12/29/2004

Seat of Knowledge

Answers to your questions on seating and ergonomics

 

Niels Diffrient Alan Hedge

Up Close & Personal: Biographies

A seminal designer in ergonomic furniture, Niels Diffrient spent 25 years as a designer and partner in the office of the noted industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss before opening his own independent office. Diffrient is known for his dedication to human factors, which helps to make products more comfortable and appropriate for users. His work has been recognized by dozens of awards and honorary citations, including the prestigious Chrysler Design Award. Diffrient’s latest product is the Freedom chair for Humanscale.

     
Alan Hedge is a professor in the department of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, where, since 1987, he has directed the human factors and ergonomics teaching and research programs. His research and teaching activities have focused on issues of design and workplace ergonomics as these affect the health, comfort, and productivity of workers. In addition to serving on the editorial boards of several journals, Hedge has given testimony on ergonomic issues to the U.S. House of Representatives, OSHA, and the U.K. House of Commons.

What are the major advances in seating design in terms of ergonomics?

Today’s ergonomic chairs are light-years ahead of workplace chairs created 15 years ago. “Modern chairs are easier to use, much easier to adjust – in a sense, the chair thinks for you,” says Alan Hedge, professor, department of design and environmental analysis, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Along with fewer controls, chairs have become more intuitive.

How would a facility manager determine high-quality ergonomic chairs?

“Just because there are some levers underneath the seat doesn’t mean the chair truly has ergonomic benefits,” says Niels Diffrient, industrial designer, Ridgefield, CT. Diffrient urges facilities mangers to research this topic and experiment with different furniture products to obtain the best fit for their companies.

What mistake have you seen facilities and design professionals make when choosing ergonomic furniture?

“The primary mistake is just buying an ergonomic chair. That is only part of the need; you have to have a table and related equipment to go with it,” explains Diffrient. Fortunately for heavy computer users, keyboards and other support devices have also evolved, allowing for tremendous flexibility in furniture configuration. Modern keyboards have become lighter and more responsive, and computer mice are more comfortable for the hand and wrist.

Liquid crystal technology display screens, which are easier to adjust and view than cathode ray tubes, represent the next frontier in comfortable, healthy workspaces. The development of wireless technology presents potential benefits and drawbacks. While prolonged use of a laptop can be uncomfortable, an external keyboard, mouse, and laptop combination allows for greater comfort.

“Now we are in a position where there is a lot of variety; where a professional can tailor the workplace to the company, the needs of the people, and the demands of the job in a way that we’ve never had before,” says Hedge. With this abundance of options, Hedge sees more organizations taking a proactive approach to worker health and productivity.

Do you recommend that facilities managers test seating products in the workplace?

While having end-users spend an extended period testing chairs is ideal, Diffrient is concerned that even a 2-week testing period will be inadequate if facilities managers do not educate themselves on human factors. Adds Diffrient, “People know surprisingly little about their own bodies, but if you are involved and spend time observing people, testing people, and checking the literature, you begin to understand the way the body works.”

A final word to facilities managers on ergonomics?

Good ergonomics makes good business sense. “Remember, the goal of ergonomics is not to deal with sick people; the goal is to create effective workplaces,” says Hedge.

By focusing on the true goal of human factors research, facilities professionals can accommodate changing technology and create truly successful work environments.

Regina Raiford Babcock (regina.raifordbabcock@buildings.com) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

 

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Need portable cooling?

Rent or buy spot coolers from full-service locations nationwide. On call “24/7”. Primary, supplemental or emergency cooling. Atlas Sales & Rentals, Inc., or call (800) 972-6600.

Click here for more info


Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.


Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.


When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality.

Bluebeam® Revu® simplifies digital facilities document management from design review to leveraging as-builts, maintenance manuals and O&Ms submittals.

Yaskawa drives offer quality performance for air handlers and cooling towers on the roof to secondary chilled water pumps in the basement

We Can Help You Reduce Energy by 30%

Our mission is to help our customers manage their buildings' energy costs, improve reliability, and enhance performance while having a positive impact on the environment.
CLICK HERE to find out how.


 
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