The Science Behind the Seat

Research from ETH Zurich University and Innovations by Vitra

Human beings have a natural urge to move – even while seated. ETH Zurich studies have shown that ideally an office swivel chair should offer not only freedom of movement, but should also promote dynamic movement while sitting. With this in mind, Vitra developed the FlowMotion mechanism.

A new Science

In the early 1960s researchers at ETH Zurich (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) began to concentrate on our everyday movement and sitting habits. These studies examined motion and strain in an attempt to merge biological needs with physical comforts. In 1961 a study adressing these issues, entitled “Investigation of the Mechanics of Human Movement,” was published by the Institute for Biomechanics at the ETH in Zurich and is considered a cornerstone for understanding the physical structure and movement of human beings.

The office chair - Innovations by Vitra

The chair, long considered by Vitra to be a design object with almost endless potential, is the most important piece of furniture in an office. At about the same time the ETH was releasing their studies, Vitra began their own research in ergonomics, experimenting with materials and technology. The right chair impacts productivity and health, it can be used to define an individual’s space, and can help keep your thoughts creative and engaged. For over 25 years renowned Italian designer Antonio Citterio has been developing ideas, rethinking the way we use offices. In 2010, Vitra and Antonio Citterio developed an essential piece of furniture, releasing the ID Chair Concept. In the assessment of new chair mechanisms, Vitra starts collaborating with the Institute for Biomechanics. The Institute performed a scientific study on the ID Chair Concept and the FlowMotion mechanism in summer 2010.

Dynamic Sitting

Because many of us sit in offices for hours a day, neck and back pain are common problems. Essentially – sitting can be surprisingly hard on the body. At the ETH biomechanical researchers continue to study the human body from the microscopic (cellular) to the macroscopic (whole-body) levels. Specific points of movement and force on the body and spine during various seated positions were examined and recorded.
After teaming with Vitra, it was found that forward leaning movements activate the abdominal muscles, and the muscles from the erector spinae. This is a sign of stabilization of the spine.


We naturally want to move, and when a chair offers a complete range of motion, it’s been shown that users take advantage of it – engaging in dynamic sitting by leaning back and tilting forward. And thus, FlowMotion mechanics were born. Fitted with an adjustment screw, FlowMotion is integrated into ID Chairs. This much is clear, dynamic sitting and alternating between sitting and standing are two of the best things you can do for your body during the workday. But in the end, it’s not about the chair – whether it’s in solitude or with a group, we all have those particular places where we can relax and forget our physical selves, and only focus on our minds. What would be possible if that was the place you sat every day?

Publication Date: 18.7.2013
Author: Christiane Bördner
Image: Wolfgang Scheppe

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