1. Design & Illustration
  2. Theory

How to Make a Happy and Safe Office Space

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Lately I have been working some extraordinarily long days in front of the screen. Not only has it been exhausting it has made me think much more seriously about the importance of a proper office setup. Today I will share some tips and ideas for your office space that will make you more productive and keep the aches and pains away.

Look After Your Body

Vector illustrations can have hundreds, if not thousands of points and lines, but have you ever stopped to think that most of them have been clicked and dragged by hand? For every click and drag of the mouse you're putting pressure on your tendons and finger joints in a way that, after repetitive action, can cause some serious damage.

Many of you would have heard about RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury, for those who haven't, RSI is a blanket term given to pain and swelling resulting from repetitive actions such as sporting activities or computing.

In the field of digital art and design it is common to find people who suffer with symptoms including, but not limited to.

  • Stiffness or pain in the neck, shoulders or back.
  • Pain or unusual sensations such as tingling in the arms, wrists, hands or fingers.
  • Pain during sleep.

You are at risk of RSI if you have bad posture while you work, stress and tension build-up in your muscles or perform repetitive actions, such as typing or using a mouse. If you have RSI you should see a doctor or physiotherapist as soon as the first signs appear. RSI is more than just a pain that will go away with rest. Once injured, the muscle tissue and tendons become prone to "flare-ups" which happen when activity is resumed.

11:05 by Substrata Studio

Use a Drawing Tablet

You are at risk of RSI if you have bad posture while you work, stress and tension build-up in your muscles or perform repetitive actions, such as typing or using a mouse.

If you use vector or image editing software for extended periods of time, seriously consider using a pressure sensitive drawing tablet instead of a mouse. The position of your hand when using a drawing tablet is more relaxed and doesn't rely on small repetitive movements as much as a mouse does. If you need to use a mouse, make sure that it's positioned correctly. You should be able to comfortably reach the mouse from the keyboard.

Invest in a Monitor Riser

A Monitor Riser is a special shelf or mountable surface that positions computer monitors at the optimum viewing level. The middle of a properly positioned screen should be at a 15 degrees from your eye line with your neck slightly bent. Believe it or not, most monitors are lower than they should be. A monitor that's positioned badly will causes the user to strain their neck and shoulders without realizing it. Risers can be purchased from many office supplies stores and there's quite a few on e-bay that are below the retail price. Look for models that have adjustable supports so you can set the monitor to  the optimum level for your needs.

Choose the Right Chair

You will see all sorts of fancy designer chairs being used in office "makeover" photos, but many of these are exactly what you don't want to use as an office chair. Your chair must have the following features to promote good posture.

  • Arm rests to take the weight off your shoulders.
  • Adjustable height so you can position your feet flat on the floor.
  • A lumbar support below the waist line to hold your back in alignment and discourage slouching.
  • Soft padding on the seat to promote good circulation.
  • The seat should swivel to make reaching for items on the desk easy.

Set the Mood with Light

A darkened room may be atmospheric, but it will cause all kinds of eye strain. Make sure you have a good quality light source that doesn't shine directly on your screen. A window with a view is nice, but not everyone has the luxury of that (my office window faces a dark walkway and an old wooden fence that's down the side of my house). Natural colored lights will also do the trick, you can find them in supermarkets and hardware stores. Be sure to check the box as light globes also come in ultra white, which gives the cold bright appearance of an all night convenience store.

On the subject of light, check that your monitor isn't set too bright either. If your eyes feel tired or dry you may be suffering from eye strain caused by a bright display. Some monitors come with an automatic dimmer that changes with the light in the room, this can be useful for prolonged computer use. To ease eye strain I like to use saline eye-drops, which are non-medicated drops that can be used whenever your eyes feel tired. Saline eye drops are available from pharmacies and supermarkets.

Extreme Makeover 172/365 by Sasha Wolff

Care for Your Mind

It's all well and good to look after your body, but what about mental fatigue. Sometimes a job will require so much concentration that you feel blocked and find it hard to get motivated. The following is a list of techniques I've found to work for me. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Take Regular Breaks

By this I mean, take short breaks in a quiet place with a good supply of fresh air. Personally I like to walk out into the back-yard and check on the seedlings I have growing there. Plants are a great distraction, there's no twitter on them (unless you use this) they can't ask questions and they don't care if you're in your pyjamas.

