IDEO & Steelcase
The Steelcase node chair is a highly mobile and flexible chair designed to transition from one teaching mode to the next in a classroom. Node was designed in response to a changing educational environment, where classrooms and classroom furniture need to respond to a more collaborative and active learning style.
IDEO and Steelcase
We were impressed by the level of research that went into this classroom chair. They had clearly looked at how people work in today's teaching environments. The mobility of the chair is useful when switching from lecture-based to team-based work. However, there was a lot of discussion about the aesthetics which we mostly thought were ugly - 'like a bucket' with the base reminding us of those old rolling library steps. We felt there was a disparity between the upper and lower parts of the chair and that, ergonomically, the tray at the base would get in the way of free foot movement.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
A key challenge in designing for the 21st-century classroom was to overcome the stigma attached to the traditional tablet arm chair. Without innovation in this area for over 50 years, the schools we visited were often still using the original furniture from the time the school was built. Pointing at an old tablet chair, the dean of a California community college gave us what became our mantra for the project: “In this, you’re stuck.” Stuck physically, and stuck mentally as a result.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Our goal was to make a chair as mobile and flexible for the user as possible. We gave permission to students to move the chair, to move with the chair and to move within the chair. Not surprisingly, the educational market is one of the most abrasive environments for furniture. The node had to deliver a truly robust solution, as cost effectively and attractively as possible. We wanted a chair that pleased both teachers and students and worked well in the classroom.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
We focused on 3 qualities when designing node: Mobility, storage, fit.
Mobility: The node chair is highly mobile—a quality that translates directly into classroom performance. A class will often shift from lecture mode (rows) to team mode (groups of 3–5) and a node classroom can be rearranged in seconds.
The swivel seat is another design advantage, providing students the freedom to shift focus throughout the room, with the personal work surface swiveling in tandem, with books, laptops, and other information remaining at their fingertips. It’s subtle, but clear sightlines to the instructor, fellow students, and whiteboards dramatically enhance interaction. ? ?Storage: Until now, there’s been little thought given to where, or how, students stow their backpacks and other personal items. The base of the node chair provides a storage solution for backpacks and student belongings that usually clutter the aisles. Even the arms on node serve a storage purpose. Aside from being a place to rest elbows, they are designed to hold a backpack, keeping personal items secure and close at hand.
?Fit: No two students are alike. With that in mind, the node chair is designed with an adjustable work surface and a shell that fits students of all shapes and sizes while providing the ability to shift posture. The work surface accommodates both left- and right-handed students. And, unlike traditional classroom seating, the node work surface has plenty of room for laptops, textbooks, and other materials.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Throughout the research phase, we met educators with a desire to implement multiple pedagogies to support varying learning styles. Consequently, node is designed for quick, easy transitions between teaching modes. With node, a classroom can switch from a lecture-based mode to a team-based mode, and back again, without interruption.
The node chair is shipped in three parts in a compact box and can be assembled in less than 30 seconds without tools.
The node chair has a bold, distinctive and upbeat aesthetic that is different from the drab appearance of current market offerings. We worked to overcome a truly negative view of out-of-date educational styles. We chose strong shapes and colors to signal the many improvements that are embodied in node.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?