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World Health Day: Being a Healthy Designer

Ah, the famous neck cramp. Long hours at a desk can produce amazing work and leave you feeling like you’ve just left the gym, in all the worst ways. Designers are notorious for craning their necks, sitting in yoga poses in their chairs, and drinking too much coffee to ensure a productive day. But at what point do the effects become noticeable, or harmful? In the spirit of World Health Day, I wanted to write about health (a passion of mine) and how it applies to the design world.

I’ll admit, I was guilty of not doing everything I’m about to write. About five years ago, I noticed a clicking in my neck. My glasses prescription had changed rapidly. My back was sore at day’s end. I developed a caffeine sensitivity. I had been a designer since 2008, and four years in, I was paying for my poor desk habits.

It was time for a change. I wondered at things like the life expectancy of a designer. How could I have worked for so long and not felt a thing? Why all of a sudden? What went wrong? I wanted to hit the undo button on those life choices and start over, with ergonomics and health at the helm. I visited my doctor and learned that there was hope! He had seen it all before, in every field. I wasn’t dying. I was a designer. And I was about to become a heathy designer. Here are some simple changes I made time for that worked for me.

Ergonomics

Good posture is the key to success. Not only will sitting properly in your chair save your spine, but your brain as well! Try it. Notice how you took a fuller breath? Your lungs are able to expand, a feat hindered by slouching. Deeper breaths reduce your heart rate due to a better oxygen supply, your brain wakes up, your eyes open, and you start feeling awesome again.

Stretch

Make it a point of being your own physical therapist. Stretching works wonders on an otherwise inanimate body. Stretch out those arms, touch your toes, roll your shoulders and head, twist your torso. Doing a quick set every hour will leave you invigorated.

Eat

I can’t stress this enough. Breakfast should be part of your early morning routine. A lack of energy fogs the mind and riles the stomach. So eat something. Your brain will thank you, and so will your clients for being on your a-game! Make healthful choices where possible. Extra carbs and sugar may work short term, but the higher your blood sugar rises, the harder you fall. Consider eating lean protein with vegetables for a meal solution that won’t let you down and keep you fuller than expected. You may even shed some weight with leaner choices, but don’t forget to…

Drink

Water, silly. Design studios tend to be devoid of humidity, leaving you parched. Coffee isn’t helping the situation. And hours of focus on a project can divert your awareness of just how thirsty you really are. When those dehydration headaches sets in with a vengeance, reach for a full glass of H20 and watch your troubles disappear. If you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, so drink water throughout the day and prevent a problem before it starts. If you’re sleepy and need another coffee, you’d be surprised what the power of hydration does to your alertness and your…

Eyes

Hydration equals healthy eyes! You wouldn’t be the same designer you are today without your eyes. Respect them. We often forget to blink in front of the screen, causing irritation from dryness. I protect my eyes by taking an oil supplement daily, such as fish oil in capsule form. I take 3 daily on the advice of an optometrist, who observed a lack of oils on my eyes. About a month later the dry feeling under my eyelids was gone. This worked for me. However, make sure you check with a medical professional before taking supplements. I was also instructed to divert my gaze from the screen every 20 minutes or so, in order to focus on things at varied distances, improving your eye’s ability to focus. Looking around now and then alleviates the strain your eyes endure due to their fixed gaze upon a flat surface, and tired eyes make for a tired designer.

Walk

There’s no better way to exercise your eyes or your body throughout the day. Sitting for a living doesn’t do a body good. Get up and out for a walk. Walk anywhere. You’ll want to aim for 10,000 steps a day, so consider a Fitbit to monitor your progress. Walking to work, to the store, or parking your car far away are sneaky ways of attaining your goals. Walking loosens up those stiff joints and tense muscles. Exercise on the whole reduces stress, affords you a better night’s sleep, and stimulates creativity. Don’t forget your headphones! And on that note…

Music

Music makes my day. I like to listen to songs that get me in the mood for a project, and also to help me relax. A million thoughts on the mind can be silenced with one song, allowing you to put your day into perspective. Listening to new music also pushes you outside of the box because it’s unfamiliar, ideal for considering new strategies and keeping you energized. Some Internet radio sites offer music from around the globe!


Start small. It can seem burdensome to adjust so many things to your lifestyle all at once. The payoff isn’t always immediate, leading people to assume the changes aren’t working for them. Over the years, I’ve adapted to a lifestyle of eating breakfast, walking to and from work while listening to music, stretching, drinking water, taking breaks, and sitting properly. I sleep soundly and rise anew each morning. From those choices I have not only health, but important for any designer, I have my creativity.