Computer Graphics Workstation Ergonomics

How to setup your office computer workspace for functionality and comfort

Computer Graphics Workstation Ergonomics

Hardware Setup Tutorials

Monitor Calibration | Wacom Tablet Setup | Workspace Ergonomics | Color Management | Airbrush Equipment

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc.

Basic Office Ergonomics

Even if you are young and healthy, don't underestimate the importance of ergonomics in your workspace. Starting out with good posture and work habits will pay off in the long run. After 25 years of working at a drafting table and computer workstation, I learned this lesson the hard way, with a costly and painful lower back surgery. Proper seating, posture, and a few simple dos and don'ts will save you a lot of misery down the road.

Workstation Desktop Setup

When setting up your desktop arrangement, give a lot of thought to the relationship between all of the hardware pieces (Fig. 4 & 5). You will not want to make frequent changes once you have found the correct positioning. The relationship between your monitor and drawing tablet is especially critical because each time you alter their relative position, you will need to retrain your eye-hand coordination.

If you opt for a dual monitor setup, you will want to look straight at the main monitor. With this configuration, you will not have to keep your head at an angle. You can use your peripheral vision and eye movements to glance at the secondary monitor.

Keep your keyboard, track ball (or mouse), and drawing tablet as close to each other as possible to avoid large arm movements or reaching. Use only a small portion of the drawing tablet as the "active" area as this will allow you to use your fingers instead of your wrist to cover a large area on the monitor. Limiting arm and wrist movement will prevent conditions known as Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI), Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), or Overuse Syndrome.

Workspace Ergonomics Desk Setup

Workstation Seating and Posture

Posture and the placement relationship of chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, drawing tablet, and monitor(s) play an important roll in how much fatigue you will feel at the end of a long work day.

The first two examples (Fig. 1 & 2) show the classic mistakes people make in their seating position. Fig. 1 known as the "slump" puts tremendous strain on your lower back as your spine must carry all of the weight of your upper torso. This strain on your lower back can be further aggravated by tucking your feet under your chair.

The reclining position (shown in Fig. 2) puts strain on both your neck and lower back, especially if your chair does not have proper lumbar support. Both of these positions also give you a poor viewing angle of the monitor and negatively effect your arm and wrist position in relation to the desk and keyboard.

Our last example (Fig. 3) shows proper alignment between your head, torso, legs, and arms. Your upper body should be in perfect vertical alignment and your forearms should be as horizontal as possible to avoid wrist strain. Additionally, you want to be looking directly at the monitor to reduce side glare from the reflective surface of the screen (although good flat panel monitors give off very little glare.

Computer Workstation Seating Posture Ergonomics

It also helps to have your chair's seat bottom have a slight forward tilt and to use an ergonomic footrest to keep the upper portion of your legs parallel to the ground.

Invest in a top quality chair with arms, headrest and lumbar support. The two chairs that I would highly recommend are the Freedom or Liberty chair from a company called HumanScale and the Aeron Chair from Herman Miller. Both chairs are great looking and come with all of the necessary adjustments to fit your body.

Monitor Positioning & Ergonomics

If you are still working with a CRT "tube" monitor, stop. Unless you spent a small fortune on a Barco Reference Monitor & Color Reference Calibrator, you will be amazed at the difference in sharpness, clarity, color accuracy, and "flicker free" eye-strain relief that comes with a good flat panel monitor as compared to any CRT monitor. Additionally, the curved screen on a CRT monitor gives off a lot of distracting reflections.

In order to reduce eye strain it is important to use the "zoom" feature in your graphics program. Frequently look away from the computer screen and towards a distant field of view, blink your eyes before returning your gaze to the screen. An adjustable monitor arm can help to position the monitor to reduce neck fatigue and glare.

One solution to the problem of eye strain is to have dual monitors of a different resolution Fig. 6. Your main monitor is the one that you will use to draw and paint with, therefor it should be a "High Resolution" "High Definition" or "HD" monitor in the largest size that is practical. This means that it will have a higher DPI (dot per inch, or pixels per inch) rating than a standard monitor. Standard monitor resolution is 72 DPI. Apple's high definition monitor, the Apple Cinema HD series, has 96 DPI at 1920x1200 pixels.

The main reason to use monitors with different resolutions is that you can put all of your drawing software's Palettes, Tool Bars and Dialogue Boxes in the smaller (lower resolution) monitor, so that they appear larger and easier to read. The additional benefit of this configuration is that you can keep all of that screen real-estate clear of clutter so that you can focus on the image you are working on.

You will want to keep your tool and layer pallets along the edge that is closest to the main monitor. This will keep wrist movement to a minimum when changing brushes, colors, layers, etc.

Monitor Setup

Position your desk and monitor so that the ambient light from the room does not change dramatically throughout the day or into the night. Drastic changes in room lighting from direct sunlight and artificial sources of light will change your color and contrast perception and may necessitate different monitor calibration settings at different times of the day. Always avoid direct sunlight washing across the surface of your monitor.

Ergonomic Seating Recommendations

Herman Miller and Humanscale are the two finest manufacturers of office workstation task seating in the world. Not only do these chairs look fantastic but both of these manufacturer's products represent the state-of-the-art in ergonomic design, comfort, safety, functionality and durability.

Desk Chairs

These chairs, used in conjunction with an adjustable footrest, are an essential part of maintaining correct posture while working long hours at the computer. I have tried many of the chairs from both manufacturers and the Liberty Chair is the one I use everyday. I especially like the mesh back support as it provides a lot of ventilation, keeping your upper torso cool.

Humanscale, Fellowes, Ergo-Wise, Safco Foot Rest

An ergonomically designed, well positioned, and properly adjusted footrest is an important part of maintaining correct seating posture and spinal alignment while seated at a computer workstation. Lack of a footrest forces your lower back to arch forward, putting excess pressure on your lower lumbar discs. Ergonomic footrests place your lower spine in a neutral position, relaxing your lower back muscles, and distributing your torso weight correctly. Foot rest manufacturers include Ergo-Wise, Humanscale, Fellowes and Safco.

Ergo Chairs

Workstation Ergo Footrests

Hand & Wrist Ergo Products

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