More, bigger monitors boost productivity, says study

Most folks have probably already figured out for themselves that having to use a painfully small display with a low resolution impedes their productivity. However, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Business Technology Blog, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah suggests that even switching from a normal-sized display to a larger one—or two larger ones—has a significant effect, as well.

According to the researchers’ findings, folks who use a single 24″ display are 52% quicker at tasks like editing documents and tossing numbers between spreadsheets than those who use a single 18″ display. Having two monitors instead of one helps, too, although not quite as much: the speed increase from switching to dual 20″ displays from a single 18″ monitor is only 44%. Interestingly, the researchers say productivity actually goes down when users switch to a 26″ monitor, suggesting 24″ could well be the sweet spot.

All in all, the researchers worked out that larger monitors can save up to 2.5 hours in eight hours of non-stop work. That said, the study assumed users had to carry out tasks that actually benefit from the extra breathing room, and it was funded by monitor maker NEC (although it was also vetted by the University of Utah’s research board).

Comments closed
    • evoisard
    • 12 years ago

    As a programmer, I need a large number of windows open at the same time (for different files of source code, debug windows, reference and help pages, etc), even more when I’m working on several remote computers at the same time. Hence the use of two large displays, what really helps (I prefer dual monitors rather than a single larger one).

    But I must say that most often (i.e. my collegues in other dpts), don’t really make an efficient usage of the large display they just got: whatever they do, they do it within a single windows open full screen. For example I often see a single MS Word document covering their huge display and zoomed at 200%… Even the emptiest window (such as a folder with two or three icons only), they open it full screen leaving a large unuseful empty white space covering the screen. It’s a reflex, they automatically put any window full screen…

    Not a clever usage. First, they seem to ignore the multitasking capabilities of their OS and a large part of its drag & drop features, and then they keep switching between full screen windows, sequencing their work instead of paralleling it. No productivity advantage at all, a single 14″ DOS display would allow them same job at no extra cost for the company…

    • codinghorror
    • 12 years ago

    I found the actual University of Utah study results, and linked them here:

    §[< http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001076.html<]§

    • Spotpuff
    • 12 years ago

    We use 19″ monitors at work at 1280×1024. At home I use 2 24″s at 1920×1200… it’s sad that I can get more work done at home. Using Excel on a WIDE screen is great; you tend to scroll more horizontally than vertically. And having two screens for cross-document linking is incredibly useful and time saving. There seems to be a problem though with office 2007 not wanting to span a spreadsheet across both monitors. No clue why.

    I can’t figure out why people at work with laptops and docking stations don’t use them as dual monitor setups, though I think they might not be able to because of limitations with Intel’s integrated graphics or the windows install; it seems like you can only have the display cloned on the external monitor or on one of the displays but not have a dual display setup.

    • evermore
    • 12 years ago

    Font and icon scaling is all well and good in the cases where it works at all, but not everybody uses Vista (or Linux or OSX) and some of us will be avoiding it as long as possible. Even in Vista, an application can easily break any attempt at scaling by the OS so you still end up with tiny icons and text. Browser scaling of images may work okay, but I personally prefer that all images be in their original sizes until I explicitly resize/scale it myself, so I know I’m seeing as close as possible to the actual image and not something interpolated. Large images can work better on a high-resolution screen, but smaller images become a big pain to view. Thumbnails that are at the edge of acceptability on a 1280×1024 screen become postage stamps on a higher density screen that isn’t significantly larger.

    Also I wish widescreen LCD monitors would just DIE. D. I. E. I like to use windows maximized if they aren’t specifically designed for small sizes (like a chat window). I don’t like having to manage their tiling or spacing and size, and I don’t need to have my “buddy list” open at all times and visible on top of everything. Maximizing a browser window on a widescreen is a HUGE waste of space, and it’s annoying how far I have to shift my eyes/head to look from one side to the other. And since they tend to be higher density screens, I also have to sit slightly closer. I already have to wear my glasses when I’m working at the computer for any length of time and often still end up having to lean forward to see clearly.

