Founder Of Keen Reinvents The Office Chair, Aiming To Cure Sitting Disease

The founder of Keen Shoes ventures into furniture with an upright workstation called Focal, with the aim of saving us from the shocking health problems associated with sitting all day.

You’ve probably heard by now that sitting at your desk is killing you. No? Allow me to elaborate. The average person spends a third of their life sitting down, which lowers blood sugar, decreases blood flow, and puts you at risk for diabetes and heart disease. Some doctors even call our culturally ingrained inactivity “Sitting Disease,” which seems a little dramatic, but there’s truth in it.

Spurred by growing evidence of the risks of sitting on your butt all day, standing workstations are an increasingly popular alternative. Proponents of upright desks claim they encourage constant movement, healthy circulation, and creativity. Hell, there are even bike workstations.

Martin Keen, founder of hybrid footwear brand , started working at a standing desk years ago. But Keen says he tired easily, and eventually found himself leaning against a makeshift seat. An industrial designer by trade, the entrepreneur began designing a workstation based on his ad-hoc prototype.

He unveiled his upright workstation at ICFF earlier this month. Focal incorporates a small bench into the traditional standing design, not unlike drafting tables used by architects and engineers. The small leather seat is more for leaning than sitting. It tilts downward at an angle that makes it tough to totally rest, and it pivots with your movements, improving balance and, ostensibly, focus. The station’s plywood and aluminum desk is attached at its base to a footrest that tilts up towards the user for support.

Granted, the Focal isn’t a great looking object, and we do wish Keen had hired an outside designer. But it might actually be an entirely new class of product. Sitting in it doesn’t quite feel like anything else: You’re definitely not standing, but you do get the sense that you’re moving around, at least a little bit. The combination encourages a “natural, neutral posture,” explains Keen. “There is a place between standing and sitting where our body wants to be.” Does it make you move enough to counter Sitting Disease? We shall see: Keen says he is working with an ergonomist to study exactly how the seat affects your well-being.

More on Focal, which has to be easier than the treadmill desk,here.

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32 Comments

  • Sophie Holland

    I have back issues and sitting for a long time makes my rear end numb, and I feel like this seat might irritate my tailbone even more than a traditional chair.

    I think a key issue in office design that this product does address is that desks and work areas tend to be so low down you have to sit down or hunch over in order to work at them. The problem is worse if you're tall (I am).

    Regardless of the seating option, if work surfaces were raised to be around high waist level--like kitchen counters are--it would encourage a more upright pose which is better for your health head to toe. Being upright also encourages staying mobile which is better for energy and could encourage more face time with colleagues.

  • person 1

    The main issue with sitting is that the legs and large muscles within them are completely idel for long periods of time, increasing insulin production. Leaning your butt against a mini-chair, while it may have the right intent, doesn't solve the problem.

  • kk

    Hmm interesting. I like the idea. Having tried to work at a standing desk, I've definitely found it hard to go long stretches. My feet would get tired, and my lower back too. So something more flexible seems like a good idea. 

    The seat gives me one concern though. Men have been getting problems for years from the pressure of bicycle seats in the crotch -- does this seat do the same thing, put pressure on the nerve (causing numbness & ED)?

  • sydalee

    The Focal seat pan is only gently contoured, much resembling a tractor seat (after which the original design was modeled) - not at all like sitting on a bicycle seat. In addition, you don't sit; you lean. The seat pan's fore-aft adjustability allows you to find a position that is comfortable for you, so you need not worry. It is altogether a different device from the traditional horizontal seat.

  • RedHotFuzz

    "Granted, the Focal isn’t a great looking object, and we do wish Keen had hired an outside designer."

    I think it looks fantastic.  Their logo completely sucks, but the chair & desk are good-looking in my eyes.

  • Abby

    I'm confused about the functionality of this desk. Most people who work at a desk all day are working on a computer - where is that supposed to go?

  • Gort-klaatu

    This is a very old idea. Leaning stools have been around in contract furniture your years. And frankly their aesthics are more refined than this version. Hardly worth the article.

  • Abdullah Shaikh

    How does lower blood sugar (by sitting) increase the likelihood of diabetes? Seems like you have your facts incorrect.

  • DKBDesign

    Cool concept. I think the components look nice individually but when put together the concept lacks a unifying theme or design principal bringing them together. Its like one person designed the stool and another the table. Their is clash in shape, color, and texture in the similar purposed elements from the two components. Round tubing for the stool shaft but square tubing for the table shafts. Black base on the stool, silver base on the table. 

    I think I would catch a hip, belt loop, or pocket on both of the 4 point tilt knobs. 

    It also looks like the front edge of the foot plate would knock against the horizontal support of the table anytime some one slid the stool in causing chipped wood and scarring on the aluminum over time.

    My two cents... 

  • Nancy

    You have to give Keen props for venturing outside of the shoe biz and creating something there is clearly a need for. However, my back actually winced when I looked at this picture. He's clearly on to something, though ...

  • Dean Stier

    Cool in concept, but the design seems too involved. We're seeing more and more demand for standing-height workstations at my firm, but most people want the flexibility of standing/sitting at their workstations with furniture that fits in with the rest of their office.

  • MCLEOD MORGAN

    Lose the seat and just stand. The design of the desk and the ergonomic arrangement of the viewing plane and adjacent work implements can make standing easier and more stimulating. Sitting and thinking (a la Monsieur Rodin) is a hard-to-break habit. I've created several standing work stations over the last 12 years as I've moved my freelance business from place to place and it's been fun to innovate and learn what works and what doesn't.