Ville’s Ergonomics Recommendations

I have updated the Ergonomics Recommendations below as of 16 April 2012. Since the list was previously reviewed and updated a few years ago, many links had to be updated along with the content that now reflects the technology today. Hopefully this resource provides useful pointers for anyone looking for information on computer workstation ergonomics. Feel free to leave comments, additions, and corrections; I edit and update this page periodically.

You can access this page also via a shorter URL:

http://galagzee.com/ergonomics/

Computer Work Environment

  • Work table (by Biomorph)
    • Biomorph »interactive desks» are awesome, though rather pricey workstation tables. Considering the premium price I wish they offered an even a more “wrap around” model as there is often no sufficient table work area after a keyboard, trackball, tablet, etc. are placed on it. Biomorph’s professional line tables (Maxo, Pro, Multi, and Flexo) come with the height adjustment capability which allows easy conversion of the work surface from sitting to standing height.
    • Another good option for a work desk is Elevate™ Wrap by Anthro. Again, it won’t come cheap. Anthro manufactures also a wide range of other adjustable technical furniture.
    • More ergonomic desks are available from GeekDesk and ErgoSource.

  • Work chair (by Herman-Miller)
    • During the “dot-com bubble” from late 90’s to very early 2000’s Herman Miller’s Aeron chairs could be found from numerous startup offices. Aeron was, and still is not a bad chair, but it is very heavy, and not particularly easy to adjust to optimal ergonomic settings. I, for example, very often caught myself sitting on the edge of the seat — essentially on the “rim”, without utilizing the back support. Having recurring lower back pain I started looking for the modern alternatives and came across Liberty chair by Humanscale, which at first sight looks rather simplistic when compared to Aeron. There are no recline controls or locks, no seat-back tension adjustment knob, and no adjustable lumbar support. The only levers that can be found on the chair are, in fact, for seat height and depth and, optionally, arm-rest height. But sit on the chair, and… ahh! It automatically shapes itself to support your back! No more accidental sitting on the rim (well, there is no rim on Liberty chair — the seat is not hammock-forming mesh but very comfortable gel/foam). I have now used the Liberty chair for about six years and have been quite happy with it. Ergonomics technology evolves, however, and Herman-Miller may once again be the top dog of task chairs once again with their new Embody chair! It will be my next task chair.
    • A good chair should be accompanied with a good footrest. Check out Webble™ Active Footrest.

