How Technology Is Changing The Humble Office Chair: Crossing Bridges In Thinking

Sayl chair

Herman Miller Sayl Chair

What has San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge got to do with office chair design? More than you might think.

It was the inspiration for designer Yves Béhar when he came up with the concept for the suspension back for Herman Miller’s new Sayl chair, and applied similar principles to its unique back design.

It’s a great example of thinking out of the square.

But first, a little about old style office seat design.

  

How Office Chairs Used To Be Designed

Time was when a chair manufacturer thought about launching a new chair the same set of basic materials was used. In fact for a good number of manufacturers this is still the case.

You started with a 5 star base, added a gas lift, married it to a mechanism and connected it all to a seat pan, back and arms and the end result was a new chair.

Apart from maybe a new type of mechanism the changes were mostly cosmetic. Perhaps you used a sexier looking 5 star base, reshaped the back and seat a bit and maybe used a new range of upholstery to add appeal.

At the end of the day it wasn’t hugely different to what had gone before.

What Started The Change In Office Chair Design?

Probably the launch of the Aeron back in 1994 was what really shook the
market up.

Here was a radically different chair that didn’t have any foam padding and fabric upholstery, instead it had this open mesh known as the pellicle. Not only that it looked distinctly odd.

In fact, it was a major gamble by Herman Miller as initial soundings at the time were pretty negative.

Nonetheless, Miller kept its nerve and introduced it and the rest as they say is history. The Aeron has gone on to become one of the best selling and best known office chairs of all time and still sells well today.

Why This Started Alarm Bells Ringing

The Aeron effect brought about 2 fundamental changes in the office chair market. First, it contributed to the launch of many imitations and as a result mesh upholstered chairs can be found at all levels in the market. Second, it acted as a wake up call for others in the industry showing it was time for a radical rethink on new products if they didn't want to lose ground.

The Quality End Of The Market Has Become The Domain of Big Hitters

Creating chairs the old way wasn’t very difficult and the cash outlay for the most part was affordable.

Not anymore. Creating chairs the new way involves a huge outlay of time and money.
Take for instance the soon to be launched Sayl chair. In a recent article in the UK’s Independent Newspaper about the Sayl it drew attention to the 70 prototypes, 3 years of development and $13 million investment, a sum clearly beyond all but the big boys to invest in producing a single office chair range.

Clearly Miller expects big things and is prepared to take a long-term view. Little wonder quality office chairs cost what they do when you have this kind of outlay to recoup and this will be one of its lower priced chairs.

Chairs Are Being Made With Materials That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago

These days major manufacturers are prepared to invest heavily in new seating products to come up with what they hope will be a world-beating product.

Top designers are taken on to develop radical new concepts, starting from scratch they come up with fresh ideas and possibilities which they then turn into reality.

Recent examples of these innovative designs include Knoll’s Generation Chair, Humanscale’s Liberty, Steelcase’s Think and a trio from Herman Miller in the Embody, Setu and Sayl.

How Has All This Innovation Helped End Users?

The development of new products like these represents a major improvement in seating comfort for office workers and has helped to:

• Enhance user comfort and give proper support throughout the day
• Simplify product use by automating certain functions
• Significantly reduce product weight making them easier to move and position
• Huge advances in environmentally friendly components and recyclability
• 10 year plus warranty giving confidence in the product’s quality
• Enhance styling and design while still maintaining functionality and ease of use

In a future post I’ll take a look at some of these amazing design ideas and how they have helped improve office sitting comfort.

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Why Office Chairs Can Cause Problems For Short People: And How To Deal With It.

Short people tend to get a rough deal on office chairs and are frequently overlooked entirely by many manufacturers. Chair producers tend to cater mostly for average to larger framed users simply because it is the easiest route for them to move the most products.

Most short people face two challenges either their leg length or torso, and sometimes both, don't work at all well with many desk chairs.

Leg length tends to be the biggest problem. The reason for this is that the vast majority of office chairs simply don't adjust low enough to let users place their feet firmly on the floor.

Consequently this puts the lower body in an awkward and uncomfortable posture. Thankfully there are a couple of solutions to this issue.

Begin by checking whether your chair supplier offers an alternative pneumatic gas lift. Many of the better companies have special low gas lifts allowing the chair to adjust an inch or two lower. It may not sound a lot however it can often make all the difference.

The other alternative to the problem is to buy a footrest, adjustable footrests are best as they allow you to fine tune support for your feet.

