Obstructing Productivity Gains by Design


I need to look into this more. But it seems to me that the mismatch between the original purpose of the desk (the piece of office furniture) and its current use may be sapping productivity gains IT would otherwise deliver.

The design of the desk was originally for what? For writing on. So its height, relative to your position when you’re seated, is great for that. Your elbow is right around desk level and your eyes are at a good angle for whatever is laid out horizontally on top.

The first PCs were desktop PCs, and were large enough so that the monitor, placed on top of the CPU casing, was at eye level. Even when tower computers came along, by then the external monitors used were big enough that they were still at least close to eye level by their height. And also we started putting the monitors on stands.

But today you are largely putting a notebook PC on your desk. By its nature, the notebook connects the screen to the keyboard. Even if you use an external monitor and keyboard as I do, you probably don’t want to elevate your notebook such that its screen is at eye level. That would mean that the integrated keyboard would be elevated too, taking up useless real estate.

All of which means that you are either not using your notebook’s screen as part of a multiple monitor set-up—which would be a waste of a useful resource—or that you have that screen placed too low for optimal viewing. Which in turns leads to reduced productivity.

So now that we are using desks to hold notebook PCs, instead of for their original purpose of writing, we are not getting the full advantage mobile computing and multiple monitors can provide.

The increasing use of tablets won’t make this issue go away, either. We still like to put tablets up on stands when we use an external keyboard with them. It’s only with a useful integration of the keyboard into the tablet’s display panel that we’ll be willing to look down at the screen. At least, that’s my feeling; as I said, I need to look into it more.