Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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Dynamic ergonomics for unsettled inputs


apron + velcro + keyboard + trackpad = flexible ergonomics

Mid 2020: seeking ergonomics in shifting working conditions and non-desk setups, I am experimenting with an "ergonomic apron". An apron from my waist is covered in the soft side of velcro. Wireless computer peripherals have the scratchy hook side of velcro on them. I can now adjust the position of my peripherals on my apron depending on my location and situation. My arms are more relaxed, close to my body. My keyboard and trackpad don't fall on the floor. Adjustable positions mean less wrist pain.

ergoapron assembledergoapron demonstration december 1 2020


Since we started on in late 2017, we didn't have an office. I was either working in my ergonomic sit/stand setup at home, or I was working from a folding table in a cannabis manufacturing facility or in the back of a dispensary. I got a split keyboard so I could have one half a keyboard on each thigh. Then I added a trackpad to my lap, and I could have an ergonomic setup in my lap - not leaning forward. With my screen mounted on a stand or a pile of books or an upsidedown trashcash, I could improvise decent ergonomics. Except my keyboard and trackpad kept slipping off my legs into the floor.

Before the ErgoApron: "Work Pants"

ergo apron work pants prototype wranglers with velcro patches

So I purchased a paid of pants oriented around handywork - cargo pockets, loop for tools. The WRANGLER® RIGGS WORKWEAR® RIPSTOP RANGER CARGO PANT. To these I added adhesive velcro hook stickers to the backs of my keyboard and trackpad. I added adhesive velcro loop stickers to my pants. This was an improvement - the peripherals didn't slide off my pants. The adhesive and velcro was strong enough that I could stand up to give people a hug as a meeting concluded whilst keeping my peripherals affixed, dangling off my knees.

The US doesn't have a developed market for bold colored workwear - I'm spoiled by Japan and Berlin. I searched until I found the WRANGLER® RIGGS WORKWEAR® RIPSTOP RANGER CARGO PANT in a "navy". With black velcro patches on it, they didn't visually pop too much. I could leave the house and wander around the city doing errands without having my ergopants demand I interact with strangers. I wore these pants to every offsite meeting and to work from home; they were my work pants. Work pants for computer work.

Ergopants are wanting

But ergopants weren't flexible - the patches couldn't accommodate a range of positions. I wanted to shift my trackpad over to the outside of my thigh so I could further relax my hand. Or rock my trackpad just above my dantian without slippage as I deepen my slouch.

So I realized instead of putting a few small patches on pants, how about creating an entire lap of the soft side of velcro so I could put my computer accessories where I wanted, depending on how I was sitting or standing.

ergoapron demonstration december 1 2020

ErgoApron with keyboard and trackpad mounted up at thigh level for standing use.

roll your own ergo apron

Bulk sheets of the soft loop side of velcro are not too hard to find for sale online.

With a fabric (flexible) tape measure, I measured the span across my lap, so I could see how wide an apron & velcro I would want.

Shopping through a great river of products in the sky I found this: Chef Works Unisex Wide Half Bistro Apron with Contrasting Ties, Black W/Gry Stitch, One Size for $17.

I purchased this $15 sheet of velcro "loop" side Gourd Black Woven Loop Material, Wide Loop Fabric 28" x 48"

ergoapron assembling 1 2020

Ilyse was kind to fire up her sewing machine and run some quick stitches along the edges to hold the loop fabric on to the apron.

Four inch wide strips of velcro hook & loop are sold in fabric stores; you can use these to put on the back of your peripherals. I cut out little windows to allow me to read the model number or serial number of the various devices.

For the first versions of this stuff I have been using a Magic Trackpad from Apple Computer, and a Freestyle2 Blue keyboard from Kinesis. My trackpad fell several times and the glass surface shattered. Some packing tape sealed down the glass shards and the trackpad still receives signal through the tape. I purchase a silicon trackpad wrapper; fortunately it has a hole in the back that allows the velcro hooks to grab through.

ergoapron assembled

The ErgoApron v1 set up for sitting down: peripherals down at my knees.

ergoapron assembled

Why an Apron?

