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What is Ergonomic?

By R. Kayne
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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If a product is ergonomic it is specifically designed to be comfortable and easy to use, physically and psychologically. Ergonomic products are often advertised as reducing fatigue and repetitive strain, and boosting productivity.

In recent years ergonomics have been associated more and more with computer products, such as ergonomic mice and keyboards. While a standard keyboard is said to place the wrists in an unnatural position, an ergonomic keyboard is split with each half set at an angle to the other, forming a slight V-shape. A more natural posture can be maintained while resting the hands upon an ergonomic keyboard, thus facilitating a comfortable experience even for extended periods of use.

However, the simple claim that a design is ergonomic doesn't necessarily make it more comfortable. There is no governing guideline for creating an ergonomic product, and research used for designs can, in some cases, be faulty. This can lead to a product that, by popular standards, is even less comfortable than its traditional counterpart.

As an example, in the late 80s a backless ergonomic chair was purportedly less fatiguing. The chair was designed is an inverted S-pattern that allowed one to "kneel-sit." While it might have been technically better for posture on paper, after a short time sitting without back support, many people found it more fatiguing than a traditional chair. Most of these chairs are now made with lumbar support.

According to the U.S. National Institute for Health (NIH), an ergonomic chair should have a variety of adjustable features, including seat height, tilt, adjustable arm rests, and other specific characteristics, (e.g. a "waterfall" seat pan that dips towards the floor). The NIH also emphasizes creating an ergonomic workspace and lays out guidelines for optimal monitor height, lighting, keyboard and mouse position, and so on. Along with creating a physical environment that is conducive to natural movements of the body, the NIH lists some simple exercises one can perform throughout the day, while sitting at a desk, to relieve fatigue.

Aside from workspace, another area where ergonomic design figures prominently is interior automobile design. Car seats with adjustable height, seat pan tilt, and lumbar support; dashboards and consoles laid out with controls placed in intuitive locations - even the control knobs themselves are designed to be easy to use.

Although any product can have some ergonomic value - ATMs, power tools, and racing bikes to name a few-as a general rule, the more continual use a product gets, the more time will go into ergonomic research in designing it. Hence, the emphasis on workspace products and automobiles.

The goal of ergonomic products or environments is to interface with humans in the most natural way possible. In buying products and creating environments with ergonomic design at home and at work, one should be able to enjoy one's work or play with added ease and reduced stress.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon142978 — On Jan 14, 2011

I don't know if you have heard of the Notion Ink Adam. It is an ergonomic tablet.

By latte31 — On Jul 30, 2010

Oasis11- I just want to say that I love Relax the Back store. I think that the ergonomic laptop keyboard is great for anyone that has to type full time. It really is designed to help people avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.

My mother-in-law had to have an operation on her hand because she developed the condition. If you can avoid the problem it is best to invest in an ergonomic laptop keyboard.

By oasis11 — On Jul 30, 2010

I just wanted to add Relax the Back offers a great variety of ergonomic office chairs as well as many ergonomic kneeling chairs.

They also carry an ergonomic keyboard tray and probably the best ergonomic mesh office chair available. The mesh chair is called the Humanscale Liberty office chair.

It is made of black mesh that feels like a glove. It offers lumbar support and retails for $899.

Their kneeling chairs offer proper back alignment and range from $149 to $259. They also have an ergonomic keyboard that you can roll up and take with you. It retails for about $40. This is a great store for buying comfortable office furniture, mattresses and chairs for the home.

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