Ergonomics Revisited

by diegocaleiro1 min read22nd Apr 201478 comments


Personal Blog

Continuation of: Spend Money on Ergonomics, by Kevin


Three years have elapsed since Kevin wisely told us to spend money on treating our bodies well. It may be time to check for new gadgets, to verify what has worked and what has not etc... 

If you have purchased an item for this purpose, or intend to buy one and don't know which, tell here, ask here. 

Nick Bostrom uses a mouse that looks like a plane controller joystick. 

I've seen keyboards that bend sideways, that are concave, that are convex, and that look like a sphere. 

At FHI, dozens of books are used so that computer screens stay at eye level or above. 

But I am no expert and I have not looked myself, nor would know how to. So please share in the comments the best knowledge about:




Balls to sit on


Beds/Matresses etc.. 

Screens - Size, position, brightness etc... 

Other household office items - Stairs, Handles, Shower etc... 


78 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:38 PM
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Have Two Screens

The only advice I feel qualified to give is this one. Having two screens is immensely better.

5ChristianKl8yWhy two screens instead of one really big one?

On Win7, Windows key+left/right snaps windows to half a screen, and windows key+up snaps it to a whole screen. Combine this with two screens and you can fit a lot more windows on the screen with minimal effort. Likewise, a lot of full-screen games and movies and such only take up half your real estate if you have two screens - right now, I'm playing Railroad Tycoon on one screen and chatting on Facebook with the other.

Also, who makes a 40+" screen that's 3000+ pixels wide for anything like the cost of two normal monitors? (I mean, they may exist, it's a long time since I've gone shopping, but it seems unlikely)