Depending on your chair's features, reclining can often be a problem if it has fixed tilt tension. This is mostly a problem for lighter framed users who find themselves fighting their chair when trying to recline. Once again fixed tilt tension is designed to suit the weight of an average built person and is much too stiff for lighter people.

Make sure any chair you consider has either adjustable tilt tension or adjusts automatically to individual user weight. Typical weight ranges start at 100lbs and go up to around 250lbs or more, double check if you fall outside this range.

Seat depth is also another key adjustment missing from far too many chairs. Without it it’s often difficult to gain good leg comfort. Unfortunately there is no simple workaround for fixing this.

Low cost budget office chairs are highly unlikely to be suitable for petite users as they lack the adjustments and flexibility needed to achieve good working task chair comfort.

Fortunately a number of manufacturers do cater well for smaller built individuals by providing ergonomic chairs which will work well for you, including seat depth adjustment. It’s worth taking a look at HÅG's H04 and Neutral Posture’s 5000 series too.

Two cost effective solutions deserving investigation are Izzy’s Bailey chair and Via's Riva range.

Here's a quick summary of the key points:

  • Check if you can get a lower gas lift
  • Consider an adjustable footrest
  • Tilt tension or automatic weight adjustment is key when reclining
  • Seat depth lets you set up good upper leg comfort
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Office Chair Arms Getting In The Way? How Swing Back Technology Fixes The Problem

Most office chairs tend to be fitted with arms and in most cases this is a good thing. And yet often arms just get in the way usually when you want to work close at your desk or move your chair around a tight space.

This most frequently happens with fixed arms which don't adjust at all. So not only can you not move them when you need to, you can't adjust them to suit your individual needs.

As a result you end up with double trouble. First, not being able to get your chair under your workstation and second, suffering discomfort in use because the fixed height isn't a good match for you.

The obvious answer is to go for adjustable arms and yet this may very well only solve one of the two problems.

Swing Down Type Arm

Swing Down Type Arm

The good news is that at least you can set the arms at a height matching your needs and so avoid potential neck and shoulder pain. Frequently though even adjustable arms won't go low enough to fit under your desk edge or move through tight gaps.

Fortunately a number of manufacturers have taken steps to provide an answer to the problem by designing what are known as swing back arms. They are still height adjustable for personal user comfort.

As the name suggests this type of arm can be readily swung out of the way.

Typically they come in two styles, the first type allows the user to release the arms at the base and quickly swing them down towards the rear of the chair.

Swing Behind Arm

Swing Behind Type Arm

The second type remains at the same height but allow the user to push them back and swing them behind the chair back.

Both types achieve the desired effect and quickly convert the chair temporarily into an armless chair until you are ready to push the arms back into position.

Typical examples of the swing down type include Via’s Riva ergonomic chair and Neutral Posture’s 5000, 6000 and 8000 series.

HÅG’s H05 chairs use the swing behind approach which is perhaps the slightly better way of moving arms out of the way.

So, if you find your present chair’s arms limiting in use, these alternatives are well worth checking out when it comes to time to buy a new chair.

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Neutral Posture Office Chairs – 10 Settings Designed For Maximum Body Comfort

If you struggle to set up your office chair to get it to fit you properly, providing you with true comfort and support then you will likely appreciate these models from Neutral Posture.

One of the great things about Neutral Posture products is the level of adjustability they offer users having 10 different adjustment settings as standard which really allows people to fine tune the way they work in their chair for the utmost comfort and support.

And if that isn't enough there are also special accessories and variants for those with special needs catering for specific needs and requirements. Its seating range doesn't just cover the average it goes a lot further offering proper solutions for both the very petite as well as big and tall users, covering people weighing between 90 and 500 pounds.

If you would like to find out more about Neutral Posture seating begin by reading this article for an overview of its products.

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Struggling With Pain In An Office Chair? A Kneeling Chair May Well Work

Kneeling chairs are becoming more and more popular these days as an alternative type of seat to a traditional office chair, particularly for people who find they can’t reach long lasting comfort with their existing task chair.

While it's easy to sit in a kneeling chair new users need to be aware it can take a little time to build up strength in your back's core muscles until you will be able sit in one for extended periods.

This is because they don't always have back supports meaning that your abdominal muscles do need to be actively used. However, this is a good thing as it will keep your body's muscular support structure in good shape.

Some models like those from Kneelsit and Jobri do come with a backrest or the option to fit one and so make it a little easier to sit for longer periods.

