Being A Graphic Designer Is A Pain

How to fix your painful workstation.

Allow me to tell you why I say so…

I spend a lot of time at my desk. I write in the mornings. I draw in the afternoons. I create & design for hours and hours in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. In-between all of that, I try to remember to take breaks.

Usually for me, sitting for long periods of time isn’t really an issue as long as I take proper breaks and continue to practice yoga regularly. But this year was a bit different.

After moving from one place to another, my old Mainstays desk and chair had gotten tossed into the garbage and I was promised a new desk and chair by my boyfriend. One busy thing led to another and several months later, I was still without a desk (I did get a new chair though). So I had decided to use our dining table since it wasn’t in use (because of a lack of a dining room in our then-new, dormroom-like apartment).

Several months ago, I began having increased amounts of back and shoulder pains, in shorter amounts of time, but I didn’t really know why.

I figured it was because I was sitting for 8-hours a day at my day-job, as an agency’s in-house Graphic Designer, then coming home to my makeshift desk-table, attempting to work.
Yes, sitting again.

One morning, during my daily writing sessions, I figured it out…

Fixing My Painful Workstation Problem

I remember writing, “…I’m having a hard time writing this” only minutes into my writing hour because I was experiencing extreme pain in my shoulders and back. So I stopped writing and got away from my makeshift desk for a few hours — frustrated and disappointed because I felt like I was weak and could’t continue working towards my dreams and goals.

When I came back, I was determined to write myself out of this problem and figure out a solution.

I’ve been wondering why I have a hard time staying at my desk for longer than 30 minutes, but now I know for sure. My back & shoulders ache so much while sitting here it’s blocking me from working longer, consistent hours, like I’m used to — and like I want to.
All of this pain leads to me taking multiple, extended breaks, attempting to relax myself and release the pain & tension. When I do back-concentrated yoga it really helps to release the pain, but when I get back to my makeshift desk/workstation the pain begins to rise back to it’s usual height.
Also, I think maybe my iMac is sitting too low. I feel like I’m looking down at it rather than across.
So far, it’s a combination of three things:
1. I’m looking down at my iMac, rather than across.
2. My table is too high up and it keeps my arms and shoulders at a fixed, raised level — which becomes extremely painful, extremely fast. (I need to replace my table with an actual desk).
3. My chair — although it fits my small frame — sucks.

After writing out my problems and possible solutions, I started to do some online research about desk ergonomics. Here are the solutions that worked very well for me ever since I realized and targeted my problems.

YOUR CHAIR •••
Make sure that you find a chair that fits your frame.

  • The seat of the chair has to fit from your bent knee area to your back. Your feet should be able to be flat on the floor while your back is against the chair’s backrest.
  • Sit back and up straight. There should not be a space between your back and the back of the chair. The back of the chair is there to support you so that you are not straining your back by holding it up yourself (or leaning forward) for extended periods of time.

YOUR DESK •••
Make sure your desk is the right height and size.

  • At your desk, your keyboard should be low enough so that your arms and shoulders are not raised from its natural position while typing or using your mouse.
  • You shouldn’t have to lean forward to reach your keyboard, mouse, stylus, or any other tools you use in combination with your computer.

YOUR COMPUTER •••
Make sure your monitor sits high enough and close enough.

  • You shouldn’t be looking down (or up) at your monitor or leaning forward to see what’s on the screen. Instead, you should be looking across at it with a flat screen (no tilt).

YOUR YOGA •••
Regular yoga practice will help strengthen your back and reduce tension and pain.

  • I love this beginner’s yoga session taught by Yoga Vidya. You do not have to be a “Yogi” to practice these stretches & poses. This helped me tremendously. I felt the pain dissipate immediately after practicing this session one time! It’s only 20 minutes long and it leaves your back feeling great. 
    Do this regularly to strengthen your back and so that you always feel great and relieved. You’ll also gain other benefits from practicing this basic yoga session.
  • Another basic yoga session I like to practice (which helps me remember my posture well after the session is over) is called, Basic Yoga Workout for Dummies, taught by yoga-fitness celebrity trainer, Sara Ivanhoe. Ignore the title of this yoga session and give it a try because the instructor is fun and very knowledgeable, plus she teaches a really good workout.

My Old Workstation vs. My New Workstation

In addition to the solutions mentioned above, I found a few LifeHacker articles to be very helpful and seemed to align with my own solutions. I also learned some things that I didn’t realize as benefits, such as: not placing my computer directly in front of a window, as well as other ways to avoid eyestrain.

This was my old workstation, which gave me severe pain every day.
Here’s my new workstation, which brings me joy & comfort every day.

I hope these tips will help you keep your shoulders and back pain-free so that you can focus on your work!