When discussing how seating choices change with age, Alan Hedge, an ergonomics
specialist at Cornell University, says jokingly, "A healthy 20-year-old
could sit on a block of concrete and be fine." Concrete blocks, however,
are not appropriate for the majority of end-users. To help facilities professionals
choose proper seating, BI interviewed ergonomic research experts and design
professionals to develop a list of criteria questions. Their practical advice
will help you get the perfect fit for your workplace needs.
"The word ergonomics is used to describe a multitude of chairs, some of
which are patently not ergonomically designed," says Alan Hedge, director
of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, Department of Design and Environmental
Analysis, at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Sometimes distinguishing between
health and hype is challenging. Niels Diffrient, a Ridgefield, CT-based industrial
designer, encourages facilities professionals to rely on advice from ergonomic
What are the two most common pitfalls for facilities professionals in seating
selection? According to Diffrient, they are:
Choosing chairs after testing them for a few minutes.
Being too swayed by appearance.
"That's not to say there aren't well-functioning products that look good.
It's just that aesthetics shouldn't be the sole criterion," says Diffrient.
Looks aside, education is key. Hedge believes a chair's chief requirements
Dynamic movement, allowing the sitter to recline slightly.
Adequate support from the lower back to at least the shoulder blades.
Whether end-users can adjust a chair's back height while seated.
Other important considerations are avoiding any compression of the back of
the knees, and comfortable support for the pelvis.
To achieve these ergonomic aims and others, a chair must be well-designed and
its controls must be intuitive and accessible. "My objective is that a
person should use a chair; it should do a good job for them; and they should
never have to think about it," says Different.
In recent years, chairs have taken center stage with bold design. "Aesthetically,
is not embarrassed to be stronger visually, to be more extreme,"
says Leo Welter, seating project manager in the Chicago office of KI. Another
design trend is that the feature set from most seating manufacturers is comparable.
Seating has also become easier to move and manipulate to suit the needs of facilities
But what ranks as the No. 1 concern of facilities managers? "Price does
not rank near the top. What comes across consistently is durability and comfort,"
says Welter. Increasingly, facilities professionals want a single type of chair
to fit a wide variety of end-users. He adds, "Basically, to have one chair
be everything to everybody has been the challenge of the industry for the last
The two defining trends of the next five years, according to Suzanne Lovell,
principal of Chicago-based Lovell Fridstein Limited, will be timeless design
and the importance of privacy. "The concept of having one's own space is
becoming increasingly important. It's the way we live with our laptops: Whether
we're on an airplane or in a conference room, we are in our own little world,"
she says. Lovell states that sensitivity to privacy will be especially prevalent
in healthcare facilities.
In healthcare and hospitality spaces, Kimberley Christman, president at AGI,
Chicago, sees a move towards more residential-inspired interior products. "I
see healthcare pieces you could take to your home. It represents the humanization
of the business environment," she says. More lounge seating will have modem
and electric outlets so that waiting rooms can be working rooms.
Educational seating has generally not been very dynamic in terms of seating.
Those hard little grammar school chairs may be here to stay; however, the future
of corporate and government training areas is flexible mini-workstation chairs.
"Facilities managers want the training environment to be more multi-purpose,
more fluid," says Welter.
Regina Raiford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is senior editor at Buildings and BI magazines.