The term ergonomic is actually quite new. First invented by a German designer and scientist in 1857, it didn’t make its way into the English lexicon until a British psychologist named Hywel Murrell introduced it in 1949. Today, it has become a close companion of every copywriter in the world trying to sell office chairs, and it is probably safe to assume that ergonomic is written far more often than actually understood. It has become a genre word for ‘well-designed’ or ‘healthy.’ And while these definitions are actually somewhat close to the mark, they are nonetheless overly simplistic.
So What Does Ergonomic Mean?
Ergonomic is essentially a design term, but one with implications for many of the sciences. It refers to the theory that humans are an essential component of every system we work on or in. Because we are a part of the system, we can also become an inefficiency within the system if we don’t fit into it correctly. To that end, humans must be designed (i.e. positioned) to fit the system, or the system must be designed to efficiently incorporate humans.
What are the Benefits of Ergonomic Chairs?
Ergonomic chairs maximize worker productivity by reducing stress on the body. Many sources also claim that ergonomic design increases comfort. Yet while this is often true, it is not always so. Comfort is a function of disposition, though not necessarily bodily well-being. A posture that relieves stress on joints and muscles may not always feel comfortable, even despite reducing long-term pain and discomfort. Another issue with comfort, of course, is that excessive comfort would actually decrease efficiency by promoting lethargy or sleep.
In any case, ergonomic chairs benefit users by relieving aches and pain, promoting alertness and focus, relieving stress, and making workers more efficient.
Is it True You Can Use a Chair Incorrectly?
Yes. An ergonomic chair is completely undermined if it is occupied or adjusted incorrectly. When selecting a chair, it is essential to find one that fits both the user and the office space. For best results, maximize right angles. This means that the thighs and waist should form a right angle, the ankles and feet should form a right angle (with feet flat on the ground), that knees and thighs should meet at 90 degrees, and that elbows rest at a right angle to the arms. Wrists, however, should be kept straight by those using a keyboard, and the spine should remain upright and unbowed.
Ergonomic in Isolation?
Ergonomic design cannot function in isolation; it must take all interworking aspects of the system into account. Thus, desk height, seat height, monitor position, and even the relative locations of lights and drawers must be taken into account in order to design a maximally efficient workspace. So be sure to take all these considerations into account when selecting an ergonomic chair.
The basic idea underlying ergonomic design is the notion that inefficiencies multiply themselves. Because the work you do is directly linked to your workstation, the relative efficiency or inefficiency of that workspace will manifest itself in whatever you produce––or fail to. Correct posture may not seem essential to the task at hand, but it is, in fact, a direct element of that task. So workers who sit in efficient chairs, and sit in them correctly, simply do their jobs better. As humans, we tend to see ourselves as distinct and separated from our surroundings. But nothing could be farther from the truth. As most of us have learned through experience, where we are influences how we act and what we think. The same is true in the office: Where we are––both in our chairs, and in our workspaces––influences how we act and think. By positioning ourselves better, we think better, too.
Article contributed by Sydney Michaelson, a writer for Design55. Visit their online store to discover office, living room and dining chairs from Design55.
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