The Best Work Chair or the Principles of Seating
By Teodora Nikolova

It seems appropriate to start off by quoting Niels Diffrient, the pioneer of modern ergonomics and creator of the Humanscale brand, which sets the highest standards in this field. “There is no perfect chair,” Niels Diffrient said. “A bed is the most comfortable chair. In a bed, the weight is distributed as evenly as possible, which removes the gravity-induced strain concentration in certain body segments.”. This introduction, though, is not in the least intended to urge you to grab your laptop, crawl into bed, and start working from there. In principle, it is best to keep one’s bed a workfree area, while the other two positions, i.e., sitting and standing, should be reserved for work activities. What is most important for the sitting position is finding the best possible chair.

Mens sana in corpore sano (A Sound Mind in a Sound Body)
“Chairs are not just an addition to the office furniture,” Niels Diffrient also said. They are the personal islands, the microsegments of the overall office structure that encompass the idea of ergonomics and healthy personal working environment. The fact that, while working, we spend a long time sitting down, sometimes getting carried away and failing even to realise how long, makes the need for ergonomic work chair design particularly acute. Such a need is an integral part of a well-rationalized business strategy. This is so because the price of a good ergonomic office chair is, invariably, greatly outweighed by the improved worker productivity it helps generate over time. A good ergonomic chair, to quote once again the words of Niels Diffrient, should be perceived as good sports equipment – it ought to protect and ought to ensure comfort, as well as the achievement of the best possible results. These are also the effects of a healthy workplace environment. On the other hand, an uncomfortable chair may inflict enormous harm. It all starts with that burning pain or with the painful tingling in some part of the body, the nagging back pain, the stiffness of the neck and limbs, the headaches … All those body aches that destroy or take away the feeling of happiness and, consequently, the creativity and productivity at work.

