Galen Cranz on "The Chair"
Reviewed by Rani Lueder, CPE
This book is about seating and sitting. Having once spent my vacation scouring Europe's museums for the earliest representation of a chair (earliest I could find was 1570), I looked forward to opening its covers.
Dr. Cranz teaches Environmental Design at the UC Berkeley Architecture Dept. Not surprisingly, she cuts a wide swath on seating, spanning history, sociology, industrial design, architecture, ergonomics, and holistic body/mind approaches - particularly the Alexander technique.
Parts of her book are engrossing. In particular, her historical perspective of how chair design has evolved historically [if it is accurate] may be unmatched. Her discussion of the holistic aspects of posture is also interesting.
That said, this book is NOT noteworthy for its review of the ergonomics research on sitting postures and seating. Much of it is plain hogwash.
Throughout the book she refers to us as "ergonomicists" [should be "ergonomists"] and claims the discipline is derived from the Greek "ergon" and "omics" [should be "nomos" (laws)].
It is sometimes painful to read her sweeping generalizations. Dr. Cranz writes that ergonomic researchers "have concluded that the workstation should be an indication of the worker's status" (p. 55) . . . and "status differences have to be maintained, ergonomicists say" (p. 56), citing as evidence two office planning guides written by and for architects that fail to mention ergonomics or ergonomists anywhere in the books.
She misrepresents research, as when she castigates Dr. Etienne Grandjean's "poor reasoning" in Fitting the Task to the Man, writing "Amazingly, Grandjean starts with the slump as a goal" (p. 108). Drs. Grandjean et al's research actually documented computer users' self-selected postures. These researchers reported that rather than sitting upright, the computer users they observed tended to recline somewhat.
She cites findings from a small laboratory study by Drs. Bendix et al. (12 subjects for 2 hours in 3 back support conditions) as proof that lumbar supports on chair backrests are unequivocally unnecessary (p. 109) - but not the many studies that contradict. Minor assertions are meticulously cited, but questionable conclusions often are not sourced.
If you are looking for a thorough analysis of seated posture, this is not the book for you. It provides a unique and multidisciplinary perspective on the context of seating, but - please - take her review of the ergonomics research on sitting postures and seating design with a heavy dose of salt.
Rani Lueder, CPE has consulted in occupational and product design ergonomics for over 25 years. Her activities on seating include co-organizing the Second International Conference on Sitting Posture, held in Tokyo. Her second edited book "Hard Facts" is about sitting postures and seating (Taylor & Francis). She served on the seating subcommittee for the American National Standard ANSI BSR/HFES 100. She consulted in the research and design of over 350 lines of seating. Her newest edited book is "Ergonomics for Children: Designing products & places for toddlers to teens" (2008, Taylor & Francis).