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Summary:

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?

By Charles Moore
  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!!

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

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

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    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. ”
      http://www.searchenginejournal.com/laptop-usage-can-lead-to-low-sperm-count-and-infertility/1141/
      99 dollars doesn’t seen to much if it gives me the possibility to have descendants

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  2. try supporting my laptop with bookshelf to watch video&read from bed:
    http://michkhoo.blogspot.com/2010/01/bed-computer-watch-tvmovie-in-lying.html

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

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  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/

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  4. 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.

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

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    2. Lmfao, that is awesome. xDD

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      1. How lazy!

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  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.

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  6. WANT!

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

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  8. Sold.
    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.

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  9. 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.

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    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.

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  10. 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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  11. Well, I’m not a laptop person. I bought one an year ago and it hasn’t convinced me.
    It is more expensive than a desktop, it’s portability is still limited, it’s harder to replace parts…

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  12. * Thanks * I can do that with my pillows in my room. I am heading there right now.

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

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  14. Kraven Moorehead Friday, January 15, 2010

    What about when your in the bathroom using only one hand and trying to balance it on one knee. They should figure out some type of ergonomic pillow for that.

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  15. Wondering if having a laptop on your lap/thighs for hours at a time could have any long range exposure affects coming in the form of EMF from the battery and screen etc.It is very close to vital organs after all.

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  16. Charles W. Moore Friday, January 15, 2010

    I’ve been using the Laptop Laidback probably averaging 3-4 hours a day for eight years. Haven’t noticed any eyestrain.

    As for falling asleep, that happens to me as much at my desktop workstation late at night, and with much worse body English. I’ve never found it a problem when decently rested in either case.

    Value? The ability to work for extended periods of time in comfort without causing repetitive stress issues is priceless, IMHO. $99.00 is cheap at the price, IMHO.

    CM

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  17. I think laidbag laptop make us lazy!

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  18. I usually use my laptop on a table. Reclined sounds interesting – as long as I can stay awake. I think I’d probably use some make-shift device as opposed to paying $99 for it though.

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  19. I prop my laptop on my knees with a book underneath it to give more elevation when I’m in bed or I use it while sitting at the dining table with a book propped underneath it. Both work for me.

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  20. omfg!! one desk for 99dollars? i got mine 2 years back for only less than 30dollars in malaysia. this is a freaking old product. and it even comes with fans and 4x external USB ports

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  21. $99.95 (free shipping) Wizard Multi-Configurable Laptop Stand from Lapworks, is a very useful product. but cost is the problem..
    essayacademia

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  22. …sounds cool but i don’t think i want to use a laptop in a laid back position-literally. a stand or a stack of books will do just fine

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  23. Yeah, as far as that “device” goes… unless it says Apple somewhere on it, I can usually find something free to replace it. I use my two fuzzy decorative pillows… and they fit to the shape of my knees AND my computer, no hard surfaces, no awkward “devices” that I have to wear to get a job done.

    Gotta give credit to the designer, though.

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  24. Make do with my knees. And my lower back gets so sore from the pressure. Great post!

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  25. great post! thanks for the info wil try and take your advice when I can!

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  27. I used to use my legs until the hinge on my laptop broke (less than three yrs after purchasing). Now I hold the monitor up on one side with a small rubber ball. This necessitates a flat surface underneath the laptop. So my legs are out.

    This is probably better though, because I always worried about the fan having enough room to vent properly.

    And I still recline. What do I use? No fancy prefab table other than a hard placemat with a cork bottom. It’s small, frees up the fan vents, holds the rubber ball in place, and keeps my legs from getting too warm.

    The other plus is that I’m not locked into one position. When I move it moves with me (if I don’t move, my back gets sore).

    I imagine a flat piece of plastic or thin plywood cut to size would work just as well.

    A little ingenuity over buying something. Maybe if more people thought a bit before consuming, we wouldn’t have such a huge junk problem on our hands, globally speaking.

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  28. My daughter very often uses her laptop in this way. I will have her check out the Laptop Laidback. Although she will probably stick with just propping it up on her legs.

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  29. I’m using my laptop in the recliner right now, getting up regularly helps prevent that incubator (sterilator?) feeling on the lap. Neat gadget, I’ve tried to perfect various positions and improv shims without success and glad someone is putting research into that.

    To be honest I wouldn’t buy this if it were $20, unless I knew someone who would benefit greatly from it. However, present a fully embedded augmentation system and I’m sold mate!