0gjm8yWell, e.g., you can get a Seiki 39" 3840x2160 TV/monitor for $500 from Amazon right now. It's not the world's best monitor (TN panel, 30Hz refresh, and be warned that many things don't work well with very high-resolution monitors right now) ... but it's ~40" and it's >3000px wide and it's cheaper than some "normal" monitors.
0ephion8yWhy would I want that when I can get two of these [] , have 43" of real estate, and $240 left over?
1gjm8yBecause it has twice as many pixels as two of those. (Is that enough reason? Maybe not. But that's the main reason you'd want it, if you did.)
0ephion8yFair point! I think 1080 is fine for me and the extra screen space would be more useful than finer resolution, but I can definitely see how resolution could be more important for other applications.
1gjm8yWhat extra screen space? I fear you may have been taken in by the monitor marketers' cunning ruse of measuring size in (linear) inches. A 39" monitor with 16:9 aspect ratio is 34" x 19" and has an area of 650 square inches. A 22" monitor with 18:9 aspect ratio is 19" x 11" and has an area of 207 square inches. So one of the former has considerably more screen space than two of the latter.
0joaolkf7yHuman's lateral visual search is considerably more efficient than horizontal. 414 spreaded more laterally beats regular 650. There are ultra-wide huge screens, of course, but they weren't cheaper per inches than two monitors when I did my research 6 months ago.
0Alsadius8yThen get four, for $20 more.
2gjm8ySo now you have the same number of pixels as from that one big monitor, but you either need a fancy mounting mechanism for putting the monitors above one another or else need twice the width on your desk. And you get a big wide thing you probably can't see all of at once, instead of something a more natural shape. And it's divided into four bits which limits the possible shapes and sizes of your windows. And it's more expensive. Again, for sure you might have good reasons to choose four smaller monitors instead of one really big one. But (1) the one big one has definite advantages and (2) I repeat, I wasn't saying "hey, everyone should get one of these things" but "yes, as it happens such things do exist and here's an example".
0[anonymous]8y30Hz refresh is a deal-breaker.
2gjm8yI wasn't saying you (or anyone) should get one, only answering Alsadius's question and indicating that monitors of roughly the kind he described do in fact exist. (30Hz refresh would be very bad for gaming. If you're using your monitor for software development or data analysis or designing buildings or writing novels, though, it probably doesn't make much difference.)
4Vaniver8yI have one monitor aligned horizontally and another aligned vertically, and I feel this works better than one large monitor or a monitor that swivels between the two alignments. I think part of this is because with two monitors, it's possible to rotate them relative to each other (ideally, I think, you would want a spherical / parabolic / hyperbolic monitor and this helps approximate that), but it might be that if I had hotkey shortcuts to easily throw windows where I wanted them on a single large monitor (like xmonad []) I would be able to get most of the benefit.
2Gunnar_Zarncke8yIf you have a laptop you can't just grow the primary.
0Tenoke8yI use a laptop with 2 external monitors (I turn the internal one off), however, it does suck that you are limited to 2.
0Gunnar_Zarncke8yI have a Thinkpad W530 and can connect 4 external monitors :-) But I didn't get around to setup and use this capability (it also only works with the docking station, otherwise only 2+internal). Why do you turn off the internal one? I use a screen layout which works well with one or more external monitors (I does limit playement of the laptop though).
2Tenoke8yBecause you can normally only use 2 monitors per video card( I guess yours has the option run 2 on an integrated and 2 on a dedicated card?) and any 1 of my external monitors is much better than the 15" laptop screen. If I had the option of running all 3 of them, I'd take it. At any rate, nowadays I use my laptop purely as a desktop computer (external monitors, keyboard, mouse; almost never using it outside of home), so I am just going to build a desktop (with 2 graphics cards) next time around. With the level of functionality that smartphones and tablets have today, laptops are becoming obsolete for users like me.
2Gunnar_Zarncke8yMy thinkpad has two integrated ones. One for power saving, one for gaming and can really drive 4 screens. The docking station is dumb (but expensive nonetheless). There are external graphics cards or splitters you could use e.g. matrox triplehead2go.
0ChristianKl8yActually I do have a notebook and a 24" monitor. As a practical matter I tend to do everything on the big monitor and use the notebook monitor very seldomly.
0joaolkf7yThe one study supporting one big screen is of bad quality, the studies supporting two screens are of medium quality. The former study was done by Apple, it's small and people were doing only one task (Spreadsheets); the latter ones had a bigger sample and people did various tasks. A survey over the productivity-blogosphere revealed people are mostly in favor of two medium screens over one huge screen. Bill Gates has multiple medium-sized screens, so does his close subordinates. I have two bigish ones (23'', 1920x1080), just in case. I consider this was the most amount of utility per dollar I got in the last 2 years, excluding money spent on relationships. I intend to buy a third bigger one (33'') soon.
0drethelin8yusually it's cheaper per amount of screen real estate, but also it works a lot better for simultanously doing things that prefer to take up a full "screen" like games.
2James_Miller8yAnd two monitors are great for when you want to watch Netflix while doing something else online.
4shminux8yWhy stop at two? I have recently added a third screen in my office ( one vertical) using this USB gadget [] when it was on sale for $40 and can now see not just my IDE and a browser (each one takes a screen), but also the app I'm working on, all at the same time. Four screens would be better, of course.
2gmzamz8yThere is probably an upper bound on the number of monitors that one can comfortably and actively use, though I do not know how high it is. I've noticed that with more monitors that one is more likely to place static informational windows (social media, system monitoring, email/instant messaging) that aren't really necessary as an immediate concern. I'm not sure if it can be exploited to put valuable information there, or if one can train themselves to actively use it for work. Managing windows and workflows with more monitors is also quite a bit more difficult than it is with a single screen. I've had some success at reducing wasted space by using a tiling WM, but having to learn key combinations to navigate is tedious.
0eeuuah8yHaving static informational windows that you can view without getting rid of what your working on is highly valuable in my experience. I've found I can successfully use 4 screens (primary screen for document editing, secondary for documentation, tertiary for viewing of test output, extra laptop with all my chats open (so I don't have to change mouse focus to talk to someone)), but I've never tried more.
3iceman8yI am moving in the other direction. I currently have two screens and am going back to a single big one. There doesn't seem to be great support for whether two monitors make us more productive [] . (That said, measuring pixels is also probably not really looking at what's really important here.) I will once again plug the Kinesis Advantage keyboards; I've used them for over seven years now. I previously had really bad RSI and it's now rare that I get any pain in my wrists at all.
0Error8yI use the Kinesis Freestyle 2 for the same reason. It was worth every penny and I bought a second one for work, too.
0lincolnquirk8yYah, +1 for kinesis keyboard for ergonomics. I get wrist pain when I use my laptop (don't use my Kinesis) for about a week; switching back to it tends to quickly relieve the pain.
0Vaniver8yPixels seems to almost definitely be the right measure, here- basically, you want to have N windows open with enough information in all of them. For most tasks, N is greater than 2, but once you have enough windows extra space is just wasted. (One of my former labmates had four monitors, which generally had Matlab open in one window, the docs in another, his system monitor in a third, and nothing in the fourth- so he probably would have been fine with two monitors most of the time- but he did sometimes do something involved enough that he needed all four. For someone working on code where lots of different things all matter, having lots of monitors seems useful.)
9Lumifer8yNowadays with very-high-DPI monitors around, I think inches are becoming the right measure again. No one likes to squint at tiny fonts.
0DanArmak8yMatter of preference. I prefer a single very large, high res screen (30", 2560x1600). I tried using several screens, but my neck started hurting from looking left and right. Also, vertical space is important - a screen with 1920 pixels doesn't use up my eyes' vertical angle (where I can look comfortably without moving my head).

