Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The goal of any product designed with ergonomic comfort in mind is to fit the user.
The reason there are so many keyboards is because there are so many different sizes of people! Think about the people you work with. Some are taller, some are shorter. Some have broad shoulders, some are narrower. Each body type demands a slightly different style. For example, a broad-shouldered person will almost certainly need a split keyboard, where an individual with more narrow shoulders might be able to do fine on a standard straight keyboard.
You may also have seen some other keyboards that look nothing like the standard keyboard that came with your desktop. Highly customizable keyboards like this one or this one seem like something you'd see in a science fiction movie - but there's a good reason for their design: they allow the tool to be configured to fit you, rather than the other way around.
Within the broad category of split keyboards, there are three main subcategories. The first two are pretty common: "fixed-angle split keyboards" which are angled, but cannot be adjusted, and "adjustable-angle split keyboards," which offer more customization options. There is also a third type of split keyboard, in which the two sides of the alpha-numeric keyboard are completely split. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, which we'll cover.
Fixed-angle split keyboards, such as the classic Northgate keyboard, have been in use for decades. They address the problem of ulnar deviation, or the lateral bending of the wrists (see image), but don't typically address the problem of wrist extension (when your wrists bend vertically, creating an angle between your forearm and hand and putting pressure on your carpal tunnel. The main drawback is that if you're a "hunt and peck" user, this type of keyboard will have a bit of a learning curve, as well.
To address both ulnar deviation and wrist extension, adjustable angle keyboards were designed (such as the Goldtouch keyboard, which can be adjusted both laterally and vertically). As with the angled keyboards, there is evidence that this design does reduce discomfort, and according to Cornell University, split angle keyboards can improve your computer performance by up to 80%.
Finally, the completely split keyboard. These offer the most neutral position for typing available, positioning the user's hands in a "handshake" position and avoiding all the most common causes of keyboard-related injuries. However, they involve a fairly steep learning curve, and your productivity will suffer until you learn to type in the modified format. If you are a "hunt and peck" typer, this board will likely be unusable for you. To find out more about this type of keyboard, click here.
You spend half your waking hours at work, and our goal is to help you get the most out of them. They shouldn't involve pain or discomfort, which keep you from achieving your goals and lowers your quality of life. Remember that a good, high-quality keyboard can easily pay for itself in added productivity gains, but only if it's the right design for you. If it's not, you can spend a lot of money on a board that has a lot of neat features, but that ultimately helps you accomplish no more (and sometimes less!) than your existing keyboard does.
Monday, July 30, 2007
-- attributed to Abraham Lincoln
Using the right tool can have a huge impact on your health and productivity. The right tool can allow you to accomplish far more using less effort. Abe Lincoln would have learned that lesson well, clearing farmland. Imagine how much less effort it would have taken to cut down a tree with a sharp axe!
While you probably don't spend your days cutting down trees, using the right tool is just as important. The wrong office setup can result in a whole host of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI), and sore shoulders, forearms or wrists are just the beginning.
Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injuries
"Ergonomics" comes from two Greek words: "ergo," meaning "work," and "nomos," meaning "law" or "rule." This makes sense: your body was designed to move and work in a certain way - and when you violate those laws, there are physical consequences. For information workers who spend their days at a computer, such injuries are frequently barely detectable in their early stages: tingling fingers, sore backs or shoulders - things easy to overlook or "just deal with" until the cumulative effects of these tiny injuries get so bad they actually prevent you from working. Because the field of ergonomics seeks to avoid or limit these Repetitive Strain Injuries, "ergonomics" is frequently defined as "fitting the task to the worker."
One way to significantly reduce your chances of an RSI is to using the right keyboard for your body type. The problem is, of course, that there are so many different keyboards available! Most are pretty standard and look like this one, while others - in order to better match the work to the worker - have some pretty odd shapes. In our June email, we'll help you learn the difference between the various keyboard types, and why they are designed the way they are.
Right now, though, we'd like debunk a common myth. Typically, split keyboards (keyboards which have the alphanumeric keys split into two halves, with each side slightly angled) are labeled "ergonomic" and declared superior to the more traditional straight keyboards. If your wrists hurt or your fingers tingle, the solution is to buy an "ergonomic" (meaning "split") keyboard. But is it that simple?
Straight or Split Keyboard: Which is Best for You?
The simple answer is, of course, "no, it's not that simple." Split keyboards aren't always better - or even more ergonomic - than straight keyboards. To determine which style of keyboard is best suited to you, perform this simple test: with your arms resting at your sides, extend your
hands, and place them on the home row of a straight keyboard. Are your wrists relatively straight, or are they angled?
