A Discovery in Education Seating

Ergonomic chairs have been around for decades; hundreds are currently on the market, while thousands more have become obsolete. And, while it’s long been easy to find a vast selection of adjustable seating for office settings, ergonomic chairs designed expressly for learning environments have been practically nonexistent.

That’s why the new Ph.D. Series is so unique. Six supportive models combine the durability required for classroom usage with a price range attuned to contemporary budgeting realities. Here, Richard Holbrook, Ph.D.’s designer, answers questions about the origin and functionality of this chair series.

CPM: What inspired you to design Ph.D.?

Holbrook: As someone who’s been both a student and a teacher, I recognized a need for seating that provides enhanced comfort and proper support to people in classrooms, computer labs, libraries and other learning environments. This eventually led me to collaborate with Virco, whose long-established presence in the education community made them a natural choice for this project.

CPM: What sort of research went into Ph.D.’s design?

Holbrook: Before I actually started design work on the series, Randy Smith, Virco’s vice president of marketing, and I visited 20 adult education settings throughout the country. Our research showed that most people in these venues were using low-cost chairs that offered low-quality support. By contrast, a preferred seating solution would incorporate the essential functions of office chairs, but with scale, weight and durability factors adjusted to meet the demands of learning environments.

Given this background, our design challenge focused on the development of a comfortable, supportive chair with simple controls and economical, long-lasting construction materials.

CPM: How did the development of Ph.D. proceed?

Holbrook: Achieving the right balance of ergonomic factors was critical to Ph.D.’s design. That’s why we needed a suspension mechanism that would allow the chair’s seat and back to recline independently, yet harmoniously. Doing so would facilitate a proper transfer of weight from the seat to the back, enabling the user’s spine to flex with an accompanying increase in circulation to help prevent cramping and fatigue.

We experimented with a number of mechanisms before arriving at the right solution, which involves the use of “duo-link” suspension and a proprietary tilt.

CPM: Could you explain the operation and advantages of this mechanism?

Holbrook: Ph.D.’s seat and back have their own independent pairs of suspension links, hence the term “duo-link.” The seat links work in conjunction with an easily adjustable tilt control feature. By simply loosening or tightening the tilt control knob, you can increase or decrease the range and rate at which the seat reclines.

The chair’s glass-filled nylon back links operate in a complementary manner. A strategically positioned slot in each of these links enables the back to flex independently, even if you choose to adjust the seat so that it doesn’t recline at all.

When you combine the superior functionality of this mechanism with a convenient seat height adjustment device, you’ve got the ergonomic solution to our design challenge. Ph.D.’s elegant, straightforward controls let people quickly and effectively adjust these chairs to accommodate their seating preferences.

CPM: Two Ph.D. models come with a gel seat. Could you tell us more about that?

Holbrook: As an adaptation of technology derived from touring bicycles, our self-adjusting gel seat automatically conforms to the chair user’s lower body contours for enhanced, sustained comfort and support. The gel seat’s low profile also dovetails nicely with Ph.D.’s own curves and contours, heightening the chair’s aesthetic appeal. And because it’s stain resistant, puncture resistant and won’t peel, the gel seat has more than sufficient durability for the environments where Ph.D. will be used.

CPM: Are there other qualities that contribute to Ph.D.’s durability?

Holbrook: Every chair has a flexible, long-lasting, cross-linked polymer back that won’t chip or lose its shape, a rugged suspension mechanism and a sturdy pedestal base with hooded, high-impact plastic swivel casters. Selected models have glass-filled nylon armrests that wrap around the back to serve as an added impact bumper. These features make Ph.D. exceptionally durable.

CPM: Does Ph.D. have an environmental story?

Holbrook: Definitely. All of Ph.D.’s molded components are color-impregnated, which means there’s no need for paint applications that could release volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. Aluminum parts contain at least 40 percent recycled-content materials and are also recyclable, as are the chairs’ plastic components. Moreover, because of their long life cycle, Ph.D. models won’t need to be replaced nearly as often as less durable chairs.

CPM: How does Ph.D.’s styling enhance this product line?

Holbrook: Ph.D. is visually tied to Virco’s I.Q. stack chairs, tablet arm units, chair desks and other items. Thanks to this aesthetic connection, colleges and universities can successfully coordinate Ph.D. with a wide selection of related seating products.

CPM: What would you point to as Ph.D.’s principal benefit to learning environments?

Holbrook: Today’s students are engaged in more intensive seated work -- especially involving the use of computers -- than ever before. And while the incidences and severity of work-related ergonomic injuries have been well documented, the frequency and magnitude of similar occurrences in educational settings have not yet been adequately investigated. Still, it’s evident that injuries once predominantly associated with the computer-based workplace are moving into the contemporary classroom.

With its positive ergonomic design elements, the Ph.D. Series can play a key role in helping to pre-empt this trend. Add in its durability, simplicity of adjustment and reasonable pricing structure, and Ph.D. clearly expresses the highest level of value in ergonomic education seating.

Bob Roskos is a writer with Torrance, Calif. based Virco.

About the Author

Bob Roskos is the corporate copywriter for Virco Mfg. Corporation.

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