I wanted to buy a desk that could quickly convert from standing to sitting, but realized they cost more than a second computer would. So now I have two computers in my office, one (which I use when sitting) on a desk and the other (which I use while standing) on a bench which itself is on a table. Dropbox makes it easy to switch between computers.

2DanielLC8yWhy not just move the keyboard and mouse between desks?
4James_Miller8yI would need to move monitors as well. At first I did this but the "trivial inconveniences" proved too burdensome. Being able to move between sitting and standing within 3 seconds is productivity enhancing for me.
0John_Maxwell8yMy company gives everyone a laptop and an external monitor. Normally you plug the laptop in to the external monitor for extra screen space, but if you want to roam around the office you unplug it.
0ChristianKl8yYou need to start the other computer and load the programs that you need. I doubt that's done in 3 seconds. There are devices in which you can plug an additional computer, mouse and keyboard and switch which set is connected to a given computer.
0Risto_Saarelma8yI set this sort of thing up with my laptop. The laptop sits on a high shelf next to the sitting desk where it can serve as a standing desk monitor. It's attached to an external monitor on the sitting desk. If I want to use a standing desk configuration, I activate the laptop display and move the keyboard and mouse to a shelf below the laptop. I could make it even more convenient and have two keyboards and mice constantly attached to the laptop, one pair on the standing desk shelf and another on the sitting desk. Haven't used the standing desk position much though.
0DanielLC8yEither put the monitor somewhere where it can easily be used from either position, or, if this isn't feasible, have a second monitor that displays the same thing as the first. It seems like it would be less of an inconvenience, since you could switch between them without even having to save and load files.
0drethelin8yAnd screen?
0James_Miller8yYes, I have two monitors on each. This cost isn't that large in part because each computer has one high quality monitor and one cheap one.
0Pablo8yWhy not just use chairs tall enough to be used with a standing desk? I've seen such chairs at bars and other places.
0mare-of-night8yMight work for some people. I wouldn't be as comfortable working in one of those, since you can't sit down and then scoot it closer to the desk with your feet if you can't reach the floor.

Should shoes be added to the list?