  • LCD Display (by a major manufacturer)
    • The continuing price cuts of the LCD displays have put the “optimal” display setup in the price range of most user. It is difficult to recommend a particular brand, but fortunately there are several resources that help to narrow down the displays best suited to the specific technical and ergonomic requirements. Studies indicate that a second monitor significantly improves workflow and productivity especially for tasks that often require multiple concurrent open programs/windows (such as programming or graphics design to name a few). I would claim a third monitor will further optimize the work area (others are saying so, too). Likely beyond the third monitor the productivity increases wane as more desktop space is added. Three 1920×1080, 1920×1200, or 2560×1440 monitors (depending on your budget) on a triple monitor stand is likely about as optimal a monitor setup gets for general programming/development/design use, short of the insane total desktop space of 7680×1600 offered by three “HD” displays (at 2560×1600 each) that Al Gore enjoys in his office. Professionals working with video may have further requirements (though Al’s setup would likely suffice for those tasks, too). When considering multiple monitors, note that if you have two monitors, you’ll end up staring at the ‘seam’ between the two monitors in the center of your visual field. With a third monitor in the middle there is no such problem.
    • The professional graphics card solutions include various models from NVIDIA, Sapphire Technology, PNY GeForce, PNY Quadro, Leadtek, ASUS, AMD/ATI and some other manufacturers. Some of these graphics cards provide connectors for two or even four displays. Quad-monitor connectivity is offered on a single board, for example, by NVIDIA Quadro NVS -based boards from various manufactures, and is usually sufficient for ‘business’ use. However, for reasonable 3D performance you’ll need a 3D capable graphics card (such as NVIDIA Fermi series card) for each 1-2 monitors. Two decent graphcis cards are usually sufficient to feed up to four monitors with good 3D performance. Newegg Desktop Graphics Cards by rating helps to narrow down the currently best grphics card options from the multitude of available – and constantly – evolving offerings.
    • Many graphics cards offer two dual-link capable DVI outputs (see details in Wikipedia) to be used with the “HD” or “Cinema” displays capable of displaying 2560×1600 resolution. If you’re going to use the multi-display system for gaming you should be looking for one or two (depending whether you want 1-2 or 3-4 displays) late model NVIDIA graphics cards (e.g. NVIDIA Fermi -based cards). Obviously, your motherboard will need to have the necessary [dual] PCIe (16x) connectors on it for use with two graphics cards and your computer case must be able to accommodate the usually rather large 3D-capable graphics cards, including providing the auxiliary power many high-end 3D cards require.
    • Generally all modern graphics cards are able to display the desktop across three or four monitors, but the taskbar is limited one (“primary”) screen. If you want to have the task bar on more than two monitors, use DisplayFusion to extend it beyond the primary display. True Launch Bar is another handy utility that allows you to pack more icons on the QuickLaunch bar. Both utilities are available on Windows platform.
    • Another – but less performant – option for multi-monitor connectivity is offered by Sewell Direct’s USB-to-DVI “external video card” – it also works with laptops just like Digital Tigers’ PC Card -based external video card. Matrox’s external DualHead2Go and TripleHead2Go modules take another approach by connecting to the host computer’s existing video – preferably dual link enabled – video output.
    • The LCD panels are easy to mount in a wide variety of ways to provide the optimal viewing angle. Number of manufacturers offer wide range of mounting mechanisms for the LCD panels (the connector is quite universally standardized, so no matter which manufacturer’s display(s) you purchase, it should be possible to use standardized mounts with them). Ergotron and CHIEF are good suppliers of LCD desktop mounting mechanisms. Humanscale also offers “Para/Flex” multi-monitor mount for up to eight LCD panels in two rows. Cinemassive offers range of pre-integrated multi-monitor solutions, all the way up to “OmegaPlex” multi-display with twelve screens and over 27 million pixels!
    • Some noteworthy multi-monitor software on the Windows platform in addition to the DisplayFusion and True Launch Bar mentioned above include utilities such as UltraMon, MaxiVista, NVIDIA’s nView (which is supported by many controllers built by NVIDIA as well as by other manufacturers’ controllers that are based on NVIDIA chips, such as various models by PNY, Leadtek, ASUS, and several other manufacturers), Actual Multiple Monitors (I prefer DisplayFusion), UltraMon (again, I prefer DisplayFusion), and Synergy. I should also mention Digital Blasphemy gallery where you can find wonderful background wallpapers, including very large screen sizes and multi screen setups (up to 7680×1600 pixels).
    • Some points to consider regarding a multi-monitor setup:
      • The easiest way to combine the monitors is to get a single card that supports 2 or 4 monitors per your requirements. Large number of NVIDIA and AMD/ATI chipset graphics cards prodivde support for two monitors, usually with 3D support. If you’re not going to use your multi-monitor setup for games or other 3D-use and need 3 or 4 monitors, consider a NVIDIA Quadro NVS -series card (models available from at last from PNY and Leadtek). For 3 or 4 monitors with 3D support, get two separate 3D-capable dual-monitor cards.
      • If you’re using two or four displays, you’ll be looking at the bezel right in front of you. Having used dual-display setup for quite some time before switching to triple-display setup, it is my opinion that having the bezel seam in the center of your visual field is surprisingly unpleasant: many of the program prompts, login-boxes, etc. are by default centered in the unified display right at the seam. With three monitors the center of your middle monitor is the center of all three displays, and that’s where the prompts will show up.
      • Most of of the common multi-monitor gear can be ordered from Newegg or other web merchants. There are some companies that specialize in multi-monitor equipment, and they also provide pre-integrated multi-monitor solutions. One of them is Multi-Monitors.com
      • As of the most recent update of this list (April 2012), Apple OSX doesn’t appear as friendly to multi-monitor users. There are no multi-monitor utilities available (such as to extend the toolbar across the monitors, or to facilitate moving windows easily – by a keyboard shortcut – from monitor to another), and apparently OSX Lion has some issues with multiple displays on the operating system level. This is likely to change, however.
    • If you suffer from Computer Vision Syndrome, check out Prio lenses.

