Title: Comment More facts about comfortable chairs
More facts about comfortable chairs
A schoolmaster once used to complain to his pupils, who sat with elbows on desk and chin in hand, that if God had intended their heads to be held in that way He would have provided special supports for the purpose. What the master wanted was a class of boys as regimented in their postures as the rows of desks they were sitting at. Had he thought about it more carefully he might have concluded that God and the boys were possibly less at fault than the classroom chairs or his own authoritarian demands.
Today there is less excuse. Facts about sitting comfort have become increasingly available during the last decade. But while the needs of school children and office workers have been studied in detail, and more or less precise ergonomic recommendations have been published, there has been precious little information available to guide the designers and makers of easy chairs.
The lack of data is understandable. Just how complex the problem is, has been revealed in an admirable report on The Comfort of Easy Chairs*, issued by the Furniture Industry Research Association, and written by Paul Branton, FlRA's resident ergonomist. The report provides an up-to-date picture of the current state of knowledge on chair comfort, and describes some of the important contributions made by FlRA's own ergonomics section. The purpose of the report, as its introduction states, is to give chair designers and makers information in such a way that they can readily use it. As such, it is probably the most comprehensive layman's guide in existence, and earns full marks for the simplicity of its presentation and the clarity of its language.
Mr Branton warns, however, that there is no easy formula for a comfortable easy chair. Anthropometric recommendations can help the designer to avoid the worst mistakes as far as the main chair dimensions are concerned, but this is by no means the whole story. He shows that sitting is a dynamic activity in which muscles are continuously at work to relieve local pressures and maintain the body in a stable position. "The greater the instability," he writes, "the less likely is muscular relaxation and hence the greater is discomfort". The relevance of this approach to the design of chairs is clearly demonstrated in realistically planned experiments. The report throughout has been aimed at creating a sound understanding of the complex interactions involved in sitting comfort, and there can be few designers reading it who do not feel that their knowledge and outlook have been greatly extended.
The big question, however, is how far the industry will follow the lead given by its own research association. Even cursory examination shows that a large number of easy chairs on the market fall well outside the dimensional limits that would ensure a reasonable fit for the majority of people - in spite of the fact that simple anthropometric data have been available for a number of years. Some recent chairs produced under the banner of 'bright young designs' are probably the worst offenders of all.
Time alone will show how seriously and intelligently the industry will use the new advice it has been given. But designing and making are not enough. Success with new designs will depend on knowledgeable salesmanship and public understanding. It is to be hoped, therefore, that not only manufacturers and designers will see the report. Retail buyers and salesmen, those responsible for bulk purchasing, and even consumers should-and read it.
* Technical Report No 22, Furniture Industry Research Association, Stevenage. £2.