If the Chair Fits: Sexism in American Office Furniture Design

Kaufmann-Buhler, Jennifer
Journal of Design History

This article examines the ways in which gendered bodies and gendered ideas about labour were built into American office furniture by way of human factors from the 1960s through the early 1990s. Using an analysis of chairs and desks, including their forms and technical dimensions, the author argues that executive and secretarial furniture, in particular, encoded exaggerated and idealized gendered bodies in their design and excluded bodies that did not fit the expected gendered norms. The persistence of this convention, even in the design of ergonomic chairs which first appeared in the 1970s, reproduced sexism in organizational hierarchy and inscribed in furniture gendered assumptions of labour and gendered ideals of leadership.