Are you sitting down?

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Above: Steelcase’s Matt Williams (centre) demonstrates the consolidated controls of the company’s new adjustable office chair, the Gesture. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#938 for May 27

It’s one of those things that continues to puzzle me about personal computing.

Folks will spend a fortune on their computer system, buying large screens and fast processors and not spend a cent on the chair they use.

It’s a bit like buying a really expensive camera with a cheap lens or rolling out in a Ferrari with plastic sheeting for a windshield.

A good chair won’t show up in the quality of your writing or the deftness of your picture editing, but it will quickly prove itself in the comfort levels you enjoy throughout long computing sessions and, if your mind happens to run that way, the enhanced productivity you will enjoy as a result.

A properly configured chair isn’t an option for me. I have a medical document attesting to the two compressed vertebrae in my back that I’ve pressed into service at least once to justify corporate expenditure on a proper chair.

On that notable occasion, I priced suitable chairs after the business I was working for at the time proved unable to offer me anything usable and then bought one on sale. I then offered the CEO an opportunity to own the furniture that would be using on the company’s premises during my tenure.

Since then, the costs have been mine to bear and while I haven’t been as lavish as I’d really like to be, there’s a good adjustable chair under me as I write this.

In my continuing examination of seating choices, I’ve had one eye on the offerings from Steelcase.

Steelcase, as it turns out, has also been keeping an eye on us.

The company looked at how chairs were being used in the workplace, taking notes on 2,000 people in 11 countries.

“We started seeing more tablets and smartphones in the workplace,” said Matt Williams, Product Manager, Global Envisioning and Product Development for Steel Case.

“We found nine new postures related to the use of these devices, and we created a dynamic chair capable of adjusting to these very different postures.”

Williams was in Trinidad in early May for the launch of the new chair, named Gesture at local office design firm Total Office.

“This year alone we expect 2.4 billion new smartphones and tablets to enter the market place. And as these devices make their way into the workplace, the interactions we saw were much more informal and casual,” Williams told the audience at the Gesture launch.

“This new breed of devices were only introduced a few years ago, and these nine new postures were causing pain [because] to date chairs have only been designed for someone who sits at a computer all day.”

The nine gestures range from the quite clear “The Text” to the colourfully inspired “The Strunch.”

The chair that Steelcase has engineered to meet these new seating needs is deceptively straightforward, looking much flashier in product photos than it does rolled up next to a table.

The restrained Euro flavoured design doesn’t suggest anything special, but I’m fussy about my chairs and unimpressed with overt efforts at seeming too ergonomic.

Most of the adjustments are subtle. The seat is wider and wraps its padding right around the seat base, while the number of adjustment levers has been reduced and consolidated and made more logical if not completely intuitive.

The chair’s resistance can be finely tuned to make moving from sitting forward to a relaxed lean backward an effortlessly supported action.

Most striking for me was the seat’s maximum height, a good four inches higher than any but the most specialised adjustable chairs.

Since I currently use a custom-made five-inch high-density cushion on an otherwise effectively ergonomic chair to gain that extra height, I was duly impressed. This is a feature that’s normally only available on “tall” editions of adjustable chairs.

A good adjustable chair is a hefty investment for a freelancer and one that I, for one intend to stretch to its limit, so no Gesture for me.

But for anyone who’s spending lengthy sessions staring at a computer screen while sitting on a dining room chair or worse, a badly designed “ergonomic” chair, the new Steelcase unit is priced within consideration at TT$8,500 if you care as much about your body as you do about your work.