The Psychology of Seating

At a time when everyone is talking about working from home versus working in the office (thanks, Yahoo!), does it really matter where you sit? Continuum, a global innovation and design consultancy, says yes.
nala fron w ottoman honey

Herman Miller's Nala Patient chair with ottoman.

Based on their current work with Herman Miller, Continuum has done a lot of thinking about how seating can set the stage for personal interaction. Part of the equation is ergonomics—creating design that is comfortable, fits a body well, and will not lead to discomfort or injury over time. But equally important is the psychology of seating. Subtle changes in elements such as pitch, height, padding, and seating configuration can dramatically change a person’s mindset during an interaction—and even the interaction itself. Creating the “right seat” is paradoxically about moving people: to act, collaborate, make a decision, or transition within environments. There are essentially 5 kinds of seats:

The Good Deal Seat
The Get Well Soon Seat
The Financial Confab Seat
The Millennial Hot Seat
The New Office Chair

We ask Craig LaRosa, Continuum's principal and experience designer and Gianfranco Zaccai, Continuum's founder, president, and chief design officer to talk about ergonomics and the future of office design..

Could you elaborate and describe more about the different kinds of seats, including their pros and cons, being as specific as possible?

Craig LaRosa: Office chairs have traditionally been about status—think Gordon Gecko in his big padded office chair (or even the ultra-cool Hollywood exec in his Herman Miller Aeron chair). In today’s office, however, it’s become more important to stress communication and collaboration. The available seating should enable employees to shift between say, upright seat for typing, a comfortable couch for creative work, a round table for collaboration, or a high stools to easily circulate in a working group. Creating a variety of seats for different work habits not only enhances productivity, but also improves morale by making employees feel like they are able to operate at their maximum potential.

easybank 0

Seating at the international bank BBVA.

How can employees get employers to get on board with more innovative ergonomics?

We’re not talking just about ergomonics– which is important – we’re talking about the bigger landscape with the psychology of seating, and how the design of a seat can encourage and support an action or behavior. Office seating used to be designed for optimal positioning for a desk task, but we don't work like that anymore. Work today is about collaboration, movement, teams, and with a smart phone and a laptop, my office is anywhere I chose to sit, whether that be in a coffee shop, conference room, a park, or on my couch.

Where and how we sit has a lot to do with our psychological state of mind when interacting with other people. As designers at Continuum, we have done a lot of thinking about how seating can set the stage for personal interaction. Part of the equation is ergonomic—creating design that is comfortable, fits a body well, and will not lead to discomfort or injury over time. But equally important is the psychology of seating. Subtle changes in elements such as pitch, height, padding and seating configuration can dramatically change a person’s mindset during an interaction—and even the interaction itself. Creating the “right seat” is paradoxically about moving people: to act, collaborate, make a decision, or transition within environments.

Where is the future of office design headed?

Seating at Two Ovens, a restaurant located in Massachusetts.

Gianfranco Zaccai: Even the word “office” is an anomaly—it used to mean something individuals would occupy. Now, it's a place where a group of people come together. People used to come together because they needed to be there to do their work. Now, they can do their work anywhere. Offices in the future will be about giving people choices for how to work and fostering collaboration rather than being separated by partitions or cubicles.

The office of the future will have less real estate for traditional desks. The traditional desk will disappear as more work is done digitally. Digital work will happen in locations both in office and everywhere else, and there will be more opportunities for people to collaborate both formally and informally, whether physically co-located or thousands of miles apart.

Your office will be your backpack or your bag. It’s the thing you take wherever you go. So the old office work space will become a place that invites collaboration, that gives people the voice of where and how to work, and where digital and analog information will be integrated in a seamless way.

Continuum is a strategic design partner for Herman Miller with offices in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Milan, Shanghai, and Seoul.

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