Maybe it was my exposure to Maekake aprons in Japan. I have fond associations with sturdy blue aprons sporting a few specific pockets I first saw at a local festival. I realized a good apron could be a flexible way to carry tools, a bit like I had attempted earlier wearing a toolbelt with mostly media tools in it.

ErgoApron Tips

It can take a bit of commitment to put on and remove the apron. You'll want to leave the peripherals attached if you plan to return to the same work situation. If you have a chaotic environment, you'll want to power down or disconnect the peripherals. Or lock your computer good.

Your body is now involved in your inputs and your inputs are not bound to the top of your desk. Stepping away from the computer with the apron on can mean you end up in situations where you're making unpredicted inputs. Giving someone a quick hug can communicate something to your computer. Stirring music and a hip height table leads to swaying and stray keystrokes.

My cyberwatch unlocks my laptop if I'm nearby. My 16 month was hammering on the keyboard while I was across the room fetching him another object. I returned to the keyboard to see "83,619 cells selected" in the application I had been using - terrifying.

If you're full of pee, and lazy with manparts or using a pee funnel to urinate standing up you can rotate the skirt to tinkle out the front.

downsides - room for improvement

This doesn't resolve essential spatial collision issues: I want my resting right hand to sometimes be pointing and gesturing, and sometimes be keystroking. I have to find different resting places for my hand to do different tasks. The keyboard halves and trackpad are bulky and they collide if you try to optimize a single location to base your hand.

The apron design is not so weight bearing - a loose tie means gradually slouching as I follow my apron downward. Add a front loop? and velcro on top of that for placing a trackpad on my dantien?

I want to be able to pin things at my waist, to work with my arms (and shoulders back), but winter layers make that difficult. Wearing two shirts a sweatshirt and a button up over that means you need to really suit up before you put on your apron, lest you button your toplayer over the waist velcro

Potential Improvements

Facilitate the velcroing of my iMak Smarkgloves on my back so I can restrain myself from returning to my dominant hand for mousework.

I was asked to give away a business idea for an IdeaMensch interview in late 2020, and I attempted to envision the ErgoApron as a platform:

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I want to have an ergonomic computer setup wherever I work – standing, sitting in a task chair, someone’s dining table, on a couch. As I was switching between sitting and standing in different work settings, I attached velcro to my pants to hold my keyboard and trackpad from sliding on the floor. Recently I was able to produce a velcro apron with $30 materials sourced on Amazon at retail prices. It holds my input accessories in place whether I am sitting or standing! I’m currently describing this with my hands at my sides, typing into a split keyboard attached to my apron.

Now I’m envisioning a line of ergonomic aprons with pockets and velcro facing for attaching mice and keyboards. You could produce an apron with the loop side of the fabric, and sell it bundled with a few sheets of hook that can be attached to accessories you want to hold in your lap.

Since an apron alone is probably not enough for a business, you could partner with brands and personalities who want to merchandise their own fun-ctional aprons and attachments. You could look into a subscription service that sends new monthly attachments. You could invest in fabric fastener R&D to create a proprietary velcro-type format so you could better own the supply chain. You could establish a marketplace for things that attach to your aprons and take a cut of all the transactions.

It’s relatively easy fun thinking of ideas to serve a narrow market. Besides providing a breakthrough apron concept, this story helps explain why I benefited from finding a business partner to help make something broadly useful out of

Perhaps adaptable body layer ergonomics are coming at commercial scale. Input devices where you want them wirelessly keyed. They're sorta already there - just mostly phones waving around. I forsee more velcro and magnets. I enjoy evolving my own personal ergonomic solutions; if you make your own you can add your own modifications and upgrades. Hack your ErgoApron Yar!

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