Ergonomic seating is only average

It is estimated that during the course of an average office worker’s career he or she will have sat in more than 3 but less than 15 different types of office chairs. Statistics don’t actually tell you much really. Some workers stay in the same job for many years and develop a personal attachment to their office chair. Others move between jobs.

Over decades office chair design has been driven by the need to comply with adjustable functionality based on Anthropometric guidelines. These averaged body and limb measurements obtained from small samples of evenly-gendered subjects from the UK (or more recently from sample data collected around Europe, or in some studies aggregated from data sourced from around the World) set the limitations on component and product design. We are supposed to accept that statisticians can predict a standard deviation around the mean average of a small sample population and that the guidelines will suit 90% of office workers. That is the basis on which the minimum standards are calculated.

Even in the USA, the hotbed of much of the 3-Dimensional anthropometric modelling research that has driven ergonomic seating design into the 21st Century, seating adjustability has been calculated on a sample of only 4431 individuals compiled from studies across the US and Europe. The resulting industry norms, through the application of inferential statistics, have led to the creation of products purporting to suit the mass market – the 5th to 95th percentiles of an inferred normal distribution.

However, at the sharp end, when you are up close and personal with the individual user, things can often look and feel very differently.

The vast majority of office chairs, designed specifically to fit the guidelines, allow for only the standard deviation of adjustability. In reality there are many individuals that are not average. The effect of only matching standard international guidelines for chair design is that the specific needs of individuals are obfuscated during the average measurement process.

The challenges of allowing for adjustability for a user’s height, for longer or shorter limbs, may have been taken into account when designing the chair, but what about body mass, body volume, or the natural laws of gender, ethnicity, age, proportion or well-being?

What about the personal stature, shape or combination of shapes that makes the human being the individual? What about the physical displacement of the person’s body volume? This deeply affects our personal interface with the office chair, has no statistical link with body height or limb length and can adversely affect our sense of comfort or support whilst sitting.

If you have ever been out at the coalface talking to people about their personal chair nightmare you will know that every individual has a different story, a different sub-set of problems, a different body shape; a different solution from the average.

Things to consider