  • Trackball (by Logitech)
    • Microsoft’s venerable — if not legendary — Trackball Explorer was probably the most ergonomic trackball that has ever been manufactured. Microsoft, however, decided to »focus on creating comfortable and stylish mouse products instead of trackballs» and Trackball Explorer was discontinued as a fringe product. You might still be able to find a one from eBay for three to five times the original cost.
    • With Trackball Explorer gone, the reasonable ergonomic trackball options are limited to Kensington Expert Mouse, and Logitech Wireless Trackball M570 which is reminescent of Microsoft Trackball Explorer with the trackball and the button control locations swapped. Both are decent trackballs – I use Expert Mouse at my workstation and M570 with my laptop. There are some considerations on which may suit your environment the best; read my recent blog post about the matter. Even though Logitech M570 places the trackball’s ball under the thumb, it is sufficiently accurate for general use. For CAD/3D use I would consider Kensington’s Expert Mouse instead. Edit: After the scroll ring of my workstation’s Expert Mouse failed recently, I decided to replace it with Logitech M570 since I had been using one on my laptop for about a year. I’m quite happy with it.
    • Additionally, Logitech and Kensington offer few other trackball models which I haven’t found to be particularly pleasant to use. Logitech Trackman Marble trackball and Kensington Orbit Optical Trackball are very sensitive to dirt (so they are not suitable, for instance, for kids’ use :)). Kensington SlimBlade was clearly designed with the »It is better to look good than to feel good» principle in mind. Kensington Orbit Trackball with Scroll Ring is sturdy and functional, but not particularly ergonomic (being difficult to destroy, my kids use it on their computers ;)).
    • Contour Design RollerMouse models enable easy mouse movement with minimal effort, and without having to move hands significantly.
    • There are also some more industrial trackballs such as those from Evergreen Systems, and CH Products, but their applications are generally not at a programmer’s or a designer’s desk but instead perhaps in a nuclear power plant control room or on an air-craft carrier bridge.
    • An upright joystick-like Ergonomic Mouse (formerly known as “Renaissance Mouse”) by 3M may be suitable for some people, and Evoluent VerticalMouse can alleviate RSI symptoms.
    • Getting used to a trackball may take from couple of weeks to couple of months, but usually people who make the transition never look back. However, if you are more comfortable with a mouse, take a look at Microsoft’s and Logitech’s extensive lines of mouse products (many of which – such as Logitech Perforance Mouse MX – are quite ergonomically designed.. but they come at the expense of more wrist movement by design [as compared to the trackballs]), or consider Contour Design’s very ergonomically designed Perfit Mouse which comes in various sizes to fit individual hand sizes.
    • Perific manufactures a hand-held Wireless Dual Mouse that includes a small trackball.
    • Many of the trackballs and mouses – such as those from Kensington, Logitech, and Microsoft – come with a driver/utility that makes it possible to adjust scrolling speed, mouse speed, and button function to some degree. On Windows platform you can further enhance the trackball/mouse operations with an excellent utility X-Mouse Button Control.
    • TrackballWorld™ has a good stock of variety of currently available trackballs, and The Human Solution stocks a variety of ergonomic mice.

