The Fight Between Aesthetics and Ergonomics

Like many things in life, that which looks best, hurts the most.

If you are a design oriented nerd you’ve likely run into a
the same conflict I run into it everyday, where ergonomics is constantly in direct opposition with a beautiful desk. The knowledge you possess tells you how things should be positioned on your desk and this positioning is never really how you want your desk to look.

Your monitor needs to be at this height, so that it is ergonomic, and your desk at this height, which all means your desk is always lower than your display. And now you need a stand for that.

And therefore you end up with a split setup, which is usually fine if you use a desktop, but awkward at best with a laptop. Things like the lovely Rain Design mStand try to make it better, but let’s face it: even with beautiful photography it’s not an ideal setup. For starters you have two keyboards and two mice/trackpads.

You have an entire base of a laptop jutting towards you, but not being used. It’s just not great looking. So then what do you do? Give up portability for a desktop? That doesn’t solve everything, but it solves some stuff. But now you can’t easily change locations.

Let’s Talk About Me

Here’s my home desk setup, all ergonomic like:

The desk at the proper height with my favorite keyboard, and the laptop elevated to the proper height (the mStand is much too low for proper ergonomics for me). From a health and ergonomics perspective, this is a pretty solid setup.

However, visually, it is a mess. The stand is ugly. The laptop looks stupid being that high in the air. It’s just a fucking mess to look at, and I hate the way it looks.

And if you strip that all away you are left with this:

And to me that setup, while not gorgeous, is far more appealing. It is simple, and it is how I picture my desk. But it is far from ergonomic, or perfect. Using the built in trackpad is cumbersome. The built in keyboard isn’t as good as my CODE, and the monitor is much, much, too low for even basic comfort.

And this is the crux of the issue at hand: how does someone like me reconcile the tradeoffs that come with ergonomics? Yes, I could go mStand with an Apple Keyboard and Trackpad and it would look ok, but not great, but it would also only be ok from an ergonomics perspective. It’s a half compromise that really doesn’t work for me as I don’t fully gain any of the benefits of either option.

Either I want the desk to look stellar, or work well ergonomically. The latter of which is what I’ve gone with in recent years, but it’s wearing on my eyes. My desk doesn’t excite me, it doesn’t make me want to be at it, and I think that is an issue for any home-based employee.


What do I do?

That’s an honest question, because it haunts me. I move work locations regularly as I flex my remote worker muscles. So I need a quick, easy, and comfortable setup — but I also want to be smart about ergonomics.

Even the iPad has this issue. Here’s the plain jane iPad setup.

That looks pretty appealing to me, but there’s no way I am working a full day like that.

Add in a nice keyboard and a stand to try and get a little more ergonomic and you get this:

Still pretty plain, but a little more clunky — plus how do I carry that with me easily? Might as well carry my laptop.

And then, you can go all out with the iPad, and get it to the proper height. But I assure you your arm will get tired.

So again, what does one do?

There Are But Two Options

I really only see two ways around this:

  1. Get an iMac, with just a little stand at the base (many of which look stellar) you can have a very good looking, and ergonomic setup. This comes at the cost of portability so I would either need a laptop too, or be willing to work on my iPad when not at home.
  2. Get an external display. As long as I properly hide my laptop, this could be a decent solution. If expensive. I’d want a good display, so we are talking 4k and my laptop cannot drive that. Not to mention all 4k displays are ugly black squares. So you get the portability and ergonomics but not the beauty I want.

No matter how I look at it, there are substantial trade offs. Either I get the beauty and ergonomics, but no portability, or I lose the beauty.

So it comes down to priority. I’ve already decided the two most important things for me are: ergonomics, and beauty.

Explaining ergonomics is easy, but by beauty I simply mean a desk that excites me visually. So I guess I’ll save up for an iMac. And while I wait for that, I’ll be tallying how much I actually would miss the portability of a laptop. (Though I fully reserve the right to toss this all out the window if there comes to be a retina 12″ MacBook Air.)

In the end I’ve found that I’m highly productive on an iPad, and so having a desktop won’t slow me down. It’ll just make me love the look of my desk again. Now, to save up.

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