Office/computer chairs: what to buy

To begin with, this article talks a lot about Herman Miller chairs. Nothing in this article is sponsored or paid for. I’ve mostly made this article because I find useful information about “what chair to buy” severely lacking online, and it was rather frustrating for me in the past trying to decide what to buy when the only thing I could find was random five-word reviews that had little in the way of useful information.

A good chair is one of those overlooked things for many people — and this article is to try and give some clarity about what to think about when buying a chair for your desk (whether it’s for programming, art, whatever else you’re doing at your desk).

Categories

There are three main categories of chairs in terms of price and comfort/posture:

  • Standard office chairs from IKEA, department stores, etc. Low price — but also not very good for comfort or posture most of the time.
  • Gaming chairs, e.g. SecretLabs, DXRacer etc. Much better comfort at a higher price (~$250–$500, often the lower price models are better choices as they’re functionally very similar). I’d avoid SecretLabs though, they are very overpriced.
  • Herman Miller, particularly the tried and tested Aeron model. Unquestionably the best, but also unquestionably the most expensive as well, by a long way. ($1000+)

It’s perfectly plausible that other chairs in the Herman Miller kind of quality/price range exist, but as I do not have experience or knowledge of them, I do not have sufficient knowledge to speak for them.

The simple thing to consider, when buying a chair like this, is how much time you’ll spend in it. That sounds obvious but is quite easy to overlook; if you use your desk all the time, especially for work, a Herman Miller Aeron is a very good investment for both your health and your comfort while working. If you only sit at your desk occasionally, any chair may do.

For context’s sake, I originally had a crappy armless office chair from a department store for ages — I then upgraded to a DXRacer F series gaming chair (~£220), which I used for 6–7 years, and I have been using a Herman Miller Aeron (~£1000) for the last year and a half or so. I managed to get it on the official site while there was a 15% sale going on, which on that kind of price is very useful to wait for if you aren’t in a rush.

For those not willing to pay the high price of Herman Miller chairs, gaming chairs are actually a very good middle ground; they offer — if I were to try and put a number on it — perhaps 50% of the comfort and 50–60% of the posture benefits, for significantly less than half the price in some cases. They are — largely thanks to the lumbar cushion — much better for your back, but the seats of gaming chairs can still be a bit hard regardless of the material you choose. It’s not uncomfortable to sit on, but if you get up after a few hours of being sat in it, you’ll feel it a bit — whereas with a Herman Miller you can basically sit in it forever and nothing changes.

Gaming chairs are an excellent compromise to begin with — my old gaming chair served me well for many years. Still, if you feel the benefit of it enough and use your desk enough, upgrading to a Herman Miller after a while can make sense.

Of course, for people sitting at desks for 8–10+ hours a day, posture and comfort come before value for money concerns if you can afford it — the much higher price of a Herman Miller Aeron is still well justified in such a scenario.

Covering materials

Office chairs come with two different choices of material: fabric or PVC. There are clear good and bad sides to both:

  • Fabric is difficult to clean, can be less comfortable to sit in for some people due to the texture, but is also more breathable, which is particularly significant in the back area.
  • PVC is a lot easier to clean, has a nice leather-like look to it, and the feel of it is nicer for some people — but unlike fabric, it isn’t breathable. PVC chairs will make you sweat quite a lot in summer unless you have solid air conditioning or your room is constantly quite cold.

A lot of gaming chairs are PVC, but makers are increasingly offering fabric designs as well, so you can choose either material for any category of chair nowadays. The points above are just something to take into consideration before you buy one, there isn’t a specific “best option”.

Headrests

So far, I’ve never once used a chair in which a headrest was useful. In most gaming chairs they’re kind of weird — the only time you’ll feel them is when they’re pushing your head forward in a manner that doesn’t seem natural, so most people don’t use them. They just use the lumbar cushion and never use the head cushion.

I’d note that Herman Miller chairs don’t require headrests or a high back; with a proper posture you don’t need either. In gaming chairs for example much of the top part of the chair is more about aesthetics than function — you’re not actually going to be leaning against those parts most of the time.

Conclusions

I would conclude that one’s choice of chair should depend on how long you sit at it for:

  • 0–10 hours per week: Anything will do
  • 10–30 hours a week: A gaming chair is worth getting
  • 30+ hours a week: Perfectly reasonable to stick with a gaming chair if a top-end chair is too expensive for you, but you should consider investing in a Herman Miller chair if you can (or similar high-end brand with good ergonomics). It’s worth the cost for the posture benefits it’ll bring you.

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