If you spend any amount of time with a computer, the most important
machine to you, and the most overlooked, may not be the one you type on
but the one you sit on. Chairs—specifically ergonomic ones adjustable in
multiple ways—are really seat machines.
Though they may not yet have digital instrumentation, quality office
chairs help you control your environment, which is the ultimate purpose of
There’s more to tush technology than you might think. Choosing or
getting stuck with economy-class seating can not only leave you with aches
and pains but also decrease your productivity.
Along with underspending, another mistake people make with chairs is
assuming that one size fits all, says Duane A. Perkinson, an ergonomic
consultant and President of VDT Solution in St. Charles, Illinois
In a quest for the perfect office chair, I spent two months testing a
dozen models, from top-of-the-line brands retailing for $800 to
bargain-basement jobs costing only $40. I tested half for a week or longer
in my office, half for a few minutes each in a local office
Everybody’s carriage and contours are different, so my most comfortable
chair may be your least comfortable. But there are general principles that
hold true with everybody about what might be called seatology—the
science of seating.
Task chairs are best if you typically work leaning toward your
computer. Management and executive chairs, with higher seatbacks, are best
if you usually work leaning back while on the phone (typically, executive
chairs are leather-covered management chairs). When buying for yourself,
select a chair that’s adjustable to maximize your comfort over the day.
When buying for others, offer a range of choices. Spending 10 minutes with
a chair can give you a good idea of how you’ll like it long-term.
The two chairs that everyone seems to be talking about are the Aeron
chair from Herman Miller (http://www.hermanmiller.com) and the Leap
chair from Steelcase (http://www.steelcase.com). Either can set you
back $800, though hefty volume discounts are available to the large
organizations they’re marketed to primarily. I took my lumps with
With its postmodern wicker design, the Aeron chair is visually
striking, but it could be more adjustable—you can’t move the seat backward
and forward. It also didn’t support enough of my (long) legs. Positively,
the lumbar support is adjustable in height and depth.
The Leap chair lacks adjustability too. You can’t tilt the seatback
forward to provide support when typing. But when you lean backward,
impressively, the lumbar section of the seatback moves forward, supporting
your lower back.
The high-end chair I like best is the less widely known BodyBilt
task chair (http://www.bodybilt.com), priced similarly to the Aeron
and Leap chairs. Of its many versions, there’s one with a deeply contoured
seat that looks frightening but is the most comfortable thing I’ve ever
sat on. It distributes your weight so well that you can sit comfortably
The BodyBilt chair lets you tilt the seat/seatback forward and back,
move the seatback forward and back and up and down, move the seat up and
down, and also inflate and deflate the lumbar support.
This kind of adjustability is key in buying a quality office chair. In
addition, the controls should be accessible so you can reach down to make
an adjustment while working. The seat should be large enough to reach a
few inches from the back of your calves, and it should be cushioned enough
so your seat bones aren’t pressing against a hard surface. If you prefer a
chair with arms, they too should be adjustable.
Bargain chairs are typically lacking in adjustability. Office Max (http://www.officemax.com/) carries a line of Numark task
chairs priced from $40 to $120. The cheap seat can be adjusted only up
and down, and its thin cushion felt like it would compress quickly over
Surprisingly, the best Numark chair at my local Office Max wasn’t the
most expensive. The seatback of the Deluxe Task Chair didn’t tilt back and
forth or move up and down like the lower priced Articulating Task Chair.
Costing just $90, the Articulating Task Chair was Office Max’s best buy.
Still, unlike more expensive chairs, you can’t tilt its seat or move it
backward and forward, and it wasn’t as sturdy overall.
The bottom line with chairs is that they shouldn’t be a pain. Find one
right for you, and it just may feel like you’re sitting on top of the
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or http://members.home.net/reidgold.
This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor July, 2000, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.