7tanagrabeast8yYes. Go laceless. I only discovered a few years ago that there is such thing as men's close-toed shoes that can be appropriate semi-formal workwear yet never need to be tied. I wear something roughly similar to this at work: Amazon [] and a more casual variation in my free time. Very comfortable, loose-sneaker feel on the inside. An elastic-bound tongue ensures uniform snugness, rather than fluctuating between too tight and too loose. Once broken in, you can slide them on and off without hands, as you might with slippers or flip-flops. But more importantly than the ergonomics... why waste time time tying shoes? Why risk injury tripping over laces, or getting them caught places?
3mare-of-night8ySeconded. I strongly prefer laceless because I know that my laced shoes get worn much less often because of it.
3NancyLebovitz8yI'm going to check out the Scholl's shoes for women. Meanwhile, if you happen to have lace-up shoes, there are permanent elastic laces [] . I agree that normal shoe laces add unnecessary work and risk to one's life, though I still think cloth laces are better looking.
4[anonymous]8ySeconded. In particular if anyone has recommendations for comfortable plain black heels or heeled boots of medium-low height (2-3 inches), please share! I have flat feet and have been looking for un-painful heels my whole life.
5mare-of-night8yI don't have flat feet myself, so I don't know what the requirements for that are. I've had good luck with Clark's [], but I usually only wear a 1-1.5 inch heel. (My work shoes are Clark's bendables from a previous season.) Does this [] fit your requirements?
2[anonymous]8yThis one [] is really close to my ideal style (though a bit taller/thinner heeled). Thanks for the rec!
3NancyLebovitz8yThis probably isn't the best place to ask-- the proportion of women is fairly low. Possibly useful: Orthotics for high heels [] Running with the Whole Body [] -- I did the exercise about understanding the connection between hip movement and feet a couple of times, and had arches for a while.
0NancyLebovitz8yThis probably isn't the best place for asking-- the proportion of women is pretty low. Might be useful: [] I did the exercise for understanding the connection between hips and turning feet side to side a couple of times, and had arches for a while. []
0RomeoStevens8yI've been trying to convince various people to buy more expensive shoes because their amortized cost winds up being similar to cheaper shoes.
4NancyLebovitz8yI've gone in the opposite direction. I have wide feet (8E), and now that I've found cheap but not terribly durable sneakers [] that fit, I just keep buying more of them.
3[anonymous]8yYes, some very cheap shoes aren't very resistant, but I seriously doubt that the kind of shoes that minimizes cost divided by durability is in the range people think of when they hear “expensive shoes”.
1eeuuah8yIs that really true though? I've found with sneakers the sole lasts 250-500 miles, so buying a shoe that costs more than $40 is almost certainly bad value from a durability perspective. For shoes that can be resoled, this number increases, as you want an upper that will last through a number of resoles, but the shoes with highest durability/cost are still not going to be on the expensive end of the shoe type.
0RomeoStevens8yif you want/are able to wear running shoes all the time the advice doesn't really apply.
0eeuuah8yProbably not, but my point still stands for most leather shoes and other sneakers.

I hadn't thought much about pillows when I was still using the ones my parents gave me when I went off to school, but after buying my own a few times, pillows have come to my attention as an item that's really worthwhile to get right. I don't know much about getting them right beyond getting the correct thickness yet, though. (I think it means I'm doing something wrong, if they wear out in 6 months of use.)

The way straps are made seems to make a big difference in how comfortable they are on your shoulders. Or at least, that's the only explanation I can thi... (read more)

Keyboard use:

Ergodox keyboard: a split, fully programmable keyboard with matrix layout and a thumb cluster.

Dodohand: a promising project to revive the Datahand which is a keyboard minimizing finger movement.

Pentadactyl: a Firefox extension to fully control the browser via the keyboard.

Colemak: an optimized keyboard layout.

Asetniop: a method for chorded input available on various devices.

0ThrustVectoring7yPlover [] is another option. I spent a month or so learning it and got to about 50 WPM, while those with a lot more practice can get 200 WPM. It's on hold indefinitely, though.

DIY standing desk for under $30

This cheap futon turned out surprisingly good, but bed preferences vary a lot of course.