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  32. The picture also appears to advertise wonderbra.

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  33. I guess I will just use my legs to support the weight of the laptop.

    Actually it’s a relaxing position lying down while doing some stuff on the web.

    Thanks for sharing this.Nice product!

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  34. Interesting. I work from home as a web developer, and while staying at a friends place, accidentally discovered something like this computing posture. I sat lengthwise on a three seater sofa in a reclined position (say 45 degrees), with a few cushions for additional backrest, and my feet supported on the other end of the sofa. I use a stiff magazine to keep some airflow under the laptop, and a usb mouse supported on a small cushion at my right. The mouse posture is very comfortable because my wrist is supported, and the whole arm in a straight line, 90 degree bend etc.

    I initially got some left wrist fatigue, but this i corrected with a rolled up sweater on my waist to support my wrists.

    Incidentally the computer was a 10 inch asus netbook. People dont believe that i could actually work on such a small computer, but it has a 1024 px, high resolution screen that puts my 19″ 1680px wide screen to shame for text sharpness. Its also light and easy to lift on and off my lap with one hand. Allows me to get up for frequent stretches.

    Not sure about the EMF-delicate-body-parts issue. These things do operate at near microwave frequencies after all. There’s some shielding, but they are plastic cases with lots of openings.

    Id be really interested to try this posture on one of those architecturally designed S curved recliners.

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  35. I have been using this technique for several years, especially when working from home after hours. This device at least will make sure that the air flows around the laptop to keep it cool, especially the video card if you own a Dell.

    I also understand that there are ergonomically designed “work stations” that encourage computing in a reclined position.

    I wouldn’t pay $99.00 for a device like this but I’m sure someone is working on the affordable version. Interesting post.

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  36. Has anyone here used the Airdesk? I’m thinking of trying one out, it would be nice to switch between recined and sitting up position.

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  37. what a tool! very useful for most of us!

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  38. Nice little device. Laptop stands do give better viewing angles. More comfortable typing angles too. These type of devices also allow air to flow around laptops, keeping them cool. Like this one-

    http://lindyuk.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/rotating-notebook-stand/

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  39. I just can’t see how sitting like that and typing on your laptop would be comfortable. I know that I’m wrong by virtue of the fact that people seem to like it – I just think it looks a bit awkward.

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  40. I’m glad to see there is a product out here like this. It’s a bit out of my price range, but I’d like to get it at some point… my boobs really get in the way when trying to view my laptop while lying down!

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  41. Interesting post – on many levels – one which you only touch on briefly (understandably). Those with injuries or other conditions that make more traditional computer usage painful or impossible.

    As for those who say they would (or have) fallen asleep, cute, but those of us who are serious web workers and writers put in our long days regardless of location, and certainly wouldn’t sleep through any aspect of them short of narcolepsy!

    I alternate between working in a seated position, a semi-reclining position, and even a reclining position – with the laptop on a tray or most often, on my thighs. One issue is making sure you don’t burn yourself, and another, that the laptop gets the circulation it needs.

    For some of us, it isn’t about a relaxing position, it’s about the only way to work without pain.

    Helpful post.

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  42. designwebsite Monday, January 18, 2010

    You can spend 8 hours in office sitting in front of a desktop, you can choose any sitting style for your laptop lol

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  43. I can work for more hours if reclined, just seems to work better

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  44. An archfile folder is a great solution and its only about £2.00 and it can also be used as ….AN ARCHFILE FOLDER!!
    Genuis!
    :P

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  45. [...] On a laptop, the Adobe Digital Editions and Calibre programs are also good. Even with a big screen and an ergonomic setup, though, I’m not excited about reading on a computer. I stare at a computer screen all day as it is. I want to get out of an office environment after hours. I can’t see myself using a laptop in bed. [...]

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  46. [...] screen is just too small. Strategic major algorithmI can’t see myself using a laptop in bed. The correspondence of free-floating dimension. For the iPhone/iPod touch, the free Stanza software [...]

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  47. [...] a simpler, but more flexible (and more expensive) tray. I haven’t tried it, but Charles Moore wrote about it, and other similar products, a few months [...]

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  48. ergonomiclaptopstand Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    The notebook computer is quickly replacing the desktop as most computer owner’s favorite machine. Not only is it portable for travel, it is also portable for use in the home. When used on a desk, it is not the massive monitor that even streamlined current desktops and monitors are. Wireless cards and growing wifi providers and hosts ensure that the internet is always accessible.

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