The basics of ergonomic chair design are quite simply that the chair should fit both the user and the use in order to maximize productivity. Given that all users are different and chairs are used in a variety of different professions, there are many different ergonomic chair designs. Usually, people design ergonomic chairs for office work that is almost always performed at a desk. Even so, ergonomic chairs can be designed specifically for reading, breastfeeding, or any other type of activity performed in a chair.
Ergonomic chair design usually considers problems such as how to best support the lower back, how to keep the user's arms and legs at appropriate angles, and how high the chair should be from the floor for optimum interaction with a desk. Often, a good ergonomic chair design will be adjustable so that, no matter the height of the user or the desk, the chair will always be a good fit. Interaction between the chair and desk may be so complete that the two are sold together, or each may be designed ergonomically on its own.
In a large way, what constitutes ergonomic chair design depends on the philosophy one adopts when it comes to the body. For instance, some people believe that kneeling chairs are more ergonomically designed than traditional sitting chairs, while others adhere to the philosophy of saddle chairs or even the idea of active sitting. Which ergonomic chair design best fits the body of a user is not clear scientifically, although there are many theories.
As far as how the chair fits the activity it is being used for, the problems become even more complex. The best an ergonomic chair design can do is fit the average situation. For instance, an ergonomic chair might be designed for use with a large computer monitor, placing the user's face in optimal alignment with the screen. When a person uses a laptop instead of a large computer, he or she is then looking down in a highly undesirable way. Particularly when chairs get older and are not fitted to the relevant technology, the degree to which they can be considered ergonomic declines.
When it comes to the basics of ergonomic chair design, the best path is to decide on a philosophy before deciding on a design. It may be a good idea to read about different philosophies of sitting and try out different working conditions, such as desk work or computer work. This way, the chair will fit the parameters on which one decides rather than forcing the user to fit the chair.