The executive's power chair--square-backed, tufted and overstuffed--doesn't cut it with today's creative professionals. These users are often lashed to their home computers for hours after the typical workday has ended. They want chairs that help them remain comfortable and productive.
And they've found that as their computer use increases, they need better seating to help fend off back pain, neck pain and other physical ills.
In the last five years, chair manufacturers have responded to the demand for high-performance task seating with ergonomic models designed for these users.
"The area where seating has all the buzz today revolves around the computer," says Dennis Zackarkow, president of Zackback International Inc. in Rochester, Minn. Zackarkow, a physical therapist with 20 years' experience, has developed a chair called the Zackback.
The difficulty with office chairs in general is that they can feel great, but over time physical problems from sitting posture crop up, Zackarkow says. With seating, chronic back pain or neck pain doesn't happen overnight, so the consumer doesn't immediately conclude, "It's the chair."
Well-designed chairs don't come cheap; prices range from $700 to $2,000. But they can be had with as many options as a new car, they're almost infinitely adjustable and they look distinctive and even radical.
To increase comfort and productivity, as well as to counter the development of repetitive-stress injuries, chairs should sport such features as pneumatic height adjustment, adjustable armrests, adjustable lumbar support, forward seat tilt and a tilt tensioner, adjustable back height and seat depth, and a seat angle adjustment. Users can adjust the seats to their preferences and make further adjustments if they change position in the chair.
The Aeron ($750 to $1,200) from Herman Miller has been the most visible of the upscale task chairs. "It has become a status-symbol chair. A lot of people are ordering them," says Bill Holsinger-Robinson, a technical sales support specialist for Herman Miller.
The Aeron was designed as a cross-performance chair, meaning it was intended to support the user in many postures whether the chair is being used in front of a computer, at a meeting or for relaxing.
The Aeron's sitting surface is made of Pellicle, a see-through mesh that suggests outdoor furniture but allows air to circulate around the back and thighs, keeping one's nether regions about 7 degrees cooler than they would be in a standard chair. The Aeron comes in three sizes, and it has a wide range of adjustments.
While the Aeron has received a lot of attention, there are other manufacturers' models that put their spin on the concept of the ergonomically correct chair. Grahl Office Ergonomics' Synchron line can be distinguished by its distinctive DuoBack "Hugger" design. The back of the seat is split in two, so that the sitter's spine fits in the slot between the halves. The two halves of the back pivot with the user's back, providing support without putting pressure on the spine.
The top-of-the-line Synchron 7 ($1400 to $2,000 list price) features a full complement of adjustments, so the user can create a comfortable sitting environment in any situation.
Grahl also designed its Triple-Y Base with six casters rather than the typical five for extra stability.
If you prefer to do most of your computer work in something close to traditional typing posture--ramrod back, firmly planted feet--you may prefer the Zackback Elite. According to Zackarkow, there's an optimal sitting posture. "I believe a chair should put you in your healthiest posture," he says.
Zackarkow identifies the most healthful posture as being very similar to the alignment and trunk posture of an opera singer performing.
The Zackback goes beyond the typical typing posture, which entails sitting upright without support, a posture that's difficult to maintain for very long, Zackarkow says. The Zackback Elite ($1,395) is designed to support the user in the posture Zackarkow describes. 'This isn't a chair people are getting to watch TV," he says. "They're getting it to work productively. Ninety-five percent of those who buy it are doing computer-intensive work."
The Zackback Elite's open back is an adjustable dual back support system that uses two horizontal backrests to support points on the user's back. The lower support is not a lumbar support; it's a sacral support for the area just below the lumbar region.
This lower support adjusts up and down, and also rotates. The user angles the support to fit the pelvis and locks it in place.
The top support adjusts up and down and moves forward and back. It's intended to keep the user from slumping by riding just below the shoulder blades at the lower thoracic spine, which is called the hinge area of the spine. The pressure from the top support lets the user breathe properly with the diaphragm.