  • Keyboard (by Microsoft)
    • I have been quite happy with Microsoft Natural Keyboard series, most recently with Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. It has provided the right balance between ergonomics and usability. Perhaps if I were simply typing out text (such as writing a novella or a screenplay), a more radically ergonomic keyboard such as one of the Kinesis, Maltron, or Goldtouch models might have come into question. But for mixed programming/general writing use the more radical keyboards tend to become a hindrance (unless, of course, the user is suffering from RSI or other ailment which one of the more radical keyboard designs alleviate).
    • Many of the ergonomic keyboards are available with alternative international layouts. The above mentioned Unicomp and WASD Keyboards offer 105-key “ISO” layouts. Microsoft offers international layouts only when purchased from the target countries; i.e. to get a German layout version of a Microsoft keyboard you need to order one from the German language area (Germany, Switzerland..), etc.
    • Some of the ergonomic keyboards are available with Dvorak (wikipedia entry) lay-out legends, and may be software remappable. Matias manufactures a high quality Dvorak keyboard with dual-labelled (Dvorak/QWERTY) keycaps. TypeMatrix keyboard has a one-touch key to switch between Dvorak and QWERTY layouts (see a TypeMatrix review).
    • There has been a lot of discussion and debate about what is the most ergonomical keyboard for programmers. I think it mostly boils down to individual taste. Some prefer the awesomely robust reincarnation of the IBM Model M by Unicomp (it’s the real deal: Unicomp purchased IBM Lexmark’s keyboard division!). Another popular Model M -like keyboard, “Model S“, is manufactured by DasKeyboard. DasKeyboard offers both mechanical switches and quieter soft pressure point switches which may be more suitable for open office environments. Other keyboard manufacturers worth mentioning include EliteKeyboards, WASD Keyboards, and Max Keyboard. WASD offers extensive keyboard customization (see examples) and a handy online Custom Keyboard Designer.
    • Many of the keyboards include numeric keypads, but if you need a separate numeric keypad (for example, for use with a laptop) consider adding Genovation MicroPad to your system.
    • If you mostly use a mouse or a trackball, but also have to frequently type in short bits of information, or if you have a handicap that limits the use of one hand, Infogrip BAT, FrogPad (also wireless), or rather expensive Matias half-qwertykeyboard may be the solution as they replicate all the functions of a standard keyboard in a device that can be operated with one hand. “Lefty” and “righty” versions versions are available of “BAT” and “FrogPad” while Matias half-qwertykeyboard offers easy switching between single-handed left or right, and two-handed typing. If you know that you’ll ever be typing with left or right hand only, Matias keyboard is available in smaller halfkeyboard form factor.
    • Need to add extra keys for macros and other programmable functions? Take a look at various Genovation ControlPad models and various X-keys models from P.I. Engineering.
    • Razer manufactures a fully programmable ergonomical keyboard-like device for gamers. Check out Razer NOSTROMO.
    • On Windows platform, be sure to check out AutoHotkey and Keyboard Layout Manager utilities! The former allows easy creation of complex hotkeys while the latter makes it easy to remap virtually any key and key combination on the keyboard. RSIGuard is a small utility that tracks your keyboard and mouse use, and suggests breaks/stretches to prevent and/or mitigate RSI symptoms based on a brief questionnaire (during its installation) about the way you use your computer, and your possible current RSI problems.
    • Head to Deskthority for active forums about input devices of all kinds.

  • Digitizing tablet (by WACOM)
    • One ergonomic item whose recommendation hasn’t changed for many, many years is the digitizing tablet. Kurta and other significant competition has gone away long, long ago, and WACOM keeps improving their professional Intuos and consumer-oriented Bamboo (formerly ‘Graphire’) product lines. Bamboo is ok, but if you’re not on a tight budget, the higher resolution and the additional features offered by Intuos line are worth the extra money. WACOM also makes Cintiq-tablets which come with an integrated screen.
    • The tablet can be connected and used concurrently (though not simultaneously) with other pointing devices such as a trackball. If you plan to use the tablet as the primary pointing device consider purchasing an ergonomic cordless puck that you can use interchangeably (and simultaneously if desired with the larger Intuos models) with the cordless pressure pen. Some of the WACOM models come both with a pen and a puck by default.