Be Healthy

When a deadline is looming there's often an urge to go out and stock up on sweets and soda so you can work all night off the pure energy of sugar and caffeine. The problem with this is that your energy levels will spike and then bottom-out leaving you with a sluggish sick feeling. Try fresh fruit or berries for a natural sugar kick and green tea for a caffeinated boost without the crash. It's reported that Nathan Jurevicius drinks Green Tea every day, this should be enough to motivate any Vector Artist to give it a go!

RIZN Office space by Kaloian Toshev

A clear desk promotes a clear mind. A quick tidy-up of the immediate area around your work space is enough. Cleaning the kitchen, bathroom and crawl-space is procrastination.

When it's Possible, Avoid Stress

Does supermarket shopping turn you into the Incredible Hulk? Perhaps stupid arguments with work colleagues is enough to make you see red? What about telemarketers calling to sell you things you don't need during dinner? I hate that last one! Evaluate the things in your day that make you mad, sad or outright crazy and see if you can avoid them. I found that ordering my groceries online was one of the most amazing things I could do to keep my stress levels down before a major deadline. It's simple solutions like this that can make a massive difference in your productivity and metal wellbeing.

Avoid Clutter and Create a Nice Atmosphere

Have you ever tried to work in an office full of clutter? You may know exactly which stack of paper to find things in, but after a while you can get bogged down in the chaos. A messy office is like a creeping fog, it happens slowly and you may not even notice at first, then all of a sudden you're completely overwhelmed (and perhaps even a little bit scared). I've always joked that it's amazing how much cleaning I can get done when there's an important piece of work to do, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing in small doses. A clear desk promotes a clear mind. If you like the area you are in you will find it easier to work. A quick tidy-up of the immediate area around your work space is enough. Cleaning the kitchen, bathroom and crawl-space is procrastination.

Wallpaper Republic by Stephen Chan

Spark Your Imagination

In creative fields, imagination is everything. Workplaces such as Google, Pixar and Skype go to great lengths to make their work spaces visually attractive and engaging. You may not have the budget (or the space) to install an indoor jungle like Google Zurich, but you can turn regular home and office items into decorative inspiration.

It's nice to sit back and relax when you need to make a phone call or sketch out ideas. Just because you're in the office doesn't mean you have to sit at your desk.

Some budget friendly suggestions are:

  • Noticeboards can be used for specific projects or just to pin inspiration as you find it.
  • String/Wire and Clips. I have one of these across the wall behind my monitor. I pin client briefs, printed mood-sheets and postcards. It adds a bit of color to my office (which was painted public toilet green by a previous house-mate - ugh!)
  • An oil burner can create a nice atmosphere. I have an electric one with a safety cut out as I'm always forgetting to turn it off when I leave the room. Oils I like to burn are Orange, Lime and Lemongrass to "Refresh and Renew" my mind. Make sure you use pure oils, the synthetic ones can give you a headache and make you feel sick.
  • Indoor plants. Indoor plants absorb air pollutants from the area around it and can improve your health. Scientists have proven that introducing indoor plants to a home or office can reduce the occurrence of headaches, sore throats and fatigue. They also look nice. If you're looking for a variety that will withstand all kinds of neglect, I found a variety called the Cast-iron Plant, which should give you an indication of how tough it is.
  • Reading chairs and soft furnishings. I like to have a nice reading chair in my office, or even a sofa if I can find space. It's nice to sit back and relax when you need to make a phone call or sketch out ideas. Just because you're in the office doesn't mean you have to sit at your desk.

Design of office il Conte by Maria Yasko

Share Your Thoughts

Do you have a chaotic or a controlled work environment? Is there any tips or experiences you would like to share? You can add your story to the comments section below.

If you're still feeling sore and uninspired, I've previously written an article that you might find useful, How to Deal with Creative Block.

Further Reading:

  • Envato Notes - Regular Envato news, Notes also has a section dedicated to staff and readers office spaces. Great eye-candy!
  • Ikea Hacks - Tutorials and articles about modifications and re-purposing of Ikea products.
  • Unpluggd - Sister site to Apartment Therapy, Unpluggd is a home technology blog with a focus on good design.
  • Flickr Pool - Inspiring Workplaces
  • About/Ergonomics - A Guide to Setting Up an Ergonomic Computer Station
  • Wikipedia - Article on RSI
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