Last updated on December 11th, 2023 at 03:01 pm

As technology has changed, console design has evolved. Fixed-Height surfaces gave way to Sit-Stand consoles with keyboard mechanisms and greater adaptability for multi-monitor use. These evolving needs and requirements in mission-critical environments has led to the development of new classes of consoles with the flexibility and adaptability to provide ergonomic support in any situation.

In this installment of our three part series on ergonomics for the mission critical workplace, you’ll learn more about the four primary console styles available today:

  • Single Lift
  • Dual Lift
  • Split Surface
  • Single Surface

You’ll also discover why the Single Surface, Dual Lift console has become the preference for agencies seeking comprehensive ergonomic and health support for their operators.

At the end of our article, you’ll have the opportunity to download the full whitepaper, “Finding the Balance: Ergonomics for Multi-Monitor, Mission Critical Environments.


Single Lift and Dual Lift Ergonomic Console

  • Single Lift: One set of lifting columns raises and lowers the console work surface; the monitors are fixed or are mounted on arms that afford independent adjustment.
  • Dual Lift: One set of lifting columns raises and lowers the console work surface and a second set of lifting columns raises and lowers the monitor array, allowing the monitor height and focal depth to adjust independently of the work surface. This makes it easier to fine-tune visual ergonomics in multi-monitor environments.

Console furniture designers regularly examine the advantages and disadvantages of the Single-Lift and Dual-Lift console. User feedback indicates operators prefer the usable reach zones and ease of sit-to-stand adjustment afforded by Single-Lift consoles. Dual-Lift consoles are preferred by users seeking simple, simultaneous monitor adjustment, especially when multiple or large format monitors are in use.

Today, analog equipment is rarely used; nearly all system support is PC based. Most agencies are using multiple monitors, generally four to six, and the bank of monitors may incorporate large format or curved screens. For these reasons, the independent electric height adjustment of the Dual-Lift system is more valuable than ever. When operators simultaneously adjust the height and focal depth of all monitors, they also maintain their peripheral and tilt viewing angles.


Split-Surface Console

  • Split Surface: The surface is broken into two independent platforms. The forward platform, known commonly as the “keyboard platform,” holds the operator’s keyboard and mouse. The rear platform adjusts separately and holds the monitor array. It is also the resting place for ancillary work tools and appliances. The separate lifting systems move relative to the floor. While both platforms move, the operator must adjust each platform separately; the operator must also re-adjust their monitors after moving from a sitting to standing position. Split-Surface consoles are available with a fixed (non-movable) monitor array or with adjustable monitors.

Competitive with Permission - Split Surface Console 03

It is relevant to acknowledge that with a Split Surface console, in most cases it is possible to orient the front platform higher than the rear platform. This is typically done to “achieve neutral-to-downward gaze.”


Myth of the Downward Gaze

Lowering the rear platform below the front platform has limited value. With a Split Surface console, moving the rear platform below the front platform is most relevant only for the shortest population and only in the standing posture – a position that ergonomics and health experts recommend operators engage in for short bursts throughout the day.

Caution: Unfortunately, you will find that some console manufacturers focus their design and/or marketing efforts on spotlighting one or two factors that best align their own product attributes with Guidelines, ignoring other relevant real-world conditions. More so, the remaining factors, especially those “in conflict” with a particular product are neither acknowledged nor discussed. This leaves agencies making buying decisions without having, or understanding, the full ergonomic and health impacts of particular console features. A prominent example of this is manufacturers promoting a Split-Surface console as the best ergonomic option to attain a “neutral-to-downward gaze.” Three factors that challenge the claim:

1) The ergonomic recommendations within the Guidelines were developed for single monitor environments. Applying monitor viewing recommendations one-to-one in more complex viewing environments is faulty.

2) Most operators achieve an ergonomically neutral gaze without needing a separate surface/ platform.

3) Clever marketing leverages the “downward gaze” myth to exclude console designs they do not offer.


Field observations, together with evolving opinions about posture change, indicate the Split-Surface is an antiquated approach to mission-critical console furniture design.

  • In both sitting and standing postures, the tallest of the population does not need a rear surface to go lower than the front in order to achieve a “neutral gaze.”

Single-surface-consoles-provide buetral gaze for the broadest populations

  • For the shorter population, when seated at the proper ergonomic height, the rear surface cannot physically go any lower, or below the front surface. Both the front and rear surface minimum heights are limited by the mechanics of the lift system.

Here are a few more critical considerations when examining the perceived benefits of Split-Surface consoles:

  • Improperly adjusted keyboard platforms lead to routinely poor posture. This increases the risk of skeletal misalignment, repetitive wrist and back injury, and core muscle atrophy.
  • Regularly accessed work tools are placed outside of the primary reach zone; in some cases, work tools fall outside the ergonomic secondary reach zone.
  • Agencies promoting a sit-to-stand culture will find that re-orienting ergonomic fit on a Split-Surface console is cumbersome for operators. This is especially true at multi-user positions. When operators adjust multiple surface elements and monitors separately, in practice, they are less likely to a) fully utilize the agency’s investment, and/or b) achieve the optimal healthful posture.

