Furniture design ergonomics

Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements, and its cognitive abilities.

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as follows:

Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

Ergonomics is employed to fulfill the two goals of health and productivity. It is relevant in the design of such things as safe furniture and easy-to-use interfaces to machines. Proper ergonomic design is necessary to prevent repetitive strain injuries, which can develop over time and can lead to long-term disability.

Ergonomics for Designers

Two terms are used to describe the application of scientific information about human variability and adaptability to the design process. Ergonomics (also known as Human Factors) describes information about humans in “working” situations. Anthropometrics deals with information about human body size and shape.

As an item of furniture is rarely used by only one individual, most furniture must accommodate the variations of a wide range of end users. The “average” person is a mythical creature. When measurements are taken from a target population for a particular design, a mid-point (termed the 50th “percentile”) divides users into two groups – one above and one below the “average.”

It may be logical to use this mid-point/average number to determine the height of a chair seat but not the height for the top shelf in a storage cabinet. In the latter case, it is standard practice to use a dimension that accommodates 90 to 95 percent of users who can reach an object on the top shelf. The design ideal is to provide for adjustability and use anthropometric data to determine the upper and lower limits for the range of adjustments, e.g., for workstation chairs.

Furniture designers should have a library of texts (or software) on this data-intensive subject. VCR recommends the two titles below and others; several good titles are out-of-print.

Office Furniture and Ergonomics

Office furniture and ergonomics are very closely intertwined. As a matter of fact the word ergonomics comes from two Greek words: ergo, meaning work and nomos, meaning laws. So ergonomic office furniture takes into account how the furniture fits and comfortably supports the people who use it day after day and for long periods of time.

Designers and manufacturers take into account how anthropometry, posture, and repetitive motion affect the user to come up with viable solutions for office furniture design and workspace design.

Ergonomic Furniture Explained

In the last decade, we have changed our approach to buying ergonomic furniture for our homes and offices. Today, everything is ergonomically oriented. However, buying just a single chair which provides good posture, balance and less stress on the body is not the adequate. To ensure that musculoskeletal injuries are going to be prevented, one must buy additional furniture components which are also responsible in decreasing stress and work related injury. One classic example is the computer desk.

Once you are seated on an ergonomically designed chair and work with a computer, the height of the chair must be adjusted accordingly. It is important to place the computer monitor at a level where it does not produce stress on the eyes or the hands. The top of the screen should be ideally set just below eye level. When sitting upright, this positioning will not produce any neck, shoulder or eye stress.

Additional measures that can eliminate eye strain include:

keeping the computer screen clean
adjusting the screen resolution so one gets clear sharp images
placing the monitor at an optimal distance from the chair to avoid eye stress
adjust lighting in the room to avoid glares
placing a document holder at the same distance as the monitor

For those individuals who wear eye glasses or wear bifocals, tilting of the head may be required periodically. Thus, the ergonomically designed hair and desk must be properly adjusted so that the neck is not stressed. The most important thing to understand is that the furniture must be adjusted to fit your posture and reduce stress on your joints.

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