The Furniture Industry Research Association

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Knowledge Hub Article

Published on 9th December, 2015
by Ergonomics Department

​Furniture Design Toolkit for office environments

At a glance:

The Furniture Design Toolkit (FDT), created by the Furniture Industry Research Association, aims to provide designers with the tools needed to incorporate ergonomics, user trials Standards and legislation into the design process. The Toolkit is the only design resource to contain this highly valuable information, provided by industry experts.


Highlights:

  • Ergonomics and Anthropometrics
  • Task Analysis
  • User Trials
  • Office furniture design
  • Educational furniture design
  • Contract furniture design
  • Other resources

Ergonomics and Anthropometrics

Ergonomics is the study of the fit between people, the things they do, the objects they use and the environments they live in (whether it be work, rest travel or play). Ergonomics deals with the interaction of technological and work situations with the human being and for this reason, is often called 'Human Factors'.

At the core of any real life product should be its function. For furniture, this involves how well it fits the user. While there may be dimensional Standards for a particular product, it is important to understand why these dimensions have been chosen and for this it is necessary to understand anthropometrics.

This section of the Toolkit introduces the basic concepts of anthropometrics and guides the reader towards the best available anthropometric data sources.

Task Analysis

Task analysis is a systematic breakdown of job elements to identify the operational sequence of the work and the way in which the worker uses the information and equipment provided.

Task analysis is usually completed on a system rather than a product, but many of the tools can also be applied to design projects and furniture. This section of the Toolkit gives an introduction to task analysis and how to use it to help improve development processes.

User Trials

User trials are essential to most design processes. This is using subjects from the target user population to test and use the product (or a prototype/mock-up) to ensure that it is fit for purpose, comfortable and easy to use.

It is important that the trials are completed properly, or there is no benefit in the data. This section of the Toolkit introduces the area of user trials and how to conduct them. It also provides a basic questionnaire to help in the development of products.

Office Furniture

This section of the Toolkit is intended to give an introduction to designing furniture for office environments.

One of the main challenges for today’s office designer is designing cost effective chairs with good adjustable features, while still being comfortable and simple for people to use. A current trend is the use of automatic adjustable features, for example weight responsive seat tension that doesn’t need adjusting manually. Use of these automatic adjustments wherever possible in a design can benefit the user, particularly if the chair is frequently used by different people (for example in a call centre).

Desk designers are faced with a similar issue. Standing at work has benefits to health and efficiency but sit-stand desks tend to be very costly due to the mechanisms involved. It is a big challenge to develop the best ergonomic solutions in the current economic climate.

With so many hours of peoples’ lives spent in the office, ergonomics and good design is essential for a comfortable and efficient workplace.

Educational Furniture

This section of the Toolkit is intended to give an introduction to designing furniture for educational environments.

In 2008, FIRA published a document called ‘Safe Seats of Learning – How good school furniture can make a difference’.

It was written to raise awareness of the issues surrounding school furniture and ergonomics in schools. Below are a few quotes from the document:

‘We as a nation are embarking upon a major investment in our schools and teaching methods – but our school furniture design has changed little from the post-war era. It’s not just about aesthetics – good furniture has a positive effect on both children’s health and their classroom development.’

‘With the exception of the introduction of polypropylene chairs in the 1970s, there has been no significant innovation in educational furniture in the last fifty years.’

‘Much of furniture currently used in schools, if used in the workplace, would be deemed illegal under existing health and safety legislation’

Since this document was published, FIRA has worked with many designers who have created significantly improved furniture for educational environments. They have faced many difficulties but are passionate about seeing better furniture in schools.

Some issues are hard to combat though - children grow continuously, not at a constant speed but in growth spurts. This means that a single size of furniture simply cannot accommodate all children, especially in secondary schools.

Contract Furniture

This section of the Toolkit is intended to give an introduction to designing furniture for contract/non-domestic environments.

Contract furniture can be defined as tables and chairs (and other furniture) in non-task orientated areas for collaborative work, networking, meetings, breakout areas as well as furniture for visitors. Contract furniture also includes furniture in other non-domestic areas such as waiting rooms, hotels, restaurants, libraries and cafés.

Contract office furniture has seen a boost in recent years with tables and chairs for quick meetings and breakout areas becoming commonplace. Coffee shops and other social areas are also increasingly being used for longer hours as people work away from their desk using laptops and tablets. With the profile of contract furniture growing, it is important to take the design of such furniture seriously, especially as people are spending more time in these areas.

Other Resources

This section of the toolkit provides links to various resources not directly included in the toolkit, including:

  • Material Selection
  • Manufacturing Processes
  • Environmental Design
  • CAD

Non-members can purchase a copy of this design toolkit here

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