Look what we’ve done to food.
What used to come from the ground and be quite good for you, is now flavored in a factory off the Jersey turnpike. We know how that’s worked out for our health.
You might say the same about the workstation.
Through the early 1900s, most people stood at their office desks. Franklin, Churchill, Da Vinci, Nabokov, and Hemingway all preferred it. But most of us now sit – and die faster as a result. 20% faster, if you believe a recent study cited by the New York Times.
Riding a recent resurgence in standing desks comes Rhode Island-based startup Focal Upright Furniture. We’ve never seen anything quite like its Locus Workstation, which includes a full-articulated desk, footrest, and seat.
The seat is the most remarkable. Inspired by an old tractor seat (but hopefully softer), it has you perched somewhere between sitting and standing, a position found to be the most ideal by founder and designer Martin Keen.
You may recognize Keen’s name. Apparently a master of the hybrid, he previously made his mark with the eponymous footwear company he founded, known for its half-shoe, half-sandal favored by outdoor enthusiasts.
The full Locus setup from Focal will run you more than $2,000 – not cheap. But what price for a longer life? Check it out here.
Or, if it’s a less expensive standing option you seek, check out these IKEA hacks – where a couple hundred bucks will get you upright.
Now go forth (and get up already).
1899: Year School Hygiene is published, stating a seated desk can “injure the abdominal organs and the circulation”
1977: Year Nabokov died at 78 from bronchitis (not from sitting)
3: Moans, in descending pitch, uttered by Nabokov upon his death according to his son
The case for perching
Each week we welcome clients into our showroom to test drive our saddle seats, kneeling chairs, and more traditional seating options. And each week we find people recognizing that one of the most effective changes you can make to encourage active sitting is to avoid sitting, and stand for part or all of your work day.
Over the past 12 months we’ve watched thousands of people make the switch to sit-to-stand desks. The abundance of information has helped make the case that moving throughout the work day is good for employees and employers alike. Whether alleviating back and neck strain, looking to shed some extra calories, or simply wanting to feel better at the end of the day, adding the ability to stand to your active sitting regimen is a realistic and substantial change you can make.
Again, there is plenty of information available about the health benefits around the web and on our site, but as a part of our active sitting series, we thought we’d take a quick look at what it’s actually like to use a sit-stand desk in an office.
Personally, I’m more of a sitter than a stander. I’ve set a goal for myself of standing up 15 minutes of every hour, and for the past year that’s worked well for me. Over the course of a typical day I’ll switch between sitting to standing several times. I often find myself standing for well past my planned 15 minutes, resuming sitting again after an hour or two. A coworker I’ll refer to as W, on the other hand, will stand well into the afternoon before sitting for the rest of the day. He’s sort of a showoff that way, but we appreciate his dedication to active sitting working all the same.
One of the most under-rated and reported on features of an electric height-adjustable desk is the ability to vary its height throughout the day—without the limits of simply sitting or standing. While the chair you are currently sitting in will absolutely work with this type of desk, the desire to sit at a traditional height of 28 or 30 inches suddenly becomes much less attractive when you can move your chair and your desk up and work at 34 or even 38 inches. We call this position semi-standing, or perching. At these heights you are able to open your hip angle which emulates the natural posture your spine takes while standing.
Put plainly: it just feels better to sit higher.
There are literally dozens of ways to use an electric height-adjustable desk. If you’ve recently made the switch or were an early adopter, we’d love to hear how you use your desk throughout your work day and how it might have evolved. As always, questions, opinions, and suggestions are welcome in the comment section.
Active Sitting: Saddle Seats
How is your active sitting going? While taking more breaks throughout the day seems like a no-brainer, sometimes it’s just impossible to get away from your desk. We receive dozens of calls and emails each week asking what can be done to help alleviate the discomfort of sitting for 8 - 10 hours per day for those who plainly can’t leave their desk as often as they’d like.
Our responses to these questions usually vary depending on what type of work environment someone is in. One option people return to time and again is a saddle seat. And, as users of the HAG Capisco chair we couldn’t agree more.
The American market is catching up to what workers in Europe and Australia have known for years: a flat, deep seat pan isn’t necessarily the best way to work—it’s certainly not the most ergonomic.
So, what makes a saddle seat a good choice for my new task chair?
Glad you asked.
Saddle seats allow your legs to rest down in front of you rather than positioning the thighs directly in front, parallel to the floor. In other words, the cutouts let gravity do its job on the legs, letting the legs settle downward with the knees ending up below the waist in an open angle position. This position allows you to more evenly distribute your weight throughout the lower half of your body instead of relying on your lower back to keep your spine aligned. An open hip angle encourages proper spine alignment, facilitating not just better posture, but better breathing and circulation.