  • Next Generation Input Devices
    • With Windows 8 and the latest Apple OSX versions variety of novel input devices are entering the market. For example, The Leap Motion Controller allows Minority Report -style control of your computer. Meanwhile various mouses with touch surfaces on the top are being offered by Microsoft and Logitech. Logitech also offers T650 touchpad for use with Windows 8, reminescent of Apple’s Magic Trackpad.

  • Arm support (by ErgoRest, replaces or supplements chair/keyboard wrist supports)
    • I prefer the “articulating arm supports” over regular wrist supports, although a generic wrist support is better than no support at all. When you use an arm support there will be no pressure against your wrist at all thus reducing the likelihood of getting RSI, or Repetitive Strain Injury. For additional info on RSI see Typing Injury FAQ. The sturdiest (and unfortunately also the most expensive, I think) of the kind are made by ErgoRest. Several different models are available for different uses. ErgoRest Finland ships them directly, but you can also find them from many resellers such as The Ergonomic Store, JA Ergonomic Products, or Comfort Keyboard.
    • Note that the arm supports provided by many chairs may interfere with the use of the articulating arm supports. If you plan to switch to articulating supports, make sure your work chair’s arm-supports are removable (or are not in the way). I personally use these days a mix of the Liberty-chair’s and Microsoft Natural Keyboard’s supports with one articulating arm support for the right hand — to be used with the trackball or with the WACOM tablet.

  • Keyboard tray
    • Particularly a too high work surface will result in shoulder and arm trouble. Hence if the height of your work surface is not adjustable, be sure to get a keyboard tray to lower the keyboard and the trackball/mouse.
    • Humanscale, VersaTables, Fellowes, and 3M all manufacture excellent keyboard trays. Some of the Fellowes and 3M models offer separately height adjustable/tiltable trackball/mouse tray.
    • I have found that an arm support (see the section above) especially for the trackball/mouse hand considerably reduces shoulder strain. However, arm support must be attached to the side of a sufficiently low table – you can’t attach them to a keyboard tray.
    • If you simply want a sufficiently large, sturdy and flat surface that is lower than your desk, check out VersaTables Deluxe Arm & Tray.

  • Walking workstation
    • Several recent studies indicate, that excessive sitting is killing you, whether or not you excercise (BBC, 09 July 2012: “Can spending less time sitting down add years to life?“). Hence I’ve added a new section for an increasingly popular trend of office walking. The idea is to walk at a slow, leisurely pace that doesn’t interfere with thought processes, yet keeps the blood moving at a slightly elevated rate – enough to counter the ill effects of sitting for hours at end.
    • Many people build their custom walking workstations, or combine a low-cost used treadmill from Craigslist with an adjustable GeekDesk. Pre-integrated configurations are available from TreadDesk and Steelcase, and LifeSpan.
    • Another idea is to combine an adjustable Anthro desk such as Elevate™ Wrap with “The Tread” from TreadDesk. This gives you a workstation that can be easily converted from sitting to walking, and vice versa.
    • For lots of walking workstation resources and links, check out Walking While Working: How to Take Your Cubicle from ‘Fattening Pen’ to ‘Fitness Center’ at Squidoo.com.
    • Walking workstations are not appropriate for every task. It would, for instance, be very difficult to carry out a task that requires great manual accuracy while walking. However, for most computer tasks slow walking speed is not a hindrance. Some people have experimented with AlphaGrip which allows the user to “detach” from the desk altogether (but of course requires mastering a new input device).

