Most computer monitors are too low. Almost everybody, at least once in their lives, has put a pack of printing paper, a cardboard box, or something else under their monitors stand to bring it to an acceptable height.

Why is the default height for computer monitor stands so low?

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    I'll tell you why mine is lifted up on a stand - it's because I don't want to see the person on the desk opposite me. Puts me off! – Wander Jan 26 '15 at 10:22
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    Monitors are typically at shin-height, at best. Not sure this is a valid question. I think you're perhaps asking why monitor stands designed for desks are not adjustable to a higher level than you prefer? – DA01 Jan 26 '15 at 19:24
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not a UX question. – DA01 Jan 26 '15 at 19:24
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    I would say that this question relates very strongly to Ergonomics which, given the current organization of StackExchange sites, falls under the UX umbrella. – Evil Closet Monkey Jan 26 '15 at 20:03
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    Because the guys who set the standards are all old and have trifocals, and they can't see the monitor clearly through the top 1/3rd of their glasses. – Hot Licks Jan 26 '15 at 20:52

10 Answers 10

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Because you can always put some additional stand, but it might be really hard to "cut" the default one :) Low fixed stand seems to be universal and pretty cheap solution.

Usually, better stand is a good motivation to pay more.

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    +1 for economic reason. I'd add that some people still put their monitor on top of a horizontal desktop computer. – Cees Timmerman Jan 26 '15 at 18:05
  • Economy is the reason. I've got a monitor here that allows a 4D motion on its stand (height, declination, inclination, rotation). However, I suppose that it was quite expensive... – yo' Jan 27 '15 at 18:09
  • +1 for showing common sense. Placing a too-low monitor higher is much easier than trying to make a too-high monitor lower. – Guntram Blohm Jan 28 '15 at 21:34

Most often they are actually not too low. According to widely accepted ergonomics guidelines, your eyes should be inline with the top of the monitor.

Looking downwards to it is at worst against your preference, looking up to it by even a small amount is really bad for your back and neck. So it is much better to err on the side of it being too low.

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    "Most often they are actually not too low". I don't agree at all. Taking a standard office chair, desk and monitor, adult population average height and following the sitting guidelines, the top of the monitor is almost always below or way below "the eyes line". Related: i.stack.imgur.com/sVuDx.jpg – Alejandro Veltri Jan 26 '15 at 16:43
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    @rewobs my monitor as about twice as tall as the one in that picture! it is right in spirit but the proportions are not remotely realistic – JamesRyan Jan 26 '15 at 17:06
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    @JamesRyan As a final proof, I'm leaving a picture of my "not remotely realistic" self. LOL scontent-a-mia.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfp1/v/t1.0-9/p320x320/… . There should be even more difference, but the chair can't reach high enough to place my elbows correctly (at the same line or a little bit above the desk). – Alejandro Veltri Jan 26 '15 at 19:01
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    @JamesRyan, can you cite a source that supports your assertion that looking up is worse for your back and neck than looking down is? – Graham Herrli Jan 26 '15 at 19:38
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    -1; all places I've ever worked at had 90% of the programmers employ two packs of A4 paper, a box or an extra stand underneath all their screens. Maybe those who have 30" screens don't need this, but 19" screens with tall enough stands don't exist. – RomanSt Jan 27 '15 at 20:38

Making things clear

The reality is that the people who care or are aware about the posture and really follow the guidelines are the minority. Also despite the knowledge people can have about posture, it doesn't imply at all that the will apply it (or do it correctly).

I don't have any doubt that taking a standard office chair, desk and monitor, adult population average height and following the sitting guidelines, the top of the monitor is almost always at least below and possible way below "the eyes line".

Particularly talking about monitor height, if you follow the rule of "the eyes in the same line as the top of the monitor" but you are sitting like this, the rule is meaningless: enter image description here


Business time:

So as a monitor building company, why would you bother in adding costs and making your product more complex and expensive if the majority of potential buyers is not going to appreciate that feature or if that feature is easily replaceable? I'm not saying that there are no reasons to do it, I'm saying that it seems that for most companies there are not enough strong reasons to include a good high adjustment feature as a default.