    I bought a 22″ widescreen last week, and returned it 6 days later. I just could not stand it. Widescreen is good for movies obviously, although if it’s a 1080p movie you still end up scaling it for anything but the largest screens. And I can’t accept that such a large part of the population buying computers is gathering around the PC screen to watch DVDs that it justifies an almost total switch to widescreen monitors being available. It seems more like a forcible push to the consumers based on some analysts ideas and a marketers guess about what people want, and most people just accept it because it doesn’t matter one way or the other to them.

    I want a 1600×1200 22″ 4:3 screen. New. Not outrageously expensive due to rarity or brand name markup. A 20″ would probably be acceptable at work, allowing me to view documents with less scrolling without having a giant screen, but 1280×1024 at 19″ is about my limit for density at home. (I know there are a few 20″ screens still made but not many.) A 20″ 4:3 at 1440×1152 would be ideal I think, and I’m not interested in scaling the resolution.

    I hope someone somewhere is working on making LCD or plasma or other discrete pixel screens work more like a CRT, where each pixel can be any color. And I hope they’re near to getting usable designs into production. Man that would kill the LCD market overnight.

    Oh yeah, the actual topic: I used two 21″ LCD’s at work, set to 1280×960. I could have functioned at a higher resolution but I don’t think they supported a high enough refresh rate to work for me then. Of course they weren’t even 20 full inches of viewable space. I changed departments this week and I’m waiting for replacement monitors at my new desk as the others had to stay where they were. The new ones will probably be 19 inch LCDs which will be a perfect thing, a small upgrade to the vertical resolution.

    Working on a single monitor right now is brutal. I can’t use dual screens at home, no use for them and annoyed when I did try it, but at work they’ve become nearly indispensable for things I do. As was mentioned, having documents on one screen while having the project on another is invaluable.

      • computron9000
      • 12 years ago

      Why don’t you just set the window size of your browser to be where you want it in 4:3 and not maximize it? Your browser remembers its size and position, yes?

      • computron9000
      • 12 years ago

      Also, have you tried vertical orientation of monitor? I have Ben Q 24″ LCD, and it can be positioned vertically for a “tall and narrow” screen instead. Maybe that would suit your purposes better.

        • Leefer
        • 12 years ago

        Funny you should mention that. I have 2 20″ 1600×1200 4:3 monitors. I turn them sideways to read pdf books. The aspect ratio of 4:3 fits the standard (US) 8.5×11″ page. I don’t think a widescreen would work as well.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 12 years ago

      You have that backwards. Software is the one that is behind in catching up with the widescreen displays. The websites that can scale properly *cough* to wide displays are the one’s that have caught up on that bubble.

    • UberGerbil
    • 12 years ago

    You may not need a study to tell you this. But when you put in a request to your boss to get that bigger monitor, you’re more likely to get it approved when you have an “independent” study to back you up.

    Of course, when that bigger screen makes it easier for her to see that you’re spending your time on Ebay or Slashdot or whatever instead of being more productive….

    • Hattig
    • 12 years ago

    I dunno how I live most evenings with a 12″ laptop screen. Wish I wasn’t halfway through a relocation, and thus separated from the home systems.

    Work is a 22″ 1680×1050 + the laptop’s 1280×800, so that’s not so bad.

    Will get a 24″ in the new house, but the list of things to buy is increasing all the time and I keep putting them off for the new house.

    • deruberhanyok
    • 12 years ago

    So… they conducted a study to show that having more workspace increases productivity?

    People get paid to do this stuff?

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      Of course, NEC was paying for it.

        • Metalianman
        • 12 years ago

        I don’t believe that… When I had 15″ monitor I bought an NEC in order to get 1280×1024 res. A bit later I had to buy a bigger monitor ending up with an AOC @ 1600×1200 res which become the new standar for me… Never, ever had problem with seriously high resolutions… That’s why when I got my 22″ Iiama monitor I was able to get it up to 2048×1536 which I had to buy a new graphics card to do! It was so awesome that a few months later I bought a second one and put them side by side!