  • Full-spectrum Task Lighting (by Vita-Lite)
    • Lighting is an area of ergonomy that is maybe the most frequently overlooked. Yet it’s effect on the working comfort and efficiency can easily be as (or more) significant than, say, that of the working chair. The ergonomy of lighting has two areas of importance: mechanical (removal of glare, adjusting the intensity), and the quality of the light (how closely the light matches that of full-spectrum daylight). Again, the latter of the two is more frequently overlooked factor but it has at least as much influence on lighting comfort than the mechanical aspects.
    • Possibly the number one culprit of lighting-induced workplace fatigue is the use of standard white fluorescent tubes with low Color Rendering Index in direct lighting celing fixtures. The spectrum of the standard fluorescent tubes with low C.R.I. is highly distorted when compared to that of sunlight; several studies suggest it has negative effect on health of living organisms – including that of, say, a programmer who is exposed to such light day after day. On the other hand, the direct lighting fixtures produce high intensity light that is completely unadjustable by the individual people working in the office. The recommended solution is to use indirect ambient/background lighting fixtures, such as those by Axis Lighting (for example, look for model “flow”) along with BlueMax or Vita-Lite tubes, or Chromalux bulbs from Lumiram.
    • Additionally each workstation should have adjustable (both position and intensity) task lighting. If possible, natural light should be incorporated to general lighting of the room. Noteworthy ergonomic task lighting fixtures are Sunnex, Ott-Lite, and BlueMax ergonomic desk lamps.
    • Finally, even though we can light our dwellings and places of business quite effectively with electric light, nothing replaces natural light (and, maybe equally importantly, a view to the outside world).
    • Recommended reading on lighting and it’s effects include Dr. John Ott’s books “Light, Radiation & You” and “Health & Light”, and Dr. Jacob Liberman’s book “Light, Medicine of the Future” (some of these books may be out of print, and if so, the best place to find them is eBay’s Half.com).

  • Acoustic noise reduction (by pinta elements inc.)
  • Besides chairs and keyboard trays (discussed earlier), Humanscale also offers versatile laptop holders, and footrests
  • NaturalPoint manufactures novel motion tracking devices that allow user to control certain aspects of computer interface by moving their head. Applications include gaming and mouse use relief.
  • ErgoMart offers good selection of ergonomy products

Resting and free time products

More resources on ergonomics…

10 thoughts on “Ville’s Ergonomics Recommendations

  1. Pingback: FRaces Para la empreza de Benjas y Vic « Blog Waffle

  2. “The Human Solution offers a unique online store supported by a qualified sales team and led by a Certified Professional Ergonomist ready to help answer your questions or put together a custom configuration for your specific needs.”

  3. Message for Ville Walveranta and your awesome site!

    I posted much about the MS TBExplorer (thank you for the memorial).

    Just wanted to say that for a touchpad my new lenovo ideapad has super cool one and should be copied to all laptops. It has a raised grid on it and works with dual touch works like my phone screen.

    you don’t have to post this just wanted you to know.

  4. This article was well written but I want to add that especially when it comes to good ergonomic chairs, shopping by brand name can get someone the wrong chair. There is no single chair that works for everyone, and some of the more popular chairs are not great.

    With that in mind, in addition to offering a great selection of ergonomic products, we also offer free assistance to match the products to the person’s specific needs and budget (not everyone can or wants to spend $1000 or more on a chair, nor do they have to).

    We have easy questionnaires under our advice tab that help us out, or someone can place a call. We also help corporate people make the best choices for their employees.

  5. Hey, Ville

    This is a great resource for those looking to make work more productive and safe. Take a look at http://www.ergosource.com and consider adding the site as a resource for ergonomic desks and tables. We have a variety of options and price points.

    Dustin

  6. Admiring the dedication you put into your website and in depth information
    you offer. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t
    the same unwanted rehashed information. Excellent read!
    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  7. Oh my dear gosh, who are you!?
    I was, umm, how should I say… Dazed, amazed, split when I eyeballed your article. Leapmotion made me almost cry.

    I’m building a next-gen workspace in my house in Finland. I gotta read your blog more.

    Cheers, Jaska

  8. Moi Jaska! I’m glad you found it useful! :) An update is forthcoming; there are some really exciting new products on the horizon, including finally a potential replacement for the venerable Microsoft Trackball Explorer.

  9. Check out the DXT Ergonomic Mouse. Its been designed to allow for comfort and accuracy. Most ergonomic mice reduce accuracy and productivity and promote large movements from the shoulder. The DXT Ergonomic Mouse allows the hand, arm and shoulder to work in unison.

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