Lennart and Malcolm discuss ways of optimising

Sitting correctly and comfortably in the Volvo V70

Comfort is a property that is often taken for granted despite being far from easy to realize. The word comes from the French ‘confort’ meaning ease and material well-being. Qualities that undoubtedly intensify our total experience in addition to form, function and selected material.

Accordingly, comfort is often strongly linked to the well-researched topic of ergonomics, especially when it comes to seating. One of the ambitions of well-known Swedish architect and furniture designer Bruno Mattson was to find the optimal seating shape. He did this by sitting himself down comfortably in a pile of snow, sketching the resulting contours and reproducing them in diverse chairs and armchairs, some of which became very famous.Another example is British osteopath Bryan MciIwraith, who specialises in vehicle ergonomics. In one of his studies, he designated the Volvo V70 as top of its class in terms of optimal front-seat comfort. Which naturally gave Volvo a strong marketing argument, because comfort is vitally important for many consumers, especially those who drive for a living such as taxi drivers. A group that often suffers health problems as a result of adopting a poor posture when sitting behind the steering wheel for many hours a day.

"Volvo has a proud heritage of seating comfort, and we put in a lot of time and effort to achieve it. So the discussion about the design and comfort of the seats begins at a very early stage in the work on a new model", says Malcolm Resare, team leader at the front seat and upholstery department that currently employs 26 people at Volvo Autos in Gothenburg (another 14 work on the rear seats). Research has been pursued here for decades, a process of testing and adjusting factors ranging from the optimal dimensions of the seat's centreline and the quantity of foam padding to prototype tools and the spring system. The result has been a prizewinning basic level of comfort much soughtafter by car buyers that can be adapted to the individual body shape and preferences with the aid of various adjusting devices.Test drivers of various heights and weights, both sexes and different seating preferences have covered tens of thousands of miles in various types of prototype seats. After completing each test drive, they answered a whole slew of questions focussing on aspects such as comfort and seating, an important basis for the production process. The chemical companies supplying the foam padding also pursue their own research, for example on the vibration isolation of the seats. So there is certainly an ongoing development in this sector.

"We are particularly proud of our very latest model, launched in early summer 2006, namely the new Volvo S80 whose front seats have built-in ventilation that cools a hot body via the distinctive perforated upholstery.

Seating comfort is clearly extremely important for all those in sedentary occupations, not least for the office staff who comprise the most numerous members of this group.

"The design of a car seat has many similarities to that of office chairs", points out Lennart Liedberg, one of Resare's colleagues, who is also an industrial designer and technical expert in human factors and ergonomics.

"One should ideally sit in a way that fits in with the immediate surroundings, which may be a desk or a steering wheel, and be able to regulate and vary one's sitting position. Many chairs today offer in-built flexibility that allows the body's weight to be shifted and the posture to be changed so that one doesn't sit like an immobile stuffed dummy all the time.

Liedberg and the rest of his team received the prestigious Henry Ford Technology Award in 2003 for their work on the seats of the Volvo XE90, where this flexibility had been developed.

"The human body wasn't designed to sit still for a long time, so one of the greatest challenges for those of us who work with ergonomics is to find the right balance between giving the body both support and freedom as well as getting people to understand how to use the options offered by a chair. While all the time pointing out the importance of getting up now and then and letting the blood circulate. Irrespective of how good the ergonomics and comfort may be!"