Wellness: Working its way into product design

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Have you recently spent $500 on a blender, or maybe $175 on running shoes or a wristband fitness tracker?

Even if you haven’t, there are plenty of people who have. Market data shows the demand for products that help maintain health and wellness is growing, and that growth, in turn, is driving the product design industry.

“People are more aware of their health than ever, and they’re spending money accordingly—especially young GenY adults,” says izzy+ Founder Chuck Saylor, noting the Vitamix blender as an example.

According to a Business Insider article (December 24, 2013), Vitamix “…has tripled its workforce in the last two years as its popularity among health-conscious consumers has surged, with sales growing 52% last year.” The growth, at least in part, can be traced to the rising number of fitness buffs and health-conscious eaters, who are clearly willing to buy a $300-$650 blender whose brand revolves around health.

“If consumers are investing money in their wellbeing, that means innovators and designers are paying more attention than ever, too,” Saylor says.

Some fitness design niches, like running shoes, have been big business for decades. Nike began producing its innovative, “swoosh”-clad shoes in the 1970s, and they’ve been innovating and pushing the boundaries of running shoe design since. Today, a variety of brands compete, with running shoes that combine functional design and technological advancements (costing $175 and more, and weighing under 7 oz).

A more recent segment of the fitness design industry revolves around technology, such as digital body monitors and fitness trackers like FitBit. (During this year’s izzy+ Valentine’s promotion we even gave away FitBit Flexes, to coordinate with our focus on wellness.) An article about the biggest fitness tech trends predicts continued growth: “The number of companies and amount of competition in the fitness and wellness tech space give me great hope that we’ll continue to see a lot of innovation and integration in this space.”

At izzy+, wellbeing via human-centered design has been a focus since Saylor started the company in 2001. But none of our products has been more health-focused than our most recent product releases, Wabi and Nikko seating. Barbara Hoogenboom, a physical therapist and professor at Grand Valley State University, worked closely with designers Saylor and Sava Cvek, who drew on extensive anatomical research to engineer a chair that promotes “bottom-up sitting.” The seat pan design is engineered to support proper pelvic alignment, tilting the pelvis slightly forward, keeping it balanced from side to side, and reducing pressure points on the “sit bones.”

“Our position on the design of the whole Wabi and Nikko seat system came purely from physical therapy,” says Saylor. “Design, technology, and science all converge in this chair.”

So much research went into the design of these chairs because how we sit clearly matters—not just in terms of reducing back pain, but also for increasing our ability to focus, innovate, and be creative. Adults in office-oriented vocations spend more time sitting each day than they spend doing anything else—we average 9.3 hours of sitting a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping (which leaves just 7 hours for anything else). Saylor says a healthy sitting posture, combined with regular movement throughout the day, is key to maintaining health and wellbeing at desk-based jobs.

In an Office Insight article about Active Design, Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins + Will suggests that every effort to engineer more movement into our days is worthwhile.

“Most of the best principles for design…encourage physical activity through small, incremental steps that help raise consciousness about a more healthy lifestyle in general, and a more active one at work or school, in particular.”

So here’s to your health and wellbeing—bottoms up!

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For more information on how sitting impacts health, check out this recent Washington Post article and infographic, and  to learn more about how Wabi and Nikko can improve your overall wellbeing, head to our website.

Photo at the top of the post by AForestFrolic

Photo below, the stool-height Nikko chair with the NeoCon Gold-winning Nemo Bar

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Wellness: Working its way into our environments

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This post is the second in a three-part series about changing perceptions around health and wellness in the U.S. The series will explore a variety of issues: How changing ideas about wellness are impacting the lifestyle choices of individuals (part 1), the design of our environments (part 2), and the development and design of products (part 3). We hope you’ll return in early February for the rest of the series and share your thoughts and ideas along the way!

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Michelle Maloney heads to work each day prepared to work her body as well as her mind.

That’s not such a surprising thing, considering where Michelle works—at Human Kinetics, the leading publisher of information about physical activity.

“Working at Human Kinetics has had a huge influence on how I think of my health,” says Michelle (MS, MBA, CPT), an acquisitions editor who joined the company a decade ago.

The Human Kinetics headquarters, in Champaign, IL, has a fitness center with locker rooms, a cafeteria that offers healthy meal options, and a Wellness Committee responsible for planning lunch-and-learn sessions, fitness demonstrations, and an annual health fair. When the weather warms up, employees can hit the tennis and basketball courts or the walking trail that circles them.

But even companies that aren’t inherently focused on wellness are becoming more and more likely to do whatever they can to encourage a healthy corporate culture, Michelle says.

“There is definitely more of a focus on the links between behaviors and health. Employers are really starting to drive these changes. They have to—it’s a matter of costs.”

Most employers are well aware of the ways wellness impacts their bottom line. Not only do the expected negative costs of employee sick days and health insurance exist, but there’s a growing awareness of the fact that hiring people who are well in a holistic way can also yield positive results in terms of efficiency and innovation. A body that’s functioning properly—with optimum respiratory, circulatory, and digestive function—leads to a mind that functions at its best, according Barbara Hoogenboom a physical therapist and professor at Grand Valley State University (EdD, PT, SCS, ATC).

While it’s great for workplaces to include fitness facilities (or even climbing walls!) when they’re able, even the general design of work environments can play an essential role in encouraging movement throughout the day, says izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor.

“The workplace is no longer about sticking people in a cube, adding some lumbar support, and telling them to not move until lunch,” says Saylor. “Regular movement throughout the day is essential to wellbeing, and the best workplaces are making changes to encourage more movement.”

For instance, creating appealing second and third spaces—meeting areas and nooks furnished for comfort and productivity—compels people to get up and leave their desks for a refreshing change of scene, rather than staying in one place all day.

This approach to design—thinking about how design can best encourage people to move— has become so pervasive that it even has a name: Active Design. (Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins+Will, perhaps the leading expert in the field, has written extensively about Active Design, such as in this post.)

Designing cities that are more bikeable and walkable, and that offer more appealing public destinations, is also a part of this broad cultural movement. Working, living, and playing in environments that encourage us to move achieves what experts are now saying is essential to wellness: regular movement throughout our days. In other words, even a daily trip to the gym won’t do the trick on its own, as a recent Here & Now public radio report explains:

SACHA PFEIFFER: It seems like the reality here is that you can’t think of a certain part of your day as being your exercise time and then everything else being everything else. It has to be woven in more throughout.

ALLISON AUBREY: That’s right. Sort of a mindset shift, if you will. I mean, if you want to think about the practical advice for building in the daily activity, you’d think about things like, you know, instead of sending an email to that colleague, walk down the hall and talk to them.

As a matter of fact, Allison Aubrey’s example brings to mind yet another benefit to getting up and moving around the workplace: better communication and more collaboration with colleagues.

So are you feeling inspired to get moving? Great! We’d love to hear how you engineer more movement into your day.

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Above: Climbing-wall-meets-coworking-space at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville (photo by aaditya bharadwaj)
Below: Bike-sharing programs in many cities encourage alternatives to the taxi or bus (photo by Jonny Brownbill)

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