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Human Interface With Functional Design                           

er-go-nom-ics (Greek, ergon, work; nomos, laws.)
1. The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort.

Although “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome” is thought of as a contemporary malady, associated with computers and heavy labor, it has in fact been plaguing the human race for at least 230 years, and more likely since the beginning of the human experience.  Take a look at the following, written in 1777, by Bernardino Ramazzini:

“Yet ‘tis certain that in each City and Town, vast Numbers of Persons still earn their Bread by writing.  The Diseases of Persons incident to this Craft arise from three Causes: first, constant Sitting; secondly, the perpetual Motion of the Hand in the same manner; and thirdly, the Attention and Application of the Mind.

Now ‘tis certain that constant sitting produces Obstructions of the Viscera, especially of the Liver and Spleen, Crudities of the Stomach, a Torper of the Leggs, a languid Motion of the refluent Blood and Cacbexies.  In a work, Writers are depriv’d of all the Advantages arising from moderate and salutary Exercise.

Constant writing also considerably fatigues the Hand and whole Arm, on account of the continual and almost tense Tension of the muscles and Tendons.  I knew a Man who, by perpetual writing, began first to complain of an excessive Weariness of his whole right Arm, which could be remov’d by no Medicines, and was at last Succeeded by a perfect Pally of the whole Arm.  That he might sustain as little Loss as possible by the Accident, he learn’d to write with his left Hand, which was soon after seiz’d with the same Disorder.”

Every time we sit down on a chair, sofa, or bench and stand up again, every time we jump into the car, adjust our seat and the rear-view mirror, every time we open the refrigerator, dice carrots at the kitchen counter, work at the computer, scrub the floor, brush our teeth or watch TV, we are interacting with objects designed to serve humans.

All are examples of Ergonomics.

The Ergonomics Society of Europe describes it this way:

“Ergonomics is about ‘fit’: the fit between people, the things they do, the objects they use and the environments they work, travel, and play in.  If good fit is achieved, the stresses on people are reduced.  They are more comfortable, they can do things more quickly and easily, and they make fewer mistakes.”

In our quest to create the perfect functional, efficient Home Office, Ergonomics takes center stage.

It is said that in the U.S., 70% of the workforce sits on the job, many in front of computers.  Neck and back pain are the most common reasons for lost work time.
Sound familiar?  We humans are not designed for a sedentary existence.  We are built to move and stretch, not to sit still in one place for long periods of time.  No wonder we suffer from chronic neck and shoulder pain!

Ergonomics comes into play in all aspects of the Human Experience: The physical stresses placed on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons and bones, to environmental factors, which can effect hearing, vision, and general well-being.

Physical stressors can include repetitive motions: typing, the continual use of a piece of equipment, vibration from a piece of machinery, or the strain produced from lifting heavy boxes.  Working in an awkward position (such as propping the phone between your ear and shoulder) can cause painful long-term problems.

Environmental factors could include “sick building syndrome” (headaches, congestion, fatigue, rashes resulting from poor air quality in a building or office).  Constant loud noise or aggravating music produce tension in the muscles, leading to chronic disorders.  Bad odors and noxious fumes can be a threat to over-all health; at the very least they cause tension, and we all know that prolonged tension can lead to a host of physical maladies.  Improper lighting can cause eyestrain and headaches, bad moods, and poor concentration.

So it is clear that all of the senses come into play when dealing with Ergonomics.   

Although the science of Ergonomics is associated by most people with the workplace, its principles apply to every room in your home, every hospital, every movie theater, every supermarket, and on and on.

We all spend a good deal of time in an office, whether it is at the workplace or at home.  Ergonomics plays a critical role in maintaining health while at work.

The following are some excellent strategies to put into effect in creating a healthy and productive office:

The Single Most Important Item in Your Office: Your Chair

An Ergonomically designed chair can represent an investment, but over years of constant use it will pay invaluable dividends.  By keeping your body in good alignment you will save hundreds of dollars in doctor and chiropractic fees, as well as eliminate debilitating chronic maladies later in life, which can occur due to neglect in the present.

You spend one-third of your life in bed.  So you buy a great mattress. 

You spend AT LEAST another third of your life in your office, in your chair.  Buy a great chair.  It’s common sense.

Choose a chair that keeps your upper and lower back in gentle alignment and equally distributes the pressure between your “sitting bones” and the back of your thighs.  Knees should be at a 90-degree angle.  Feet should rest flat on the floor, or on a slightly elevated foot rest.

Chair seat height should allow a 90-degree bend from the elbow to access keyboard and minimal bend at the wrist.  The computer monitor line of sight should be up to
20-degrees below horizontal eye level.  Avoid using arm rests while working to reduce stress on your wrist and finger joints.

Telephone Placement

Use a telephone headset (earphones) or a speakerphone if possible.  This will keep your hands free, and take strain off your neck.  If this is not an option, place your phone within reach of your left hand if you are right-handed, and vice versa, which will allow your dominant hand to write and perform other tasks while you are on the phone. 

Lighting/Protecting Your Eyes

The optimal goal in lighting an office is to synthesize diffused daylight as well as you are able.  Dropped ceilings with indirect light will produce an evenly diffused ambient light without glare, which is the big challenge when working on a computer.  If there must be an exposed overhead light, be sure that it is off to the side of the computer.  Lower light levels if necessary.  Eyestrain in the workplace is most often caused by direct glare.  Perhaps the worst damage caused by glare is that it causes you to change your posture to an awkward position in order to be able to see, thus creating cervical and shoulder problems down the line.

A note on visuals: Eyes are strained more by close viewing than by distant viewing.  Keep the monitor at least 25" away, preferably more.  Reading is most “ergonomic” when the top of the monitor is tilted back slightly (observe that you tilt a magazine back slightly to read it easily.  When in a vertical position it becomes very difficult to read. Try it and see.

Use window shades or blinds to block harsh sun.  Keep task lights in appropriate places for project work.

Your computer monitor should be at eye level, with a glare protection screen.  People who wear bi-focals should have a separate pair of “computer glasses”.

Do not sit at the computer for longer that 50 minutes at a time.  Follow the 50-10 rule: for every 50 minutes you work sitting at your desk, take a 10-minute break.  During that break, walk around, stretch, drink some water, do what you want, as long as you are not sitting.

And to prevent the dreaded Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, wrists should not rest on the edge of the table, but can be supported on wrist-supports.  Always strive to keep the arm, wrist and hand in gentle alignment.

Keep the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible.


According to Dennis R. Ankrum, CIE, of Ankrum Associates, “[At the workplace] voluntary postural changes should be encouraged.  Even alternative postures that look awkward may be OK if they’re used for short-term relief from the discomfort caused by sustained, fixed postures.  Stretching exercises require awkward postures and are often recommended by the same guidebooks that mandate the “correct” posture while working. [It is said that] ‘the best posture is the next posture’.  Whatever position we are in, we will more likely be better off in the one we assume next.”

So remember to keep moving!



- Karen Saloomey
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