...which is a posh way of talking about the relationship between your chair and your desk.

I'm starting to wonder if my desk is up to snuff now that I'm sitting much more comfortably:  most people know about Aeron and Embody chairs, but Herman Milller argues pretty convincingly about the need 'for an easy, coordinated way for a person, his or her chair, desk surface, and technology to remain in alignment as the person moves through a range of postures'. This problem is seductively solved by their Envelop desk, which is the yin to the chair's yang with an adjustable surface that encourages you to sit back in your chair.

It's a little surprising to me there isn't a bigger market and design appeal for these types of innovative, comfortably ergonomic products - I know we're all on the move all the time but we think nothing of shelling out large sums for battery powered technology that stays current for a couple of years at best (and loses most of its battery current retention before then) over well made products that will last years and protect our bodies. Particularly if you spend a lot of time at your desk, investing in a decent working setup makes the physical part of your workday a lot more pain free...

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