Laptops are great; I’m an uber-fan and have been almost exclusively a laptop user since 1996, but for the long hours of production work that many web workers like myself do, conventional laptop ergonomics are a horror, and can lead to a variety of painful or […]

Laptops are great; I’m an uber-fan and have been almost exclusively a laptop user since 1996, but for the long hours of production work that many web workers like myself do, conventional laptop ergonomics are a horror, and can lead to a variety of painful or even debilitating conditions over time.

There are two effective conventional ways to address this issue. You can place the computer on a laptop stand of some sort that elevates the display to a comfortable viewing plane that doesn’t involve tilting your head forward, and connecting an external keyboard and mouse for input. Alternatively, you can use an external monitor.

A less conventional solution, which I’ve been working with successfully for a while now, is to use one of several devices that facilitate computing in a reclined posture, like the Laptop Laidback, pictured above. I’m going to discuss these devices in this post.

Dave Malouf, an Industrial Design professor at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), also a primary founder and first vice president of the Interaction Design Association, recently taught a class project in laptop computer design and ergonomics. An abstract report on the class was published last August in Core 77. Among many other aspects and nuances of laptop design and engineering covered in the class, one group of students investigated the physical ergonomics associated with the use of smaller computing devices, and discovered that a conventional small clamshell laptop is most comfortably used lying down, with the device on the thigh and the knees kept elevated.

This posture approximates the ergonomics enabled by products like the Laptop Laidback, only with them, you can relax your legs and don’t need to keep your knees up in order to maintain the ideal arm, hand, neck, shoulder and leg positions relative to the computer that are recommended by ergonomists in order to maximize comfort and minimize body stress: elbows resting on the support surface (no reaching) and palms and fingers falling relaxedly on the palm rests and keyboard (without having to lift your elbows).

Of course if you use your laptop in an employer’s office or other conventional workplace, assuming a laying-down-on-the-job position, even in the rare instances when it would be logistically possible, is likely to be frowned upon. However, if you work on the web out of a home office as I do, working laid-back is not only possible, but arguably the ideal mode to use for long hours at the keyboard, especially in conjunction with a Wi-Fi connection. When you’re comfortable, you’re more likely to be pain- and stress-free, can extend your laptop usage, and are likely to be more efficient and effective.

I can personally vouch for this. I’ve been using my Laptop Laidback for years for fully-reclined computing. The Laidback is a special laptop stand with an adjustable, inclined support tray that forms a “bridge” spanning your torso when lying down on a bed or sofa, letting your arms assume the recommended 90-degree elbow angle, comfortably relaxed. While the angle of the keyboard when the computer is mounted on the Laptop Laidback or similar device tray may appear “wrong” from an ergonomic perspective, when the user is reclined, it actually facilitates natural and relaxed assumption of the ideal elbow angle and straight wrist posture.

The $99.99 Laptop Laidback is, of course, not the only product of this type available. A couple of other examples include the $99.95 (free shipping) Wizard Multi-Configurable Laptop Stand from Lapworks and the nearly identical $89.00 (shipping not included) Lapdawg Multi-Purpose Laptop Desk;  the $149.00 (and up) AirDesk Swing-Away Laptop Computer Desk/Stand; the €99.00 ($145) Lounge-book Freestanding Reclining Laptop Stand; the  $125.00 (+ $32.00 shipping) LM1 Rolling Laptop Over The Bed Table; and others.

I’ve used the first three products mentioned above, but the Laptop Laidback’s been my standby for the past eight years. Because I battle several chronic health issues, without the Laidback I might’ve literally been long since out of business as a web worker. However, even folks in perfect health (who want to stay that way, at least) may find they prefer to use their laptops while relaxing recumbently for working, surfing or whatever.

Do you practice reclined computing? If so, do you use a special laptop stand or just make do with your knees?

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By Charles Moore

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  1. $99.99 for a Laptop Laidback?? Why would anyone spend money on that? I’ve been using my laptop like this for years. It’s my favorite way to work because I love to kick back and relax. But I use a cheaper solution to support my laptop – my legs!!

    1. I agree…my legs and some pillows work just fine. I wish I had money to waste on stuff like this!!

      1. the sperm count comment is intended for bill not kate obviously :)

    2. hope your sperm count is ok!
      “The study, released by the State University of New York, suggests that the heat generated from laptops can significantly elevate the temperature of one’s scrotum, potentially putting sperm count at risk. ”
      99 dollars doesn’t seen to much if it gives me the possibility to have descendants

  2. try supporting my laptop with bookshelf to watch video&read from bed:

    and then on external monitor as this article suggests use another (desktop workstation)

  3. I probably spend too much time laying on the couch or in the recliner, because the best laptop accessory I have ever purchased was the ALLSOP Cool Channel… can find for about $20 online(cheap). Hard to find in stores though, order online through buy.com or something… http://www.allsop.com/travel-accessories/cool-channel-platform/

  4. Wellington Grey Thursday, January 14, 2010

    I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I actually once set up a computer so that I could use it from a complete lying down state. I hooked up my desktop to a projector aimed at the ceiling above my bed. With a wireless keyboard and a trackball mouse I could control my machine and watch the image above.

    Needless to say, I spent more time sleeping than working. But to be fair, this was college.

    1. This is hilarious! I’ve never tried this before lol

    2. Lmfao, that is awesome. xDD

  5. This way of ‘reading’ is often frowned upon, I think the eyes need to be above the book. For computer screens this would also apply.. so what abt the eye strain related to sleeping comp usage.

  6. Dave Malouf on the ergonomics of lapdesks « Interesting finds Friday, January 15, 2010

    [...] Read his thoughts on the subject, and see links to some interesting products with truly awful websites, here. [...]

  7. Travis Jon Allison Friday, January 15, 2010

    I am working from home and recovering from a major emergency abdominal surgery – nothing we have tried allows me to get stuff done while not increasing my pain and exhaustion.

    Thanks for such a timely article.

  8. Doing work laying back = many Zzzzzzzzzzz’s and even Zzzzz after that, as that is what the body is programmed to do, to go to sleep.

    1. agree, lying down is a bit too dangerous.. You end up sleeping.

      But the same stand on a desk, or a similar one, I find helps elevate the monitor to eye level, which should alleviate most ergonomic problems. The keyboard ends up in an upright position of course, which to some may seem really odd, but I actually grew to like it a lot and replaced my external keyboard with a Wacom board, as I use this a lot.

      One could say that I could have gotten an external monitor.. I do have 2 actually, but this little stand helps me move around the house with my lappy comfortably.

  9. I just use my legs…or I use my laptop while sitting down, like at a table or in a recliner.

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