As a graphic designer I spend a lot of time working on my computer. On an average day I start with catching up on Skype chats and reading through my emails and answering them. Then I usually set my keyboard aside and start working on designs for leaflets, the website or other exciting things I get to design. I use a few keyboard shortcuts, but most of the time I’m click click clicking away with my mouse. This is my routine, three days a week. Until recently.
About a month ago I was going through my normal click click click routine, when my hand and wrist started to hurt while doing this. It was a bit of a nagging feeling, that I only felt when using the computer. When it didn’t go away after a few days I decided to go to the doctor, just in case. The doctor looked at it for about 5 seconds and after a couple of questions she had an answer for me: I had Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
Now, I’ve heard about RSI before, but never really realised what it was. Let alone that I ever thought I would be at risk of getting it. Yes, I knew you get if from doing too much computing, but everyone uses the computer a lot nowadays, and how much is too much? Mark Charmer had been urging me to do more drawing by hand and making compositions out of objects, rather then computer drawn illustrations, but I always found myself going back to my trusty old laptop. I’m a perfectionist, to the point that I have a deep rooted hate for eraser marks, something that is not an issue when using the computer (ctrl+z is my favourite shortcut).
It turns out that the only way to heal a Repetitive Strain Injury is by giving it time to rest and heal. So I got myself a wrist support (which looks like a Michael Jackson type of glove) and did some research on tools that are RSI friendly. Turns out there are loads out there, but the first and most important thing is the way you set up your workstation. Once you’ve got that sorted, you can start looking at some of the nice gadgets that are out there. You can begin simple, with a mouse mat that has a built-in wrist support and a stand for your laptop. After that you can also look at clever keyboard and mouse solutions like a track ball mouse. There is great speech recognition software out there – so you don’t have to type anymore. And then there are (amongst many other tools) drawing tablets.
My weapon of choice is the Wacom Intuos. It’s a drawing tablet, about the size and weight of a small cutting board. It comes with a clever pen, which you can move over the tablet, like you would with a normal pen on paper, only now your movements are visible on a computer screen. The side of the pen has a little button, which does the same as a right-click does on your mouse, and if I turn my pen upside down, like you would with a pencil, I can erase any mistakes I’ve made (I think by now you have a good idea on how much I like this feature). I can also use gestures on the tablet, like you do with the track pad of your laptop, and there are 4 short cut buttons, which I can program separately for each application I work with.
This means that I can be more diverse in the movements I make than I used to when I only was using my mouse. And that means that I’m less likely to get RSI again, even though it will always be something that I have to think about, as my wrist is much more fragile now then it used to be.
If you are one of the lucky, oblivious people that don’t suffer from RSI (basically me, a month ago) then the tips and tools I describe above are also very useful for you. Why don’t you do a quick check on how your workstation is set up? It might just prevent you from ever getting RSI.