        After this monitor I used a few LCD monitors in a lot of different setups but this monitor was always on my good rig… That is until recently that I bought two Iiama ProLite 24″ and have them constantly @ 1900×1200. I never changed the dpi or the font scalling or anything like that… I don’t put my nose on the screen in order to read either… Now whenever I go to work on my laptop I hate my life… I need the laptop, my work requires to have a laptop in any case with me. I travel a lot as well but the 15.4″ screen just kills me… I can’t even feel comfortable surfing the web!!!
        I’m thinking about the EeePC but unless they create something with a bit higher resolution I won’t go near something like that… 800×480?!? are u kiddin?!?

        I believe nobody had to pay for these kinds of tests and I know that they are true… I don’t do video editing (where two monitors it’s something like a standar), I rarerly do audio editing (where you could use two monitors too) but I do a lot of things at the same time on my computer.

    • emi25
    • 12 years ago

    Some time ago, someone has done this research on screen laptops. The result ? People want more pixels, and bigger screens. Nothing new.

    • fpsduck
    • 12 years ago

    l[

    • continuum
    • 12 years ago

    heh. I’m glad my work figured this one out a long time ago.

    Went from one 1280×1024 to one 1680×1050 + 1280×1024 was HUGE…

    Then went from that to 1920×1200 + 1280×1024… and now the current setup is dual 1920×1200. =D

    It’s definitely nice, very nice. The main thing is to be able to reference technical documentation or any other sort of “reference” while still working on the actual project itself, I need to get at least two full windows running, which means a single 1920×1200 is about the minimum. I often find myself working with three windows– reference crap in one, code in the second, and the finished product in the third, which means that the second monitor (to house the third window, plus whatever other crap like file management) is very, very useful.

    Switched to dual monitors at home about 4 years ago and haven’t looked back. Running dual 1600×1200 there is nice…

    • My Johnson
    • 12 years ago

    I work in a large corporation and they lease the computers. So, no way are we going to get anything better than the 15″ LCD’s.

    • indeego
    • 12 years ago

    I work on 2 1680×1080 (dell and samsung) screens and I think it’s perfect because I have specific apps load on specific panels. After a while I have grown accustomed to it and work much better. While the 24/27″ and highers are drool inducing, I find that I have to turn my head too much to get an overall picture.

    However I also support dual and single monitors, and I find that supporting dual monitors is a PITA for end-users. They never seem quite happy enough with the limitations it brings and therefore I’d rather give them one larger oneg{<.<}g

    • hans
    • 12 years ago

    Having only used monitors as large as 19″ regularly, I can say two 1280×1024 screens is the sweet spot for me. Right now I have a third 19″ WS, because it came with a computer that doesn’t need a monitor, and because its good for video playback, but it’s difficult keeping track of three displays mentally.

    I’d love to try a 22″ or 24″ but don’t have a spare $500.

      • Kharnellius
      • 12 years ago

      You can get a pretty nice 22″ (samsung, even) for under 300.

      I am definitely pondering it. I considered 24 but for basically the same price I’d rather have a pair of 22s.

    • no51
    • 12 years ago

    We have a 20″ CRT at work running at an awesome 1024×768. I think we should just get projectors on a 60″ screen or something. There’s a 20 year gap between me and the youngest older guy in my department (I’m 24 atm).

    • WaltC
    • 12 years ago

    Tonight I had to check on the wife’s computer for something and I was shocked at how tiny her 22″ LCD seemed to me now, because it wasn’t that long ago that I was using it and thought it was huge…;) I found myself squinting more than once when using it. My HannsG 27.5″ LCD has spoiled me rotten and I won’t consider going back to something smaller. My 20″ LCD at work seems positively primitive. I’ve no doubt that the basic conclusions reached by the Wall Street Journal here are correct. Large, high-quality monitors make all the difference in the world, imo.

    • bdwilcox
    • 12 years ago

    Meadows, why don’t you do us all a favor and go bob for french-fries or play in traffic?

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    Scott, it looks like you’ll have to ditch your 30 inch and get back to work!

