This is Microsoft’s Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop, their latest ergonomic flagship keyboard.

It follows all the angles dictated by Microsoft’s ergonomic research department for safe and comfortable typing…

…but what the team called a manta ray design appears to be floating in midair.

It’s a beautiful piece of work (though I’m not sure I’d call it sexy).

But either way, we can underestimate the importance of ergonomics at work.

In this (extremely unsexy) graphic, you realize just how big a problem workplace discomfort can be.

I’m curious if these numbers are different than for people who have non-desk jobs. (If you work construction all day, does your body feel better?)

Most people don’t have ergonomic keyboards.

Interestingly enough, this slide seems to imply that the tough sell on ergonomics to employees might be the cheapness of big business, rather than the lack of sex appeal. People say they want comfort. (Though that might change when the pretty new iMac shows up on their desk.)

And just in case you want to check your own workplace posture, here’s a chart.

Microsoft’s New Ergonomic Keyboard Just Wants To Be Sexy

Can something be good for you and sexy, too? That’s precisely what Microsoft is hoping.

“Sexy” is the worst word to use regarding industrial design, but it’s had staying power for a reason: Sexy has a guttural appeal that you can always explain but never fully quantify. It’s why large breasts don’t make a woman sexy, much like a six pack doesn’t make a man sexy. Even objectively perfect proportions and facial symmetry don’t make someone sexy. (They might be attractive, but they aren’t sexy.)

Sexy is attraction coupled with the risk of getting hurt.

That’s why high heels are sexy and Keds aren’t, or why sports car seats are and La-Z-Boys aren’t. It’s also why ergonomic electronics definitely aren’t sexy, and why the iPhone 5, which feels like it could cut your hand in half, is.

For Microsoft, designers of some of the objectively greatest ergonomic keyboards of all time--with each angle and key positioned for minimal strain during an eight-hour-a-day desk job--the sexy quotient has begun to grind. So for their latest flagship keyboard, the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop, their only goal was to give it a "sexy" makeover; Microsoft wants to redefine sexy as healthy.

“I never buy into any ergonomic products myself because they never look sexy enough,” confesses Microsoft designer James I. Tsai. “When I think of ergonomics, my first instinct would tell me something related to medical products, and I don’t want medical products on my tabletop because I don’t think anything’s wrong with me! I want something that looks nice but is good for me, too.”

So Tsia and a small team began rethinking Microsoft’s approach to ergonomics, with one catch: The ergonomics themselves couldn’t really change, since Microsoft’s own research in their "Natural line" of products had already developed what they believe to be, scientifically, the way you make an ergonomic keyboard. That means the angles and space between the keys had very little wiggle room. So the project progressed like a check-and-balance system. Tsia would reimagine the aesthetics, and a dedicated ergonomics Microsoft researcher on the project would review the work.

“Sometimes I push the envelope too much, and then they pull me back,” Tsia says. “But without pushing the envelope, you’re not going to get a new and better-looking product.”

The team eventually settled on a fresh approach, to make the keyboard appear to be floating on air. So they carved a chasm right down its middle and hollowed out the undercarriage. Through more than 50 printed prototypes, they also condensed the layout as much as possible, to tighten up the peripheral’s footprint, and streamlined the keys themselves with the sleek finish of a laptop keyboard.

Is the result sexy as Microsoft hopes? That’s in the eyes of the beholder. (I’d say it’s getting there, but not quite--I’ve never found black plastic all that sexy.) But as soon as you put your hands on the thing, well, it certainly feels sexy, in the way that yoga pants and cuddling and knowing someone will be there when you wake up to make you breakfast can be sexy.

Sexy isn’t danger, nor is it comfort, but sexy can be either. Sexy is the great intangible. Sexy is just sexy.

Buy it here for $130.

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7 Comments

  • Felix

    I am outraged. The 'hole' in the middle is a pathetic misleading
    way of making everyone believe this is a two-piece adjustable keyboard – where
    you can separate and position the two parts anyhow you want, like in the "IBM-M15",
    "Goldtouch", or "Freestyle2". Ill-advisedly, this is NOT a
    two-piece adjustable keyboard; it is just an optical illusion. It remains a split
    keyboard, same as it has been since 1994.

     

    Who are they trying to fool?

     

    Microsoft hardware division took close to 20 years – since
    their introduction of the 'Natural' in 1994, and a lot of cash from the
    billions of dollars available from their company, and they were only able to lower
    the quality of the key switches, move some keys to awkward locations, separate
    the Number-pad, and add a hole in the middle. Nice going Einstein.

     

    Separate spacebars have been available since the 90s in the "Comfort"
    or "IBM-M15"; so nothing new or innovative – never have, just a copycat.

     

    As for genuine ergonomic keyboards, there are multiple of
    better choices out there – and you should not complain about the cost of others
    as an extra $100 gives you so much more. Mechanical keyboards like the
    "Advantage/Maltron" or "TrulyErgonomic" are much superior to
    these and any other. Other ergo keyboards with as cheap quality as this "Sculpt"
    like the "Type Matrix", "Goldtouch", or "Freestyle2"
    are still better options.

     
    This hollow-keyboard is just a pointless design. This is not
    the keyboard you are looking for, move along.

  • Richard LaRue

    Sexy looks expensive, naturally, and this keyboard just looks awkward and hardly refined. The weird shape is the only thing separating it from the bargain basement keyboards out there.

  • jacob_Somers

    Why do all ergonomic keyboard designs look alike? It looks sexy, but it doesn't look like something I'd want to use, again. Ergonomic keyboards. despite trying to be different, haven't changed all that much. If they want to make something truly sexy than they need to break new ground.  

  • ID

    Well, the ergonomic keyboards are redesign following the human body and the stress a normal keyboard puts on it. The human body didn't change much over the years so it's hard to find a solution that's 100% different to the ones we've seen before. An ergonomic computer redesign was my graduation project, so I spent several days just thinking about that xD

  • Daniel Fein

    Ergonomic things will tend to look alike because of human factors, there is a defined range of motion that will be less harmful, and sexy or not, they look that way so you don't end up with carpel tunnel or other repetitive stress issues.