Cool space—bad arms

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I received the latest publication from It’s Nice That through the post today, (above), which promises to be a good read over the Easter break. However, one of my pet hates struck me as I flicked through it, (through no fault of INT), is a photo in an article about design studios that features happy designers working on laptops at desks.

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Now I’ve nothing against laptops if used as occasional mobile working machines, or if a desk space is equipped properly to accommodate one. The problem, however, is one of un-ergonomic working environments and the risks that this brings to the user of suffering repetitive strain injury (RSI) at some point in their future careers. And it isn’t just the small studios supplying desk space for interns and freelancers that seem to not notice this is a problem, as a picture in the same issue of Printed Pages shows Stefan Sagmeister works like this as well:

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And the trouble is, you see this sort of photo time and time again, and the issue never gets mentioned. Look, lots of happy designers working together in a ‘cool’ creative space, (photo below from It’s Nice That’s website):

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As someone who suffers from RSI, I have to be very careful about how I work. I never use a mouse anymore, as I worked out that much of my problem had come from a combination of poor posture for long hours while drawing in Illustrator using a mouse. That, and being hunched over a laptop at a desk in a previous job. Now, my home studio set up and my day job set up are designed exactly the same, with a Trackbar that I use to scroll and click with my left hand, and a Wacom tablet for cursor control with my right hand.

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I came to this set up through my employer, University Campus Suffolk, organising a work station assessment by a company called Posturite who gave some great advise about how I should work. Properly adjusted chairs, the angle of your back, arms and legs are all important factors as well, as important in fact, as taking regular breaks.  I also use voice recognition software for when I have to do a lot of writing. These measures, along with physiotherapy when RSI first reared its ugly head in 2009, have kept me working efficiently and not having to have time off because of the problem.

But I worry about future designers over reliance on laptops and poor work station set ups who aren’t aware of the issues. It makes me wince every time I see such a photograph of a ‘cool’ studio space that I know my students would love to work in once they graduate. I now include a health and safely lecture in one of my first year modules, which I know is not a sexy issue, but then neither are shooting pains in your arms or numbness in your fingers, and a depressing sense that you will never be able to do the job you love again.

Please note: this post is in no way meant as a criticism of It’s Nice That, these sort of photos are prevalent throughout the design media.

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