In ‘Queuing for Beginners’ author James Moran says that PCs helped shape office chair design.
According to its blurb, ‘Queuing for Beginners: The Story of Daily Life From Breakfast to Bedtime’, ‘tells a story about hidden social and cultural changes in Britain since the Second World War’.
One of the things Moran suggests is that IBM launching the ‘personal desktop computer’ in 1981 helped shape office chair design – and this, along with other factors, perhaps made executive chairs a little less impressive.
Moran reckons that until PCs and the advent of ergonomics, there was supposed to be a ‘standard’ way to sit in office chairs. Since furniture designers didn’t have to worry about posture, they concentrated on making executive chairs look important. As he says, “The contrast between high-backed throne-like executive chairs and small-backed, armless secretarial chairs for dainty ladies survived well into the 1960s.”
When computers became more prevalent, people were hunching forward at their desks to use them; but this clashed with the popularity for ergonomics. Now that they had to pay attention to posture, designers made attempts to make chairs that helped people move and stretch while sitting down. Their looks weren’t the most important thing anymore.
If you want to see just how different pre-computer executive chairs look, keep an eye out for bosses’ chairs in black and white films. You’ll see that the executive chairs there are imperious, perhaps even stolid, meant to make the person sitting opposite understand their place in the office (and in life). If the boss had to move, it was only to dismiss a flunky or call for a secretary to bring a scotch.