Stand-up Desk, Part I: Design

Like many computer programmers who spend upwards of 8 hours a day working with a keyboard and mouse, I’ve developed some physical problems as a result (classed as Repetitive Strain Injuries, or RSIs). In recent years these have gotten so serious I’ve been to one physician (mainstream and alternative) after another, looking for insight into the situation. Through that process I’ve gained an awareness of the supreme importance of things like correct posture and taking recovery breaks. I’ve also experimented with every kind of ergonomic device on the market, some of which do help. (Unfortunately, much of this is too little, too late–such is the price I pay for my unsustainable Internet lifestyle).

Well, my most recent epiphany in this process is that we humans were not meant to be sitting creatures. Standing, walking, and reclining are naturally the more ergonomically normal postures for us. And so I (and my dad, whom I recruited to help with the project) decided to try and put together a stand-up desk to use during my 8 hours a day of bondage. I had the further idea that, if it could be dismantled and fit into my 21″ x 11″ x 10″ suitcase, so much the better!

So, after taking measurements of my height and my ergonomically neutral hand and head positions, I put together this model in Google Sketchup:

Standup Desk V1

The idea was to build the frame out of PVC for easy dis- and re-assembly, and to keep the weight down. However, after taking a trip to the hardware store and playing around with various materials, it became clear that (a) the desk would be pretty wobbly unless it were crisscrossed with PVC supports, (b) the massive number of PVC connectors we’d need would fill my suitcase all by themselves, and (c) construction would be very complex and difficult. So, back to the drawing board!

Approaching the idea from a different perspective, that of the question “What’s the simplest possible way to construct a piece within the appropriate ergonomic constraints?”, proved very fruitful. Almost immediately we hit upon the idea of using just 4 pieces of wood to create a satisfactory design. Of course, what we gained in utter simplicity and the sturdiness of wood, we probably lost in overall lightness. Still, surprisingly, after looking at the new design, it appeared that it would be even more likely to fit in my suitcase than the previous version. In addition, it turned out that we could build this new design with 4 pieces of wood that were exactly the same size!

Standup Desk v2

The only other downside to this design is that it requires a table to stand on. Of course, finding a table or desk of the appropriate height (about 30″) shouldn’t ever prove to be too difficult.

So, this is the design we’re taking to Home Depot with which to get materials. All in all, I thought it was an interesting process, in which my natural desires to build a complicated and unworkable design were ultimately won over by something a lot more simple and obvious, which will probably successfully meet my criteria for a desk. Stay tuned: I’ll post another blog with pictures when we attempt to actually turn this into reality!

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

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