EDIT:

In some comments someone told me the following about this picture: "but the proportions are not remotely realistic". So here I'm leaving a picture of my "remotely realistic" self. (note: I'm about 6 unrealistic feet tall and the monitor is 19", which according to screen resolution usage statistics shares the same max resolution as one of the most used resolution nowadays)

Note: This is not my setup, I have tw monitors sitting on a 25cm book&paper pile, it's just for illustrate what is the default situation without any adjustments. enter image description here

Additional images for the ones arguing that "the 19" monitor is tiny" (tiny for what?) or "the desk is too low":

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    Your picture is a good example as to why there can't be a 'standard' monitor stand height. A lot of people would consider your desk about 8" too low and would want a much higher desk but with a keyboard tray. – DA01 Jan 26 '15 at 19:26
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    What's "not remotely realistic" in that picture is not your self, but your tiny little monitor. And what DA01 said - you should at least be able to cross your legs under the desk without bruising them! – jamesqf Jan 26 '15 at 19:35
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    @rewobs I have a good 2" between the top of my legs and the desk, you are barely squeezed under yours. It is too low and you are too close to the keyboard, your arms should not be hanging by your sides. Its supposed to be the same position as playing a piano, forearm horizontal, top bit of arm slightly diagonal. – JamesRyan Jan 27 '15 at 0:58
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    @rewobs: First, your w3schools link has screen resolution, which has nothing to do with display size. I'd also say 1366x768 is pretty low - even my tablet has 1920x1200. Both my Dell monitors have height adjustment that place the top at eye height or above (at 6', I'm over average height), as does just about every monitor I've seen in various offices & labs. Bottom line is that while SOME monitors are low, there are plenty that aren't. If yours is too low for comfort, get a better one! – jamesqf Jan 27 '15 at 3:49
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    @rewobs I was just being cheeky. Imho there is a large gap between what is commonly referred to as "ergonomic standards" and reality - and that gap is getting larger every year. – armin Jan 29 '15 at 14:27

Speculation.

Monitors used to look like this:

enter image description here

you put the big computer on your desk, and the tiny monitor sat on top of it - at the correct height. As we tried to make the desk "cleaner", the box went on the ground (or inside the monitor). And so your problem was born.

The issue with ergonomic guidelines similar to that shown on the Apple website is that virtually no one sits like that (contrary to what our school teachers have tried to make us do). Almost everyone likes to lean back a bit, and most office chairs allow for this. In fact, it is NOT good for you to sit straight up as a college design professor discovered.

With all that in mind, the reason why the monitor seems too low is that once you lean back even a little bit, your gaze tends to go up, and therefore the monitor no longer is at the right height. For myself, I like to have my chair tilted back, with a bit of a footrest, and the monitor tilting slightly down.

This is a great example of why designers are starting to look less at ergonomics or best practices and more at behavior and context of use.

  • Is there any source you can cite to support your assertion that "almost everyone likes to lean back a bit"? – Graham Herrli Jan 26 '15 at 19:44
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    Added in a source for that. It's #6 on this page: ergo.human.cornell.edu/DEA3250Flipbook/DEA3250notes/… – skwokz Jan 26 '15 at 19:57
  • Also, I suspect that hardly anyone sits in the same position all the time. Mine even varies depending on just what I'm doing. I'll sit in anything from leaning back with legs outstretched (good for thinking) to an upright half-lotus (good for intense concentration). – jamesqf Jan 27 '15 at 22:44
  • I love the separated keyboard tray on Apple's ergonomy site. Reminds me of those "no space for your legs" 90s computer desks. – armin Jan 29 '15 at 11:08

I'm not sure if I missed an answer, but all of the answers seem to be missing a key point: it is significantly easier to make a monitor taller rather than shorter. Stacking your monitor on stacks of paper or boxes may seem like an inconvenience, but imagine what would happen if monitors were made taller. I'm nearly certain there would exists some desks in which the previous size monitor was the proper size. Now, the monitor is too high for the set up, which is not easy to remedy. Getting a new desk or chair are the only viable options beside cutting a trench into your desk to hold the monitor.