The Importance of Intuitiveness

“Chair design ought to take account of the bell curve,” I feel tempted to once again quote Niels Diffrient. This means that design ought to take account of the human factor. The bell curve is the graph that reflects the diversity of physical attributes in humans. According to it, some 80 per cent of all people are of average height and weight. The remaining 20 per cent are at the extremes of height or weight. The good ergonomic design strives to cover fully the 80 per cent and makes an effort to cover the 20 per cent as much as possible. The purpose is to ensure that any given chair fits at least 95 per cent of the population. This is achieved by designing and manufacturing the chair, both from a constructive and technological point of view, in such a way as to ensure that it intuitively adjusts itself. This is precisely what makes it fit the wide range of physical attributes. Employing this concept, Niels Diffrient created the theory and the practice of the IQ chair – the modern ergonomic task chair, which has acquired its specific appearances in the various models of the Humanscale brand. The IQ chair was created to be used for working at a computer for extended periods of time. It is intuitive and cares about the user’s comfort needs. In order, however, to ensure that the sitter gets maximum support and constant dynamic interaction with the chair without having to think about it, he or she needs to have a complete understanding of the possibilities offered by the intelligent chair, as well as of the principles of seating, in and of itself.
Circle of Life or the indispensable clock
We cannot talk about light without first addressing the circadian rhythm. It incorporates all biological processes that are governed by the day/night cycle or to put it another way – by the presence or absence of daylight. The internal clock is vital to physical and mental health. Contrary to the myth of the depressed, sleep-deprived and tortured artist who nevertheless produces amazing masterpieces, the truth is that physical and mental health is essential to creativity and productivity. And this is impossible without the proper functioning of the internal clock. The challenge here results from the fact that we have long since abandoned our natural environment where the only source of light was the sun and now around 90% of our waking hours are spent inside using mixed or artificial light. Repeated disruptions to the biological rhythm lead to sleep disorders, which prevent the body from recuperating fully and deprive it of its vitality, cause mood swings and may even lead to a number of serious illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This is why it is imperative that office lighting design should focus on the interaction between humans and light and its effect on physiological and mental systems. The more we do this, the more the effect of sustainable lighting will increase, which will not only save energy but will also improve staff wellbeing and morale, which in turn will boost creativity, efficiency and business performance.
The Nature of Sitting
Nature has endowed the human body with the need to move. Movement fosters both the physiological and intellectual processes. It is like a breath of fresh air for them both. The need to move grows particularly acute while in a sitting position. This is why we change our posture when sitting by either leaning forward or reclining backwards. We strive subconsciously to diffuse the pressure concentration in our sitting bones and to distribute it onto the larger surface of the backrest. By leaning back, we open up the sitting angle, reduce the stress by distributing the strain over a larger area, release the diaphragm and the digestive tract, which has a favourable impact on other bodily processes.
The Understanding Chair
The IQ chair, being the essence of the modern ergonomics concept, was created using a special strategy consistent as much as possible with the nature of sitting. Its aim is to reduce the strain in the zones where the body is in contact with the chair and to distribute it evenly. When a sitter opens up the sitting angle, the backrest, the armrests, and the headrest react intuitively to his or her movements, thus creating a feeling of lightness and weightlessness, which is as close as possible to the feeling we experience in a lying down position. “Comfort is the absence of discomfort,” according to the definition given by Diffrient. The best chair is the one that really makes you feel nothing while sitting in it.
The IQ chair has achieved this aim as much as possible. From a structural point of view, the surface curvatures ensure a high degree of precision in enfolding the different body segments. The backrest has an S-shaped curvature matching the natural curves of the spine. Based on data that around 95 per cent of all people are reluctant to adjust the reclining mechanism because, among other things, it would lead also to distraction from their intellectual work, the intelligent chair does not require such adjustment. The unique recline system is designed in such a way as to respond to the sitter’s individual weight and individual movement patterns. This way, leaning back relieves 30 to 35 per cent of the strain concentration without you having to think about it. The headrest, matching perfectly the spinal curvature in this zone, automatically repositions itself and meets the head in such a way as to maintain the visual level, which is important when working with display screen equipment. The IQ chair features alternative armrests. They are attached not to the seat but to the backrest. This way, they follow the torso movement just as the arms follow the body movements, thus relieving some 20 per cent of the strain concentration. Other advantages of the intelligent chair’s ergonomic design include the system coordinating the parallel height of both armrests, the possibility to lock them in a certain position and to set such position precisely so as to ensure comfort while typing on a keyboard. Additionally, the materials used build on the ergonomic design of the IQ chair’s geometry. The upholstery is comprised of a padding, soft foam and a gentle gel layer, which reacts to the sitter’s weight and prevents its concentration onto certain points. The armrest upholstery is comprised of a special innovative material that softens the elbow touch. The purpose, once again, is to avoid stress.
Just Like an Automatic Transmission
The IQ chair is not strewn with levers and buttons because it has been found that 95 per cent of all people do not use the adjustments done by dint of such levers or knobs. This is so because (a) there exists no standardization of such controls and (b) they can be rather encumbering and distracting. In contrast, the IQ chair resembles an automatic transmission. There is no need for the sitter to think how to control it and to grope around for the respective lever somewhere to the side or somewhere beneath. The intelligence of the IQ chair consists exactly in its ability to respond automatically. It has just one visible controlling device – the height adjustment mechanism. Once the chair has been fitted to the sitter’s body dimensions, all other movements and adjustments occur intuitively. If a mechanism is visible, it speaks of poor integration, to quote once again the words of Niels Diffrient. Niels Diffrient’s concept of an intelligent chair embodies the perfect integration – of person and design, of innovative materials and technologies, of different functions.
How to Choose the Best Work Chair?
This undertaking is somewhat reminiscent of the quandary most people face when choosing the right shoes. It is, however, a much more responsible choice since the consequences are much weightier and longer-lasting. In any case, in choosing a work chair we are faced with the perennial dilemma of shoe buyers – aesthetics or comfort. There are shoe buyers who are inclined to go for the inconvenience of a pinching model just because it is irresistibly beautiful or matches perfectly their outfit. Once purchased, though, a pair of pinching shoes bring joy only when their owner takes them off and often remain unworn in the closet. When purchasing a work chair, aesthetics also merits some discussion. Matching aesthetics and ergonomic design is always a rather sensitive matter. The contemporary design of the models produced by Humanscale, Knoll, Arper, Bene, etc. (all of which are available to see and try out in our showroom) has achieved an exceptionally good balance to this end. These chairs feature a fine contour resembling the curvatures of the human body. They embody the synthesis of refined industrial aesthetics and that flavour of timeless elegance.
Price, Price, Price …
When buying a high-end work chair, it is very important to know what we are paying for. And what we really pay for is the comfort, which means health and, consequently, willingness to work, work efficiency, a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. Paying a higher price for a better work chair, we ensure improved work performance and successfulness of our business, as well as less medical expenses. In addition to the above-mentioned principles of seating, a good work chair incorporates thoroughly rationalised innovative materials and technologies that are integrated and long-lasting. With this in mind, it should be said that it is not impossible to buy a good work chair at a price below 500 Euro. One such example is Sidiz T50 – a truly exceptional chair in terms of both ergonomics and aesthetics. One could not, however, expect to acquire a high-quality chair at a price below 200 Euro. And the usual price of a really high-end work chair starts from around 900 Euro.
You can find the answer to the question of what exactly to look for and weigh up when choosing a work chair in a separate article on this topic.
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