Saddle seats (along with kneeling chairs) do a remarkable job of helping your spine stay in alignment. Because your body has to work a little bit harder in a saddle seat—keeping your spine aligned properly requires more from your core muscles than a traditional chair—these types of chairs naturally facilitate active sitting without the user thinking much about it throughout the day.
Plus, it just feels better than slouching back in a chair for several hours per day.
We’ll be following up with specific saddle seat recommendations in the next couple days. In the mean time, we’d love to hear what your favorite saddle seat is in the comments.
Update: Our post on specific saddle seats is available here.
Neils Diffrient: American Innovator
You don’t just wake up one morning and design one of the best-selling office chairs of all time. No, of course not.
You design sewing machines, airplane seats, plus the John Deere tractor and spend some time teaching at the best American universities first.
Well, if you’re Neils Diffrient, now 83-years old, that’s how you’d structure a six-decade long career as one of America’s best-known and most respected industrial designers.
It’s hard to imagine a world of ergonomics without the contributions of Niels Diffrient. In 1955 Diffrient x-rayed the spine in a chair to see first-hand the effects of office chairs on our bodies, becoming the first American designer to examine the needs of the body rather than the needs of the office environment:
“For a chair, you have to learn a lot about how to deal with the body and what the body needs and wants….The one thing [office workers] don’t need is a chair that interferes with their main reason for sitting [in the office], so I took the approach that the chair should do as much for them as humanly possible…so that they didn’t have to fuss with it.”
The result is the iconic Freedom task chair, one of Humanscale’s best-selling products for the past decade. By eliminating manual adjustments Diffrient created a new standard in ergonomics, one where the user exerts minimal effort in order to enjoy the many features of the Freedom task chair. The Freedom chair adjusts to each user’s weight using the intelligent counterbalance mechanism. From adjustable arm rests to a position-sensitive headrest that automatically moves out of the way when sitting upright, the adjustments are not just automatic, but numerous on the Freedom chair.
Diffrient often cites “restraint” and “efficiency” as his primary focus in his design. While many contemporary designers begin with a sketch of the final product, Diffrient begins his work on the chair mechanism—the function—before concerning himself with the aesthetics of the chair.
Discussing his newest chair design, the Diffrient World chair by Humanscale, he calmly and with a remarkable sense of lucidity dismisses the idea that a chair should be seductive or compelling. Again he explains favoring function over form: “It’s more important to stick around, that’s part of efficiency.” He explains that his newest chair design did not come to him in the form of a “thunderbolt” but rather after “years of practice and focus.”
Considering Diffrient’s proclivity for and emphasis on efficient, functional design, it’s remarkable that he’s been so successful in creating stylistically iconic chairs for the past two decades. What’s more, the rest of America’s industrial designers could take his commitment to efficiency, not just in design but in manufacturing, as a challenge to simplify their own designs. Touching on what he calls his “old fashion term: efficiency,” Diffrient explains how this goal is not only beneficial for the chair’s user, but for the environment:
"Efficiency was around and answering a lot of our needs long before this focus on the environment. If one makes one’s approach to design to be efficient, it includes all of the factors all of the factors needed to be environmentally responsible.”
It’s truly hard to imagine an 83-year old who is more ahead of his time than Niels Diffrient. With his newest and perhaps most impressive chair now available, we’d encourage anyone who values efficiency, fantastic design and a commitment to the environment to check out the Diffrient World chair by Humanscale.
Kneeling Chairs, the Balans collection
The Balans kneeling chair collection by Variér is one of the most enduring ergonomic designs of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Beginning with the original Balans design, The Variable Balans, Peter Opsivik pioneered the way we think about sitting by encouraging the body to move while seated. Furthermore, by sitting in a kneeling position the body is encouraged to sit upright, helping to support the natural s-shaped curve of the spine.
The Variable, Thatsit, Wing, and Multi Balans chairs serve the user in slightly different capacities, so we thought we’d make a video demonstrating the differences between these iconic kneeling chairs. If you have any questions about these Variér kneeling chairs, please contact the kneeling chair experts at Ergo Depot.
Do you find wrist strain to be a problem throughout your day? There are a number of different products out there designed to help alleviate the discomfort felt by using your keyboard and mouse for several hours a day, but maybe a few minutes of stretching throughout the day is really the best way to avoid all of that pain.
Tell us what solutions, whether products or stretches, have worked for you in the comments.