If there's no such thing as an ergonomic chair, then why are so many chairs labelled as ‘ergonomic’?
Because it sounds good. It’s a marketing strategy, not dissimilar to labelling food as ‘super’ or mattresses as ‘orthopaedic’.
And what exactly is a ‘Retina’ display?
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But how do we know these are hyperbolic prefixes rather than a measure of quality? Because there are no objective measures by which we can define the nomenclature. What exactly defines a superfood or an orthopaedic bed, all foods have the potential to significantly improve or support health and so may be considered super.
Think of the value of a Mars Bar to a starving man, or someone just finishing an Ironman triathlon, or in the midst of an Ultra marathon. Does this make a Mars Bar a superfood?
It is definitely more super than a piece of Kale in those circumstances.
And therein lies the rub. It’s all about context...
So, what does ‘ergonomic’ mean?
I’ll avoid the temptation to give you the dictionary definition or to do the Greek to English translation for you. That’s what Google is for. Instead, I’ll use one word – 'Fit'.
Ergonomics is about fit between human beings (Ergonomics is also known as Human Factors), and all aspects of their work, including, but not limited to, the tools used, furniture, the environment and organisational factors, such as staffing levels, working hours and break duration and frequency. Therefore, the study of ergonomics aims to design tools, spaces, environments, and job roles etc. to optimise fit so that health and productivity is protected and enhanced respectively. Outside of the sphere of work, ergonomic design has extended to tools used at home and for leisure. You may have an ergonomically designed PlayStation remote, carving knife or bathroom tap for example.
So, an ergonomic chair is one that fits the person using it. And this is determined, most obviously, by the size of the person, but also by their preferences with regards to comfort; for example, if you have a wool allergy, then a chair covered in a wool fabric, would not be ergonomic for you. The environment that the chair is used in, should also be considered, if it is to be truly ergonomic. Did you know that you can get several different castors (wheels) on a chair that are designed for hard floors (more friction) or carpeted floors (less friction). The height of the work surface that is in use, is also a factor, as the seat will need to raise high enough, or go low enough, to accommodate.
Finally, the tasks undertaken should be taken into account. Cashiers at a bank generally prefer not to have arm rests on their chairs as they are obstructive when reaching to the sides, whereas graphic designers tend to rest their elbow on a chair arm during long periods of drawing/mouse use.
So, a chair cannot be ‘ergonomic’ in isolation, but if you have information to determine the context in which it will be used, including information about the user or users, then a chair that provides a good fit can be sought and this will then make it more ergonomic, which provides many benefits in terms of the aforementioned health and productivity!