Barriers to attaining healthy posture and movement is an essential concern to agencies since lower back, neck, and shoulder stress can lead to distraction, distress, and increased callouts. Considering these factors, the broader population loses ergonomic advantage when working from a Split-Surface console.

Competitive Split Surface with Permission - loss of console workspace

Under-Surface Equipment Storage

In some Split-Surface console designs, manufacturers turn would-be wasted space under the rear surface into “usable” space for radios, heaters, and personal devices. It is worth noting that items contained below the rear platform are only accessible when the rear surface is higher than the front surface.

To make regular use of the items stored below the rear surface, the operator will have to compromise the purported “ergonomic advantage” of the Split-Surface design. To use the rear-surface mounted heaters to warm their hands, the operator will have to raise the back surface above the front surface, again competing with the “downward gaze.”


Field Observation – Split-Surface Console

When selecting a Split-Surface console for their operators, agencies choose to either a) provide easy monitor height and focal depth adjustment, compromising secondary reach zone work area, or b) maintain the secondary reach zone for regularly used tools and equipment, losing monitor focal depth adjustment.

Split-Surface consoles with sliding focal depth adjustment platforms have inherent ergonomic constraints. To gain the value of the split-surface for the population it will benefit, agencies yield to ergonomic compromises for the remaining population of operators:

  • The Split-Surface console keyboard platform is designed to hold a keyboard and mouse with little room for additional, or larger, work tools. Regularly used tools, including input devices, binders, writing paper, reference materials, phones, etc., are necessarily positioned outside of the operator’s ergonomic reach zones.
  • Since the keyboard platform is smaller than the area required for an operator’s daily kit of work tools, it is common for operators at Split-Surface consoles to put both surfaces at about the same height so they can span the gap in the surfaces to hold binders and other tools. In this position, the operator compromises the recommended ergonomic vertical viewing angle in exchange for getting their tools within their ergonomic reach zone.
  • The sliding platform that holds the monitor array and functions as the focal depth adjustment mechanism makes the rear surface virtually unusable. In many cases, operators elect to push the monitor array to its rearmost position so they can span the split-surface seam with binders and tools; this compromises one set of ergonomic standards (visual ergonomics) to achieve another set of standards (reach ergonomics).

Competitive with Permission - Split Surface 04 Impact of Depth Adjustment Platform on Console Workspace

  • The sliding platform increases the height of the bottom monitor relative to the rear surface plane. Some contend this is okay since the rear surface goes below the front surface. In this case, however, it is not true for the shorter population who require the front surface to be near the bottom of its range to achieve the proper ergonomic posture. In many cases, you can actually get the monitors lower with a single surface that does not have a sliding platform.
  • The sliding platform and monitors need to stay behind the front surface in order to avoid a collision during adjustment, which causes operators to position the monitors perfectly vertical in order to maximize focal depth adjustment. When stacked, 90-degree, vertically positioned monitors prevent operators from achieving recommended perpendicular and viewing distance measures.
  • From the IT perspective, split-surfaces create and require more complex solutions for cable routing and signal strength. Split-Surface consoles require a second set of energy chains to get cables from the front surface to the rear surface, and USB keystones mounted on the front surface are more likely to require active USB extensions to combat the signal loss associated with cable lengths greater than 15’. This small front surface limits the under-surface mounting area for primary and back-up jack boxes and other devices.


Single-Surface Console

As consoles have evolved to meet the needs of agencies and operators, Single-Surface consoles have gained favor for delivering a good overall ergonomic and comfort solution to teams.

  • Single-Surface: Consoles have one uninterrupted surface that holds all necessary work tools. With a single touch, the full surface moves with the operator when repositioning from sitting to standing.


Since agencies replace console furniture every 10-15 years, many operators are accustomed to the split-surface keyboard platform, believing it to deliver superior ergonomics. The previous review of split-surface pitfalls reveals the obvious and hidden usability constraints. These include reach zone limitations, reduced usable surface area, and difficulty adjusting from sitting to standing.

Changing work style can be a challenge. It is important to acknowledge advances in ergonomic and health disciplines and the impact on console furniture design. Modern Single-Surface consoles meet ergonomic health and safety goals and give users the broadest capability to optimize workflow.

  • Operators have an expansive usable workspace, and more of the usable workspace falls within the ergonomic reach zones.
  • No gap means nothing falls through the cracks.
  • All work tools move with the operator when changing position.
  • All controls are located within the primary and/or secondary reach zones.


Field Observation – Single-Surface Console

Single-Surface consoles, especially those with concealed focal depth adjustment, provide ample usable work surface. In addition, the console adjustment ranges for both the surface and monitor array meet the needs of the 5th percentile female through the 95th percentile male.

