GeekDad Review: ErgoDriven ‘Topo’ Standing Mat and ‘Spark’ $20 Standing Desk

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There’s nothing new about standing up on the job. Factory workers, artists, draftsmen, nurses, and many other professions have been doing it for as long as humans have been walking upright. In fact, it’s the idea of sitting on the job that is fairly novel. And yet, it took office workers getting off their backsides before we could get the array of standing solutions available today. From shoes and mats, to stools and desks, and beyond (treadmills? bicycles?!), the product choices available to the standing worker have never been greater.

When I started standing at my desk full-time approximately three years ago, the solutions available were both sparse and expensive. I ended up fashioning my own standing desk out of an IKEA table an old keyboard tray. Some coworkers that also wanted to try it ended up stacking an assortment of cardboard boxes, outdated Visual Basic books, and monitor stands. Several of them gave up on the experiment after a few days or weeks. Had they purchased the $600 sit/stand desk that was popular at the time, that would have been a very costly experiment.

This is exactly the niche that the Spark is designed to fill. For $20 and a few minutes of assembly, you can have a cardboard standing desk and perform your own standing experiment

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Assembling the Spark was simple. There is a video on the ErgoDriven website that helps you along at each step. I wanted to see how well the instructions were written, so I didn’t watch the videos, and I still had it put together in less than five minutes.

Each part is well labeled and easy to fold. In fact, I was wary at first about all of the labeling, expecting the final product to be littered with numbers and letters, detracting from the appearance. In fact, once assembled, all of the text on the pieces is hidden.

Being made of cardboard, I was at first reluctant to trust my work laptop on it. However, I pushed and wiggled all over and it was solid as a rock. I read on Amazon how people had put full-sized monitors on it and it held steady. One thing I couldn’t find, however, was a failure point. How much could this thing really hold?

Remember those toothpick bridges you built in high school? How they would slowly add weights until it broke, and how that one kid whose parents were both NASA engineers always won? Having access to a basement full of exercise equipment and a standing desk that I really didn’t need but wanted to test thoroughly, there was only one thing I could do.

Let the destruction begin!

Well, that was the plan, anyway.

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As you can see, I ran out of weights before this thing collapsed. Final load weight was 200 lbs. I even stopped at around 160 lbs. to jiggle it back and forth. It’s easy to say a desk can stand up under this load when I’m gently placing 10 lbs. at a time on it, so I took all the weight off and told my 120 lb. son to have a seat.

Even with him rocking back and forth a bit, the Spark didn’t collapse. Now, I’m sure the manufacturer is not going to recommend putting 120 lbs. on this thing, much less 200, but it’s reassuring to know that it will hold that much when you put your 5 lb. laptop or even that turn-of-the-century 21″ CRT monitor, were you so inclined.

Keeping in mind that it’s just folded cardboard, the Spark is not bad-looking. The creases are tight, the color (unfortunately, you can only get it in a battleship grey) is inoffensive, and as I mentioned before, all the labeling is well-hidden. My only complaint is that the keyboard tray has a big crease right down the middle. While it does not appear to affect the functionality, it is a blemish on an otherwise clean, sharp product. While I would probably not use it beyond a few weeks, at which time I would either chuck it, deciding standing is not for me, or invest in something like a Varidesk, for some people, I can imagine they would be just fine using the Spark in perpetuity.

If you do decide that standing at work is something you want to continue, one thing you will absolutely want to invest in is a standing mat.

I’ve used a high quality, flat standing mat at work for years. Recently, however, I started a job that allows me to work remotely much more frequently. As a standing mat isn’t something that is convenient to haul back and forth, I needed to get a second one for home. The folks at ErgoDriven were kind enough to supply me with one of their Topo mats to try out.

I love my old mat, but there’s one thing I notice about it after standing for an extended period: my weight tends to shift onto one hip, and the next thing you know, my posture is all out of whack. I don’t get the foot and back soreness like when I don’t use a mat at all, but I do have to remind myself to shift my weight from time to time.

The first thing I noticed about the Topo is that there is not a lot of flat space to stand on this mat. As I shifted around, my feet encountered different raised areas. My son called the Topo a “fidget mat”, and it’s an appropriate description. Standing on it all day, I found myself moving around much more than I do at work. The raised hemisphere in the middle is particularly nice for the arch of my feet, and standing on the back ledge shifts my weight to my toes, relieving the pressure in my hips and back.

The Topo is made of 100% high-quality polyurethane foam. The standing surface is textured to increase comfort while the underside is smoother, allowing it to be easily slid out of the way. While I like the surface of the Topo – it’s one of the few I’m comfortable standing on in just socks – the texture does make it more difficult to wipe clean with just a dry dust cloth. However, a quick rinse in the shower and a wipe down with a paper towel and it’s good as new. In fact, I would recommend doing just that a time or two as soon as you get it. As with most polyurethane products, there is a distinct smell that takes some time to wear off. I personally can’t stand the smell of vinegar, but I would imagine a quick wipe down with it followed by a rinse would do wonders.

My only real issue with the Topo stems more from my workflow than the product itself. While most people use a standing desk just for working at their computer and will sit down for any paperwork, sketches, notes, phone calls, etc., I remove my chair altogether from my work area and stand 100% of the time. That means when I want to sketch up something real quick, or doodle on a legal pad while taking a phone call, I usually step off to the side a bit. The Topo being the small size it is, I have to slide it back and forth as I move, and it took me a day or two to stop tripping over the edges. However, this is a mild annoyance, which is more than offset by the benefits. In fact, I think I’ll be bringing home my old mat to put in the kitchen for cooking and washing dishes and get myself another Topo for work.

You can pick up both the Topo and the Spark from Amazon.

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