Wellness: Working its way into product design

8707623693_1a1c7e77ef

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!

*  *  *  *  *

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

nikko stool_nemobar

Wellness: working its way into our lives

People walking

Photo by SyncHealth

This post is the first 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), our environments and interactions (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!

*  *  *  *  *

When Jill Horning graduated from the University of Michigan and moved to West Michigan to work for izzy+, she adopted an approach to wellness that was culturally common—especially a decade or two ago.

“I drove to work, stayed at my desk all day, then drove home,” says Jill, now izzy+’s E-marketing specialist.

Jill has always been health-conscious, so she did have a membership at the YMCA and says she tried to fit in a workout whenever she could. But exercise definitely wasn’t a natural, daily activity.

It was in 2012, when Jill moved to Chicago to work at the izzy+ showroom, that her approach to wellness shifted.

“Once I moved to the city I started walking everywhere,” Jill says. “I should have just sold my car then and there!”

Jill now walks 25 minutes to and from work each day, in addition to her periodic runs and more structured workouts.

“When I started walking to work I honestly didn’t know if it would last, but after two weeks I noticed how great I felt and I didn’t want to think about taking the bus,” she says. “Now when I go work in the Michigan office for a week, I notice how lethargic I am. I really need that fresh air and exercise at the beginning and end of each day.”

This approach to wellness—weaving physical activity into the fabric of each day rather than taking it in sporadic bursts—is definitely a trend experts are observing. Today, physical fitness is thought of less as focus just for athletes and fitness fanatics, and more as something that’s for everyone.

Michelle Maloney (MS, MBA, CPT), an acquisitions editor at Human Kinetics, a publisher specializing in the physical activity field, says this trend comes partly out of a broadened awareness of health issues and the many lifestyle choices that have led to them.

“I think there is more awareness than ever of the need for people to improve their health and change their lifestyle,” Michelle says, pointing to news stories about obesity and related health risks, and also the rising costs of healthcare. She says 60 percent of the adult U.S. population is considered sedentary.

“It’s kind of snowballed, until it’s reached a point where obesity rates are so high, we have to pay attention.”

The shift away from complicated diets and exercise regimes toward what Michelle calls “behavior change” is key to success for most people, as research done at the Cooper Institute indicates.

“It’s a matter of getting back to basics with nutrition and activity,” Michelle says. “It’s hard to do, because these things have been engineered out of what we do every day.”

During the past 50 years, everything from the invention of office technology and the design of cubicles to the development of automobile-reliant suburbs has played a part in engineering physical activity out of our lives. But the tide is shifting as cities work to become more walkable and bikeable, and as workplaces move toward open, collaborative spaces that encourage movement throughout the day.

“Everywhere you look there’s more of a focus on well-rounded wellness and happiness, with more realistic expectations,” Michelle says.

Not only has Jill, a twenty-something, seen that trend play out in her life, but her mom, Amey Horning, recognizes a shift in her perspective, too.

“I used to be on and off about exercise,” says Amey. “What I’m learning now is that it’s all about balancing mind, body and spirit. My approach changed when my life changed due to divorce. I decided I needed to get back to me, to quiet my mind and focus on being well.”

Whether she’s getting outdoors for cross-training, meditating on her own at home, or going to yoga class at the Lakeshore Yoga Center in Grand Haven, Michigan, Amey says the combination leads to feeling less stressed and more healthy, in every way.

“My parents are 80 and 82, but they weren’t as active later in their life, so their bodies seem older than they are,” Amey says. “It puts a little fear in me, and inspires me to make the positive changes I can make in my own life. Our choices really matter.”

*  *  *  *  *

What changes have you noticed in your own approach to wellness? If you need some inspiration, read more about recent research and tips to KEEP MOVING:

Low Intensity Activity Can Have Health Benefits looks at the health risks associated with men who spend five or more hours a day sitting, and why regular movement throughout the day is important in addition to exercise.

Sitting is the new smoking—even for runners explores similar research that points to how regular daily exercise—even up to 60 minutes a day—does not alone negate the adverse effects of sitting.

A guide to assessing and improving your posture—understand better ways of sitting and standing, and learn yoga poses that will help you strengthen and refine.

5 yoga poses to boost the immune system by increasing the circulation of blood cells, decreasing stress hormones, and stimulating the lymphatic system.

Below: Amey Horning manages to keep moving during a long Michigan winter, and Amey and Jill Horning, on the move together in Cambodia.

image001

image