Design that Works in the Classroom


Classroom design and equipment have not evolved significantly since the early days of the schoolroom. We still have the same old tables, desks, boards, lights, and chairs. And in many classrooms around the country, the rooms haven’t changed or been updated in dozens of years. Why is this? And, what could be done to improve classrooms and equipment?

Steelcase, a multi-billion dollar global corporation providing office furniture and architecture, partnered with IDEO to design a new platform for improving the classroom experience. Among the team’s observations were the traditional tablet-arm school desks had remained the same for decades, despite the changes in class sizes, students, and technology. Working together, and with input from real-world customers and students, the design team created a series of furniture prototypes, eventually arriving at the concept for the Node chair. The result was a sleek, generously sized swivel chair with a rolling base that enabled the chairs to be quickly reconfigured from lecture to work group activities.

Steelcase unveiled the Node chair at the NeoCon 2010 World Trade Fair, winning an Innovation Award and receiving 5,000 pre-orders for the new product. Just think what else could be done in your classroom to help encourage interaction and participation!

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Start with a discussion of the steps used for innovation and design.
  2. Divide the students into teams of 5 – 7 students.
  3. Have each team identify 25 things that annoy them about a particular product (Ex: classroom equipment). Have the students write the lists on large poster papers and post these on the classroom wall.
  4. From the combined lists of problems, identify 5 – 10 different topics of problems (Ex: safety, movement, energy consumption, etc.)
  5. Assign each team one of the different topics and challenge the team to identify 25 things that could help solve the problem. Encourage wild ideas – it doesn’t have to be a practical solution! Post these lists on the classroom wall as well.
  6. Next, have each student “vote” on the ideas that they think could actually be implemented. Voting can be done by having students place up to 5 check marks on their favorite ideas.
  7. Tally the votes. List the top ideas and use these to outline a potential new product or solution!
  8. Show students the Node chair and video detailing the design effort:

Source:  IDEO Web site:

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