Ergonomics is here used in the restricted sense of the adaptation of humans for the workplace and the adaptation of work equipment for humans, primarily for the purpose of comfort, productivity and safety.
F. M. Alexander
F. M. Alexander criticised the concept of a ‘correct type of chair’ in MSI:
And I may note in this connection that I am continually being asked, both by friends and unknown correspondents, for my opinion concerning the correct type of chair, stool, desk or table to be used in order to prevent the bad habits which these pieces of furniture are supposed to have caused in schools. In my replies I have tried to demonstrate that the problem is being attacked from the wrong standpoint.
. . . Suppose, for example, that there is an ideal chair, some wonderful arrangement of perfect angles, hollows and supports that will almost magically rectify or prevent every fault in the child’s physical mechanism. Suppose further that the child finds great ease and repose when seated in this ideal chair. How, then, can he avoid suffering the tortures of all that is uncomfortable when he rides in the cars, or sits down in his own home, or visits a friend, or goes for a picnic on the river or in the woods? I see nothing else for it; when that ideal chair has been found, our child will have to carry it about with him wherever he goes.
In the second place, how is it possible for this ideal chair to be miraculously adaptable to every age and type of child? Are we to treat children as plastic lumps of clay to be ﬁtted to the model insisted upon by the lines of our ideal chair; or are we to study and measure each individual and have a chair built to his measure, once a year, say, until he is adult?
No, what we need to do is not to educate our school furniture, but to educate our children.
(Although coined in polish in 1857 ergonomics did not enter the English language until 1949 and so it is unlikely that Alexander would have known the term beforehand.)
- The Chair – Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design by Galen Cranz covers the history of the chair, the faulty thinking behind many ergonomic designs and questions the cultural assumption that chair sitting is natural and that a perfect design is possible.
- How to Sit Your Body at Work by Ann Rodiger is subtitled ‘A guide to sitting at your workstation based on the Alexander Technique’.
- ‘Two professions: ergonomics and the Alexander Technique’ by Marian Goldberg and Joyce Stenstrom is an interview on how ergonomics relates to the Alexander Technique as a field of study and as a profession. It was also published in two parts as ‘Working out: Ergonomics and the Alexander Technique’, and ‘Working out 2: Ergonomics and the Alexander Technique’.
- ‘Missing the points’ by Christine Ackers is a critique of designer chairs, specifically and generally, for being uncomfortable, if not impossible to sit in.
- ‘Sit happens’ by Christine Ackers considers our anatomy, chair design and the importance of the Alexander Technique, not chairs, for sitting.
- ‘The chair is where the body meets the environment’ by Galen Cranz on the many considerations for designing a chair for people applying the Alexander Technique, and hence how the Technique can inform chair design.
- ‘BEAT: Ergonomics with Alexander’ by Babette Markus reports on teaching ergonomics and Alexander Technique, B.E.A.T. standing for ‘Bio-Ergonomics/Alexander Technique’.
- ‘Design for good use’ by Robin Simmons on basic observations for a chair for the desk, five things to avoid in a chair, and five things to look for.
Chairs in schools
- ‘Helping to prevent poor use in schools’ by Richard Brennan reports on a pilot study in Ireland where 19 ten-year old school children were provided with a sitting wedge (forward tilt as opposed to the school chair which had a backward tilt), and how they were sitting better than a control group eight months later.
- ‘School chairs are just about to get a lot worse’ by Richard Brennan on the importance of good chairs for children and the potential damage to children in increasing the backward tilt from 5 to 10 degrees.
- ‘Can the seated posture of children be improved by a wedge-shape cushion?’ by Mary Murphy, Jan van Haaren, Richard Brennan, Kathy Diviney and Sean Leonard.
- ‘Further thoughts on chair design for schools and offices’ by Robin Simmons discusses sitting for children in schools and for adults at a desk.