The goal is to keep your wrists straight; working with them bent significantly increases your risk of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other RSI's. With this in mind, straight keyboards usually work best for users who are somewhat narrow through the shoulders. For those with this body type, typing on the angled keys of a split keyboard causes them to hold their elbows out away from their sides in order to keep their wrists straight. Such a posture significantly increases the strain on their neck and shoulder muscles, leading to soreness and can cause a number of other problems, if continued over time.
If you're looking to upgrade your keyboard to better fit your body type, take a look at a few of the boards below. Remember, there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution - the "best keyboard" is the one that's the best for you.
Mini Keyboard with ALPS Key Switches - A study conducted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that users of keyboards with "springier" keys (Tactile Switches) were less likely to suffer symptoms of repetitive strain injury. This straight keyboard packages high-end key-switches in a space-saving package.
Avant Prime and Avant Stellar Keyboards- If you long for the days when keyboards weren't an afterthought, you will welcome the quality touch and feel of the Avant line of keyboards. These fully-reprogrammable and remappable keyboards were built to last, with ALPS tactile key switches. The Avant Stellar adds 12 programmable keys to automate tasks such as cut-and-paste, making it perfect for graphic designers, editors or others whose daily jobs require commands using multiple key combinations.
The Northgate Ergonomic Evolution Keyboard - utilizing ALPS key switches and a split configuration, plus an integrated touchpad, this keyboard combines many of the ergonomic "best practices" in a single, built-to-last package.
GoldTouch Variable Split Keyboard - this "variable split" keyboard allows you to truly make your keyboard fit your body type. If you know you need a split keyboard, this is one of the most customizable boards available.
Maxim Adjustable Split Keyboard - like the GoldTouch, the Maxim allows for vertical adjustment as well as horizontal, offering a new level of comfort for information workers.
Typing with cold fingers is no fun. You probably know the drill: whoever has the keys to the tightly-locked thermostat controls grew up somewhere north of the Arctic Circle, and has little sympathy for people like you, shivering away at your computer. You get your morning coffee because it keeps your hands warm and less for the taste. You know there are fingers on your hands because you can see them (now, if you could only feel them!).
Too melodramatic? Maybe - but cold employees can cost employers up to 10% more per hour per employee. Whether you spend your days freezing at a desk or working in an un-insulated (and barely heated) warehouse, you know how much trying to type with numb fingers can cut into your productivity. How many times have you had to go back and correct an error or retype a sentence because your fingers just wouldn't work as fast as your mind? According to a study by Cornell University, workers with cold fingers and toes worked more slowly and made more than twice as many keyboarding errors.
Unfortunately, cold fingers and toes are just a part of the normal office experience for many people. Before you consider bringing a pair of gloves to work, try the following tips.
5 Tips for Staying Warm When Your Office Isn't
When you sit for long periods of time, your circulation slows down. The first place this shows up, of course, is the furthest place from your heart: your fingers and toes. The trick to staying warm at work
Following a few simple tips throughout the day should help you stay productive (and warm!) at work:
1) Make fists and wiggle your toes. Even this small movement will help the blood flow to your fingers and toes.
2) Take short, frequent walks. This is a good habit to get into even if you're not cold. By getting away from your computer screen and walking around, you significantly reduce your chances of developing a variety of work-induced problems ranging from eyestrain headaches to carpal tunnel syndrome, plus the added boost to your heart rate will keep you alert. . . and warm! You can even download a free timer here.
3) Don't wear tight shoes. Ladies are especially vulnerable to this one. Even if they're "super cute," leave those tight shoes at home, or at least take them off while you're at your desk. Tight shoes keep the blood from flowing to your toes.
4) Limit your caffeine intake. Caffeine constricts blood vessels, which only makes your fingers and toes get cold faster.
5) Can't spend your days wandering around the parking lot? Try a heated keyboard, mat or footrest (you'll need to take off those tight shoes), or a radiant panel! These are far better alternatives to space heaters. Space heaters are frequently banned from offices, because they are blatant fire hazards and huge energy wasters. On the other hand, a heated keyboard, footrest or radiant panel uses a tiny fraction of the electricity, and are about as likely to start a fire as your mouse! They also work great for use in non-insulated work areas, such as warehouses.
Friday, July 27, 2007
When someone mentions "safe mousing," it's almost amusing. "How in the world can someone injure himself using a mouse?!"
10 Tips for Safer Mousing
1. Mouse Grip - don't squeeze or grip the mouse between your thumb & pinky. Your hand should be relaxed, not tensed when using the mouse.
5. Avoid Restricting Circulation - there are exposed blood vessels near the skin at the wrist, where the pulse is taken. You don't want any pressure to this region, as it will reduce circulation into the hand, increasing the risk of injury.
8. Mousing Height - adjust the height of the mouse so your wrist is straight while mousing. The top of your hand should not be bent back toward your body while mousing.