How to figure out the desk height that is good for you?
March 6, 2008 2:02 PM   Subscribe

From a ergonomic and comfort perspective, what measurements do you look for in a computer desk or work area surface? Specifically the height?

I'm in the planning phases for building a desk into an odd shaped area of my apartment. Once it's in I won't be able to change the height (without a lot of effort.) I'm also planning to mount my LCD monitor to the wall over the desk.

I'm wondering if there are general rules or guidelines for positioning desk surfaces for comfort and use. What surface height is most comfortable for typing and mousing around? At what height do you like your monitor positioned? Suggestions regarding posture, distance from keyboard or monitor, and anything else I'm not thinking of are also welcome.

I realize this is very subjective, but I'm trying to get an idea of what other people look for in their optimal setup. If it helps I'm 6'1".

Thanks for any suggestions! :-)
posted by wfrgms to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Mice and keyboards should be elbow height, but that's easy enough to make adjustable via a keyboard tray. The two most important parts of any computer setup is the chair and the monitor. The top edge of the screen should be eye height and your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees at a 90deg angle.

So, in order of flexibility and changeability
1) Feet flat on floor (you can't adjust the length of your legs)
2) KB/Mouse at elbow height (depends on unchangeable torso size)
3) Top of screen at eye level (completely adjustable)

Also, unless your desk is going to be very shallow, distance to the monitor can cause eyestrain, so you may want to think twice about mounting it on the wall, as cool as it sounds. :)
posted by rhizome at 2:12 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if your legs are short, make sure the chair you have has a pan (butt part) that is not too long for your butt to be at the back and your knees are off the front. You can get back problems if you have to lean back for back support. A front edge digging into the back of your knees can cause circulation and nerve problems. Any decent chair store (NOT Best Buy or Staples or wherever) should be able to help you find a properly sized chair. FWIW, I don't like Aerons. They just never felt right (though to its credit my back never hurt on it either).
posted by rhizome at 2:15 PM on March 6, 2008

I hurt my knees slightly skiing and while they were healing they were hyper sensitive to ergonomics. As a result I moved my entire desk down to knee height, moved my monitors up and now that my feet sit flat I'm a thousand percent more comfortable. With my feet dangling it was too easy to slouch into the back of the chair, now I barely even touch it.

My boss just had some pretty severe neck problems due to his posture, again from leaning back too far/often.
posted by Skorgu at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2008

Yeah, I think rhizome nails it. The top of my monitor is very slightly above eye level, but as screens keep getting bigger, it's going to become impossible to fit their vertical dimension between eye level and the desk surface.

My desk is built to a custom height: 27". I'm 5'9". The desk looks way too low until you get used to it, but I'm quite satisfied with it.

If you're mounting the monitor on the wall (which sounds good to me), you may want to put it on a double-articulated swingarm.
posted by adamrice at 3:39 PM on March 6, 2008

Here is OSHA's checklist for ergonomic computer workstations, with links to optimum guidelines for work surfaces, chairs, monitors, etc.
posted by platinum at 3:58 PM on March 6, 2008

To get your desk right: start with the chair. Keyboard/mouse height is determined by the height of your forearms when the rest of you is sitting properly. Your feet should be flat, your thighs should be level (my Alexander technique teacher actually recommended that one's seat be pitched slightly forward, making your tailbone slightly higher than your knees, but very few inexpensive office chairs have this adjustment), your back straight, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms hanging freely at your sides. Once you have all that set, your forearms should also be level, with your elbows bent at a right angle. From that point you can get the optimal height of your work surface.

With smaller displays the top of the display should be at eye level; with very large displays you may find it more practical to have about one third of the display above eye level.
posted by fedward at 4:11 PM on March 6, 2008

You might find thisinteresting. I grant you it's not specifically about physical comfort, but I think an uncluttered workspace creates psychological comfort and may also give you some flexibility to adjust monitor, keyboard, etc. to your physical needs.
posted by forthright at 7:04 PM on March 6, 2008

Thanks guys! Your suggestions were exactly what I was looking for!
posted by wfrgms at 10:58 PM on March 6, 2008

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