To begin with it’s probably best to switch between your old and new chair so you gradually become used to it this may take 3 or 4 weeks.

One of the main advantages of a kneeling chair is it let's you sit in an open position where the angle between thighs and torso is more healthy. This promotes good circulation and helps you breathe more freely and deeply as well as keeping the mind alert and concentration and productivity levels up.

Another benefit is the different ways you can sit in this type of chair, ease of movement and variation is another health plus because regular changes of posture while working will help keep the body supple and muscles moving and active.

There is a wide choice of kneeling chairs available these days, and the original Balans introduced in the 1970s is still going strong and is now called the Variable Balans, HÅG also markets its version the HÅG Balans built around a swivel base with gas lift height adjustment, both are excellent chairs.

Here are some informative articles explaining the benefits of kneeling chairs as well as how to get comfortable in one and if a knee seat is the right choice for you.

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Are Aerons Going To Be Cheaper?

Are cheaper Aerons on the way? Probably not.

Earlier in the week Herman Miller, manufacturers of the legendary Aeron chair settled an antitrust lawsuit brought by New York State and Michigan and Illinois. Miller agreed to pay $750,000 to be split between them.

The suit came about due to Miller’s policy of insisting that their resellers didn't advertise the Aeron for less than the recommended price of $949.

Under the terms of the lawsuit they are still allowed to enforce the pricing policy but aren't allowed to communicate with any of their suppliers about it. The agreement will remain in force until 2010.

It all seems a bit pointless really and I don't expect it will affect the price of the Aeron.

It’s likely that online dealers were the target of Miller’s policy as they don't have the overheads that a traditional bricks and mortar dealer has.

It must be frustrating to have people visit your showroom, try the product and then search the net for a better price later. That’s probably the way with a lot of product purchases these days.

Here's where you can find the full story.

You can find out more about the Aeron range here.

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Why Office Ergonomics Matters

We are all spending more and more time working sitting at our desks, keying in information and mousing as we surf the net.

And this heavy workload puts our bodies under ever increasing stress and strain.

Our muscles are designed to work harmoniously with each other, generally in pairs – one extends and the other contracts, but when we abuse our bodies with bad posture they have to work a lot harder. And ultimately this leads to RSI related problems causing inflammation and pain if we don't correct things.

Even when our muscles are inactive they are placed under static loading, so sitting still for extended periods doesn't help either, instead they need to be engaged in healthy movement.

So what are all these RSI related problems costing and how many people are affected?

Well according to a study some years back from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and OSHA it's a big problem.

The average claim varies between $7,000 – $30,000 per injury with an estimated 700,000 claims a year and that all adds up to an annual cost running into billions of dollars. And worse yet the average lost working time is 18 days.

Surely it makes to sense to make every effort to minimize these claims.

I'm not suggesting that everyone rushes out and buys a top of the range Aeron, but equally it makes no sense to buy cheap poorly designed chairs.

A good starting point is to take a look at my recommendations for the minimum features that an ergonomic office chair should have.

Take a look at the reviews of products meeting these standards, it's a good place to start.

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Selecting a home office task chair

I came across an interesting post recently at apartmenttherapy.com

Managing editor, Gregory Han decided it was time to replace his existing home office chair.

He had been using an Eames side chair which is hardly the ideal chair for working at a PC.

Rather than just buying a cheap task chair from the local office supplies warehouse, he decided to research the market for high end task chairs.

He quickly discovered that there are dozens of quality ergonomic task chairs to choose from and as he wasn't going to able to evaluate them all, let alone try them.

He decided to shortlist it down to a handful of the top chairs like the Humanscale Freedom, Steelcase Leap, Knoll Life, Herman Miller Mirra and rely on other user's opinions of them.

To find out which chair he finally selected and why, read about the chair he chose to go for.

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BalanceBall® Ergonomic Ball Chair

BalanceBall SeatBall chairs continue to be a popular alternative to conventional office seating, people who have back problems often find relief in this alternative form of seating.

Although, I've covered a number of different models in the Stools and Ball Chairs part of the main website, the BalanceBall® is one that I have yet to consider.

It works on the same principle as other models of Ball chair in that it encourages you to sit healthily, that is “active sitting” you won't doze off in this type of seat it's designed to keep your back active and healthy.

The chair is available online for Gaiam.com and Amazon.

I'll be adding a full review of the product to the Ball Chair review section of the site shortly.

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