design ideas tips

Improving My Office with New Glasses & a Creative Desk Solution

Over the course of the pandemic, when I’ve been working from home or working at the museum with very few visitors drawing me away from the computer, I’ve noticed a significant amount of neck and shoulder tension. My shoulders seem to be spending more time up near my ears because I forget to take breaks from staring at my computer screen.

Another issue with my posture was pointed out to me after a Zoom meeting. I was tilting my face slightly up in order to see the screen clearly through my bifocals. That meant I was putting my neck in a strange position, exacerbating the muscle tension.

After considering the first problem for a bit, I determined that a desk that was slightly lower than the standard 30-inch height might help. If my hands could sit a bit lower while I was typing or using a mouse, that should put my shoulders in a better position.

So, I set about looking for a desk that was about 27 inches in height.

Sounds easy, right? Not so much.

Most of what I was finding when searching for adjustable desks was standing desks. I know that standing desks are all the rage right now and I probably could use to stand more while working, but most standing desks are electric and I didn’t want an electric desk. What would I do with it if the electrical components stopped working or if we lost power and it was in a position I didn’t like?

There weren’t many options for non-electric standing desks that were affordable. The ones with pneumatics were out of my price range. And there were others with manual adjustments (basically pegs in holes) on the legs, but these didn’t typically drop below 30 inches.

After months of trying to find a shorter desk, I finally conducted an online search to see if anyone else had suggestions. I ran across a post on Gravity’s Rainbow called “Desks for short people” that gave me the solution I needed: A children’s activity table.

Not just any children’s activity table, many of which are plastic, not very sturdy, and too small. The ones referenced on Gravity’s Rainbow are the children’s activity tables found in art classrooms. Many of them are quite sturdy because of the abuse they have to take; they come in a few different sizes; and, most important, they have legs that can be manually adjusted in one-inch increments, starting at the standard 30-inch height and dropping lower than that. Perfect for setting up a desk that is 27 inches in height.

I found one of these children’s activity tables on Wayfair, the desk surface measuring approximately 48 inches by 30 inches, and ordered it.

With the supply chain issues we’ve had during the pandemic, the desk was first back-ordered, then it took weeks and weeks to get here, much longer than the original estimated delivery date. With great impatience, I waited, trying not to get annoyed with my tight shoulders and neck.

Finally, it arrived and Hubby and I put it together, which meant attaching the legs and setting the height. We discovered a small ding in the table top, probably caused during shipping, but having waited so long for it, I decided to live with the imperfection rather than ship it back. The rest of the finish is very nice.

Children's activity table with birch finish top and black legs, seen here with a laptop, keyboard, and mouse, December 2021.
Children’s activity table with birch finish top and black legs, seen here with a laptop, keyboard, and mouse, December 2021.

I love the size of the table surface as it is larger than the plastic folding table I was using. With the 27-inch height, I have also noticed that my hands and shoulders are in a better position for typing and there is still plenty of clearance beneath the table for my chair and legs. It’s amazing the difference a few inches in height makes, though I did have to boost my laptop to get it more in line with my face. (I boosted it even higher than is shown in the photo above using a fat dictionary and a slim box top.)

As for the weird head tilt caused by wearing bifocals, it was suggested that I get different glasses. I was due for a new prescription this past summer. While I was ordering glasses at Costco, I noticed they offered office lenses. I asked the eye doctor about these and he said they configure the lenses so that the upper part is for the near-middle distance (the typical distance between a person and their computer on a desk). He agreed that these would keep me from tilting my head up, so I ordered a pair.

Photo of me, Mary Warner, with my new bifocals, December 2021.
Photo of me, Mary Warner, with my new bifocals, December 2021.

I picked a pair of office glasses with different frames so I could easily tell the two apart.

Here I am in my office glasses. December 2021.
Here I am in my office glasses. December 2021.

While I was picking out my office frames, the person at Costco who was helping me gave me a key tip for finding frames that fit my narrow face. She said to look for adult frames that were labeled “50” or less for the size. She also said I should consider children’s frames. No one has ever suggested that before. While I ended up with an adult frame, the other pair I was considering was a children’s frame.

Hey, wait a second … I just realized that both of the solutions to my issues with office desk posture had me looking for products made for children. Possibly because my size isn’t much bigger than a large child.

This reinforces the point made in the Gravity’s Rainbow post about how ” [t]he “standard” desk height is too tall for nearly all women and ~85% of men.”

Seems to me that designers haven’t quite figured out how to design items that adjust easily for a variety of sizes.

To adapt, we have to not be afraid to consider items made for children if we are small in stature.

Thoughtful comments welcome.