However, padding does distribute the weight by increasing the area of contact between the chair and the body. A hard wood chair feels hard because the contact point between the occupant and the chair is small. The same body weight over a smaller area means greater pressure on that area. Spreading the area reduces the pressure at any given point. In lieu of padding, flexible materials, such as wicker, may be used instead with similar effects of distributing the weight. Since most of the body weight is supported in the back of the seat, padding there should be firmer than the front of the seat which only has the weight of the legs to support. Chairs that have padding that is the same density front and back will feel soft in the back area and hard to the underside of the knees.
There may be cases where padding is not desirable. For example, in chairs that are intended primarily for outdoor use. Where padding is not desirable, contouring may be used instead. A contoured seat pan attempts to distribute weight without padding. By matching the shape of the occupant's buttocks, weight is distributed and maximum pressure is reduced.
Actual chair dimensions are determined by measurements of the human body or anthropometric measurements. Individuals may be measured for a custom chair. Anthropometric statistics may be gathered for mass produced chairs. The two most relevant anthropometric measurement for chair design is the popliteal height and buttock popliteal length.
For someone seated, the popliteal height is the distance from the underside of the foot to the underside of the thigh at the knees. It is sometimes called the "stool height". (The term "sitting height" is reserved for the height to the top of the head when seated.) For American men, the median popliteal height is 16.3 inches and for American women it is 15.0 inches. The popliteal height, after adjusting for heels, clothing and other issues is used to determine the height of the chair seat. Mass produced chairs are typically 17 inches high.
For someone seated, the buttock popliteal length is the horizontal distance from the back most part of the buttocks to the back of the lower leg. This anthropometric measurement is used to determine the seat depth. Mass produced chairs are typically 38-43 cm deep.
Additional anthropometric measurements may be relevant to designing a chair. Hip breadth is used for chair width and armrest width. Elbow rest height is used to determine the height of the armrests. The buttock-knee length is used to determine "leg room" between rows of chairs. "Seat pitch" is the distance between rows of seats. In some airplanes and stadiums the seat pitch is so small that sometimes there is insufficient leg room for the average person.
For adjustable chairs, such as an office chair, the aforementioned principles are applied in adjusting the chair to the individual occupant.
Armrests should support the forearm and not the sensitive elbow area. Hence in some chair designs, the