Sunday, March 26, 2006

Office ergonomics, monitor stands and keyboard trays

We shouldn't have to damage our health in order to use computer systems. Wait, let me try and rephrase that in a positive wording. Computer use should be a healthy experience. Computer designers might do well to remember the Hippocratic Oath which starts with "First, do no harm...". Unfortunately computer usage requires confining yourself to a fixed position, that's very bad for ones health. Besides remembering to get up and walk around a little every so often, there's a few things you can do to have your workspace more ergonomically correct.

At the moment I'm looking at "Monitor arms" and "keyboard trays".

Monitor Arms

LCD monitors are light enough you can easily mount them on a flexible arm, giving you the freedom to position the monitor "anywhere". At least that's what the makers say you can do. Certainly the old style CRT monitors had far too much weight to do anything like this.

Unfortunately the reality doesn't quite match up with the flexibility implied by the picture. To explain I want to run down a few of them, but first I should explain my experience with one of them.

I bought an Ergotron Neo-Flex LCD arm. I didn't bother reading the fine print, unfortunately. I have a 20 inch Dell LCD monitor that's really nice. I installed the monitor arm, attached it to the Dell LCD monitor, and all that went together very easily. The VESA standard LCD mounting specification sure makes it easy. Unfortunately, the monitor drooped. No matter the amount of tweaking I did, tightening of screws, etc, the monitor drooped a bit. Then I read the fine print and saw, right on the box, it was rated to hold monitors up to 18 lbs weight. Finding the fine print for the Dell monitor, it weighs 18.76 lbs.

Kensington 60106 Desk-Mount Arm for Flat Panel Monitor It has nice strong arms, etc. But it holds monitors up to 20 lbs weight.

GMP STANDARD LCD ARM No picture so I can't judge it from that. The description says it's got a fully articulated arm, but its rating is for monitors up to 14 lbs weight.

Ergotron LX Desk Mount Arm - mounting kit This is a variant on the Neo-Flex I bought. The arm is very flexible and nice. I suppose if your monitor is light enough then it won't droop.

DualSwing Arm Desk Mount Judging from the picture it's clearly going to have a lot of freedom in positioning the monitor "wherever".

The attraction I have to these is not just the flexibility and freedom, but the possibility of decluttering the desktop. By holding the monitor above the desk, the space which would have held the monitor stand can be used for other things. But, knowing my habits, it would just collect random sheets of paper and other stuff. Maybe it's just as well.

On the other hand this really interesting 19 inch monitor, ViewSonic VA1912WB 19" Widescreen LCD Monitor, only weighs 9 lbs. Hmmm....

Keyboard Trays

One of the rules of ergonomics is to keep the keyboard fairly low, only slightly above your legs. This probably has to do with the natural resting position of your arms.

Yet another rule of ergonomics is to keep your screen at eye level. Seeing as there's quite a difference between the low level recommended for the keyboard, and the high level recommended for the screen, one wonders how to bring harmony.

One way would be to keep the desktop itself fairly low. But I find that not to be the best, as my knees tend to bump into the desk. Plus theres this dream I have of less clutter on the desktop allowing for more room for other items.

With that in mind I found at Office Depot a keyboard drawer that fits under the desk. It's relatively nice and does the job relatively well. But, it's made from injection plastic and isn't the sturdiest thing. As I use it the thing shimmys around and I'm sure it's going to break some day, and I'm really displeased with the whole experience.

Studying it carefully, what appears to be the problem is leverage. The part holding the keyboard is sturdy enough. Where it really shimmies around is the tray on which the mouse sits. That tray is waaaay over on the side, so when I rest my hand on it there's a lot of leverage to pull the tray around.

This gives an attribute that's desired in searching for a replacement. Namely, tray should be supported on both ends rather than just in the middle.

MASTER PRODUCTS DRAWER Looks to be the ticket. The size is wide enough for my preferred keyboard and has ample room to the side for mousing. Plus it's steel construction should be sturdy. Unfortunately the dinky picture amazon shows isn't clear enough to give me confidence in this thing.

WAVETECH Underdesk Keyboard Drawer with Wrist Rest Also looks good. Again the drawer is wide enough for a large keyboard plus mousing. Unfortunately the construction isn't described, and again it suffers from a dinky image.

Kensington Fully Articulating & Adjustable Underdesk Keyboard Drawer Certainly is very flexible. Unfortunately at 26 inches wide the drawer isn't going to offer enough room for convenient mousing alongside a keyboard.

Under Desk Keyboard Drawer - Pewter Metal Art Looks to be very nice, and is made from metal which ought to be sturdy. However the drawer doesn't even attempt to provide a space to mouse. What rock has the designer of this been hiding under? Mousing is a very important part of computing, and has been so for 20 years or more.

Select System Wing Platform, Keyboard & Mouse Platform, Memory Foam Wristrest Looks promising. At least it's wide enough for convenient mousing.

Premium Under Desk Kybrd Drawer Looks promising, especially as it has support at both ends of the drawer which should help the stability. Unfortunately at 25 inches wide it's too narrow for convenient mousing.

Other resources

The Human Solution offers a wide range of ergonomical products. Unfortunately their choices in the two product categories discussed on this page are pretty slim.

Ergo Works offers a wide range of ergonomical products. They have done a pretty good job in selecting good products. They have some monitor arms with relatively heavy duty weight capacity. Their choice in keyboard trays are pretty good. And more, such as nice chairs and desks whose height adjusts.

Hergo Offers a wide range of interesting monitor arms.

Flexrest Specializes in keyboard trays.

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