From a UX perspective, you should always err on the side of the easy to remedy extreme. I've honestly never seen a monitor issue that was not easy to remedy. Being able to simply fix a problem is quality of good UX when large amounts of variability are too be expected.

  • @RenatGilmanov answer already mentioned that point. "you can always put some additional stand, but it might be really hard to 'cut' the default one" – CodesInChaos Jan 29 '15 at 15:34

Who says they are "neck height" by default?

  1. What source do you have that supports this claim?

  2. You aren't taking into account any of the following:

    • Height of person.
    • Desk (or table) height.
    • Monitor width and height.
    • Monitor stand height (if you have one).
    • Keyboard type, height, and wrist angle.
    • Mouse type, height, and wrist angle.
    • Chair height, position, and angle.

If you take into the account all of the above, nearly every person will have a "different default".

That's why you customize everything to ergonomically fit your specific dimensions.

Nothing else needs to be said.

  • In an ideal world everything would be easily adjustable, even your little desk in your economy class flight. The reality is different. People have to cope with non-adjustable products and they have to share things. – armin Jan 29 '15 at 11:26
  • Here in the U.S., organizations have to abide by the United States Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or suffer the consequences. All you have to do is file a complaint and they will come in and make sure your working environment is legitimately adequate for you. Hence my answer. #1 can't even be proven. This whole question is based on a logical fallacy. – Code Maverick Jan 29 '15 at 13:56

I have full freedom in where I place my monitors.

The one closest to my keyboard, I want to be close to my keyboard. So it is below eye level, the bottom only barely over my hands. This is convenient so I can move my eyes from screen to keyboard easily.

The other I have with about 10% of the screen above my eyes - I can see the screen content without craning my neck up, and everything comfortably in me view when looking straight forwards.

For people with a single monitor, proximity to the keyboard would seem a good driving reason to make the screen lower.

[Edit:

Hrm - someone downvoted? Do they disbelieve that proximity to the keyboard matters from a UX point of view? I am forced to disagree, it matters significantly to me. Perhaps for formally-trained touch-typists who're only ever typing and not regularly moving hands from mouse to keyboard and back, it might not be - the keyboard can even be hidden! But for what I'd argue is the overwhelming majority, the keyboard and mouse are focal parts of the work area, need to be visible, and hence need to be close to the screen.

Even for those with hidden keyboards, I'd argue that the workplace focus should never be directly ahead. Workbenches have never worked like this, neither have drafting tables, nor easels, nor any line of work I can think of. The focal point is usually down from the eyes, somewhere around or just above the hands, since that's what we are used to looking at, and working with.

So for even my highest monitor, the midpoint is about 15 degrees down from eye-level.]

  • This reads pretty strangely to me. The idea that someone would want to spend a significant proportion of time looking at the mouse or keyboard, rather than looking at the screen where the keystrokes go and the pointer is. – AlexC Aug 13 '15 at 16:25
  • Watch the eyes of your coworkers for a while. I think you may be surprised. But that wasn't my point - you aren't looking necessarily at your hands but at the point in space where your hands would be if you were performing manual labor, because that is the natural space for someone to look at. Looking directly ahead is unnatural and weird. – Dewi Morgan Aug 14 '15 at 7:39

We use monitors all day without having to look at match paper on our desks.

A lot of people used to (and still do) have to keep moving their eyes from the monitor to paper on the desk.

Also a lot of people are not touch typists, so have to move their eye to the keyboard often.

If a monitor is two low, someone can put it on books, if it is too height all they can do is return it for a refund.

Monitors with adjustable stands cost more.....

I've been using computers for about 30 years and have rarely found any position comforable for prolonged use. I've recently (about 4 months ago) changed to using a standing desk. The monitors are now at the right height, my back and shoulders dont ache and I burn more calories standing than sitting down. Its also nicer when people walk up to my desk and I dont have to look up to them as I am already at their level.

Learn to touch type - it will be more comforatble if you are working standing up or sitting down.

protected by JonW Jan 30 '15 at 12:06

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