2roystgnr8yI got a notebook stand [] a couple years ago, which turned out to also be a cheap and quick way to effectively turn an ordinary desk into a standing desk. I'm not sure how well standing still for hours on end would work as exercise, but switching a few times a day between standing to work at the notebook computer and sitting to work at the workstation next to it is nice.
0eeuuah8yI would second that futon

Have at least two screens. Have more lights. Have a good ergonomic gaming-like mouse.

Screens should be 2+, not 1(unless it's huge and ultra-wide, hence more expensive). Mouse should be with high DPI and 7+ buttons programmed as shortcuts (specially if you have two BIG screens). Lights should include a workstation-specific lighting with individual control. Screen brightness ought to be a function of indoor lightning's brightness, which should be high, and a function of outdoor brightness and time of day (independently). You are likely to have less lighting ... (read more)

I would like to extend this to razors. Is it worth to buy an expensive electric razor? If so what model?

I bought a new office chair. My selection process was to take my coat off and sit on every single damn chair in the store until I found which one was the least awful. The most comfortable (at any price) that I found was this one - the multiple points of adjustment turned out to be the key so that I had both enough padding and lower back support. Link

I think most of the problems with poor ergonomics manifest themselves in the form of trigger points. If you think you're starting to get RSI, back pain, or something like that, I'd recommend buying and reading this ebook... it saved my career.

How important are characteristics like the refresh rate of monitors? Does anything besides the size really matter?

44hodmt8yI find refresh rate extremely important. I stuck with CRTs at 100Hz+ for a very long time after LCDs became popular because only 60Hz LCDs were available. I now use a 120Hz LCD and it's much more enjoyable than 60Hz. Everything feels smoother and more responsive. The improved mouse control is very obvious (this might require increasing the mouse sample rate, I use usbhid mousepoll=2 on Linux). Motion appears much sharper, because the higher refresh rate allows for higher frame rate which reduces sample-and-hold blur (see [] for detailed information on motion quality). The fastest LCDs on the market support 144Hz. I'd like one but I can't really justify the expense right now. However, note that I am unusually sensitive to motion artifacts, eg. I am bothered by PWM dimming of LED lights well into the kHz, and I greatly dislike 3:2 pulldown judder. It's possible that some people genuinely don't mind 60Hz LCDs, although I wonder if that's only because they've never used anything faster.
0RomeoStevens8yLook at a monitor in a dark room for awhile and then turn it off. You should see strobing in your vision if you have a low refresh rate monitor. This induces eye strain more quickly.
04hodmt8yObviously visible strobing only indicates low refresh rate in CRTs and the rare few monitors with black frame insertion or scanning backlights. In most cases strobing is caused by PWM brightness control, which has the visual disadvantage of strobing without the sample-and-hold-blur reducing advantage of frame-syncronized strobing. PWM brightness control is purely a cost saving measure. At high frequencies it might not bother you but it's rare for PWM frequency to be listed in the specifications. My phone uses PWM brightness control at about 200Hz so I run it at full brightness (100% duty cycle) if I'm using it for a long time which negates the strobing.

Keyboards: I expect you can do better than a typematrix, and there are incremental improvements that I'd like to be able to make to it; but I like mine a lot.

Does anyone have a suggestion of a mouse that works for both hands but is not actually a mouse? Like a ball, a joystick, or something.

1Risto_Saarelma8yI've been happy with Logitech Trackman Marble []
0NancyLebovitz8yFor whatever reason, I find a thumb trackball very intuitive, and a forefinger trackball very clumsy.
0Lumifer8yWhen I used trackballs, I liked big ones (3-4 inches in diameter) which were used by the palm, not a thumb or an index finger.
1gmzamz8yTrackball is an excellent keyword to search for on Google, Logitech makes several. Though I have not used one extensively enough to have an input on how ergonomic it is, I have found that they are excellent for surfaces which regular mice have trouble tracking on.