  • There is zero monitor interference during surface height adjustment so operators retain optimal monitor tilt.
  • Operators have ample room for work tools. Less crowding and having a dedicated place for mission-critical support tools have proven to reduce operator stress in tense situations and save valuable seconds off response times.
  • Since conventional Single-Surface consoles utilize independently adjustable monitor arms, adjusting monitor configurations of 6-8 monitors becomes cumbersome, which could cause some operators to avoid using those adjustments.
  • Single surface consoles maximize the usable surface area, no matter the console size.
  • Most positions comfortably accommodate side-by-side training.
  • Radio equipment, mics, task lighting, etc. are always accessible. Unlike with Split-Surface consoles, there is no need to readjust the front platform to access tools stored below the rear platform.
  • Operators can attain a “neutral gaze.”

We have discussed basic ergonomic standards and the pitfalls and ergonomic trade-offs of Single-Lift and Dual-Lift, Split-Surface, and Single Surface consoles. There is a new option that better balances ergonomics, health, and comfort for the broadest population of body types.


The Most Effective Ergonomic Console:
Single Surface, Dual Lift

Single-Surface, Dual-Lift: Consoles provide two sets of lifting columns, one for the surface and an independent set for the monitor array. All Dual-Lift consoles have two independent lifting systems. However, an important distinction between Split-Surface, Dual-Lift and Single Surface, Dual-Lift is the way the monitor array moves relative to the work surface. On a Split Surface, Dual-Lift solution, both lift systems move relative to the floor. On a Single-Surface, Dual-Lift solution, the monitor array moves relative to the surface.


Ease of Ergonomic Console Surface Adjustment

The Single-Surface, Dual-Lift console combines the best of both worlds, delivering easier adjustment and ergonomic benefits for the user:

  • Users can go from sitting to standing with a single controller. When users move from sitting to standing, they will not lose the relationship of the monitor position to the keyboard position. Observation in the field shows the ease of changing position promotes more frequent sit-to-stand engagement.
  • The second set of lifting columns allows the operator to effortlessly adjust all monitors vertically with an electric actuator — this is important as agencies continue to transition to PC based systems that require more monitors, larger monitors, or a blend of both.
  • With the touch of a button, the expansive, uninterrupted work surface moves all work tools and appliances with the operator.
  • All of the operator’s tools and reference materials are within easy reach in primary and secondary reach zones.
  • This monitor array is suspended above the primary surface so the operator doesn’t lose work area to a sliding monitor focal depth adjustment platform. This allows operators to maximize their reach zones for input devices, reference materials, and other tools without compromising viewing angles or other ergonomic factors.
  • With the touch of a button, the expansive, uninterrupted work surface moves all work tools and appliances with the operator.
  • All of the operator’s tools and reference materials are within easy reach in primary and secondary reach zones.reach zones
  • IT bonus – Single-Surface consoles use one set of energy chains and route cabling more directly.


Comprehensive Monitor Array Adjustment

The suspended array with no sliding platform also means that the lower monitors can get closer to the primary surface height, which improves vertical viewing angles with stacked monitors at the lower end of the adjustment range.

  • Monitors on the array can be tilted to improve perpendicular viewing.
  • When the monitors are mounted to a curved slatwall array bar, the monitors are positioned in an arc in front of the operator which creates a more consistent focal distance and perpendicular viewing.
  • Since there is no split in the surface, when making adjustments you don’t have to worry about moving binders or other work tools.
  • Fans and heaters move with the surface and provide the operator comfort where they need it; there is no interference from a secondary platform.

There are additional advantages of Single Surface, Dual-Lift consoles with a curved monitor array:

  • The suspended array and absence of a sliding platform makes room for a convenient “dashboard,” housing all console controls and accessories, task lights and charging stations.
  • Voice/Data keystones and desktop device power receptacle locations are contained under a flipper door behind the dashboard. This provides operators and IT technicians easy access to cabling when needed, and maintains a tidy appearance when closed.

The primary surface area within a console footprint directly impacts the number of monitors, input devices, reference materials and other tools that can fit within easy reach of the operator.  Under-surface technology integration options often eliminate the need for side-extensions with technology storage. With side extensions eliminated, agencies can select a larger console and increase the number of monitors that fit on a single tier.


Field Observation – Single Surface, Dual Lift

Single-Surface, Dual Lift consoles provide the most usable workspace, room for side-by-side training, most ergonomic adjustment for the broadest population, and easy adjustment, making it more likely that operators will move from sitting to standing throughout the course of their shift.



Explore Our Selection of Consoles

Russ Bassett offers a wide variety of consoles designed to provide the greatest possible ergonomic benefit to mission-critical operators. If you are looking for durable, thoughtfully designed consoles that come with a 10 Year Everything Warranty, explore our products today.

Publisher’s Note: All images contained herein were taken with the permission of the product owners by a Russ Bassett employee.



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