    • UberGerbil
    • 12 years ago

    The trend towards business use of laptops (without docking stations and monitors) flies in the face of this, of course.

      • thecoldanddarkone
      • 12 years ago

      My next laptop will be an ultra portable with a docking station hooked to a big lcd.

      • A_Pickle
      • 12 years ago

      Heh, true. Well said. 😀

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      I still want more pixels even with a smaller size. Like 14″ 1400×1050 (T60/T61) or 13″ 1440×900 (X300).

    • gerryg
    • 12 years ago

    Has anyone found a link directly to Univ. of Utah on this? The two main articles I found were WSJ and Computerworld, and everyone else linked to one of them (usually WSJ), but neither linked to a UofU web page.

    I’ve got three 20″ers at work. All are 4:3 Dells, two are two years old, one is maybe 4 and a bit chunkier. Going from 1 to 2 was a big jump in productivity, and while adding the 3rd helped, the gain wasn’t nearly as much, and I sometimes don’t catch visual cues/flashes on a side monitor when looking at the opposite side, which can be bad depending on what’s alerting me.

    I’d like to replace the old 20″ one with a 24″ 16:9 and turn the 20″s to portrait mode. I’m unsure how closely they’ll align in terms of physical screen. The older 20″ sits higher, so there’s a little stairstep, but it’s not too bothersome.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 12 years ago

      1920×1200 works well with 2 20’s @ 1600×1200. It makes for a single 5120×1200.

    • cygnus1
    • 12 years ago

    i use dual 19″ @ 12×10 at work, and a single 24″ @ 19×12 at home. the dual 19’s at work are a pretty good setup, i would recommend that over the single 24″ for work purposes.

    the single 24″ is great for home oriented stuff with games and movies thrown in the mix

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      Exactly, for work, 2×19″ has more screen real estate pixel wise.

    • etilena
    • 12 years ago

    Either a dual monitor setup 1280 x 1024 (or was it 960) or a 24″ @ 1920 x 1200 for me. Find either the most effective, but that depends on what I’m doing as well.

    • albundy
    • 12 years ago

    when only nec makes IPS panels in 24″ size, its kinda hard to choose a good screen. whats the point of pivoting the screen when your viewing angle sucks?

    • bdwilcox
    • 12 years ago

    What really kills productivity is a 30+ year old user squinting at the tiny text on a large, high-res monitor. With the lack of sub-pixel rendering, using resolutions lower than native res on today’s LCDs just results in a blurry, jagged mess (sort of like Cleartype on steroids). And increasing font size just causes problems with formatting in programs and Windows itself. They need to come up with larger monitors with LOWER dot-pitch to give a large, easy to read image or figure out how to get LCDs to do sub-pixel rendering.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 12 years ago

    I agree.
    I was using a CRT monitor that could do 1600×1200 back around the turn of the millennium, and was appaled when work gave me a 15″ CRT that could barely do 1152×864. I had to unplug it to get the thing to display 5:4 12×10 just to give it a squished but usable workspace. Made that a FP2001 as quickly as I could let me tell you.
    I’ve also used 2 17″ CRT’s around that time running 1152×864 each. I upgraded that to a 2005FPW in the end when one of the 17″s died an instant death.
    Nothing but a 27″ that does at least 1920×1200 or better would do at this point if my 20.1″ gave out.
    Edit:typo

      • Meadows
      • 12 years ago

      You mean 1152×864.

    • Vrock
    • 12 years ago

    Heh. I work on a 15″ 1024×768 LCD at work, and sometimes wish for some more screen real estate. I wonder if I can convince my boss I’d be more productive with something larger?

      • computron9000
      • 12 years ago

      I would hope so. $200 buys a 22″ widescreen right now. I don’t know what your job is, but most companies don’t have a big issue handing out $200 on a monitor that will last years.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 12 years ago

      I have dual 15″ at work. Or maybe they are 14″ I only have the 2nd one because we had another one that was flaky, so now I have 2 flaky monitors 🙂

    • Flying Fox
    • 12 years ago

    Haven’t someone else already done such a study already some time ago?

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