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IDEO and Steelcase Unveil a School Desk for the Future of Teaching [UPDATED]

The Node chair adapts to the myriad activities that occur in the modern classroom.

Node chair

[Update: James Ludwig, Steelcase's chief designer, has sent us some intriguing information on pricing and demand, added to the bottom of this post]

IDEO and Steelcase have just announced what might be a revolution in classroom design, a school desk that seamlessly adapts to whatever happens in class.

If you've spent any time in a schoolroom in the last 15 years, you're familiar with the high pitched whine of metal scraping against linoleum, as students rearrange their chairs and desks to whatever activity is going on. It seems like a minor annoyance, but it's a serious design problem: School furniture was largely designed 50 years ago for static, face-forward teaching. It isn't suited to the myriad forms of teaching that take place in the modern classroom.

Contrast that with the Node chair, which was designed by IDEO and produced by Steelcase, a Michigan-based furniture company. The details betray a remarkable thoughtfulness: The seat is a generously sized bucket, so that students can shift around and adapt their posture to whatever's going on; the seat also swivels, so that students can, for example, swing around to look at other students making class presentations; and a rolling base allows the chair to move quickly between lecture-based seating and group activities.

In group activities, the proportions are such that the chairs and integrated desktops combine into something like a conference table:

Node chair

And finally, there's storage underneath the seat—but off the ground—for backpacks, while the armrests themselves have a subtle flair that allows them to become strong, convenient hooks:

Node chair

Node desk

Of course, it's unlikely that the chair will be appearing in your local public school anytime soon—the market seems to be the glizty new secondary schools and new university classrooms popping into existence. And you wonder whether the economics will work out, since a plastic chair probably can't last as long as bomb-proof metal job like you find in public schools.

Meaning this design, for now, will be one more reason to envy a private-school education.

For more pictures, check out The Contemporist.


James Ludwig, Steelcase's VP of global design, writes that the chair is $599 fully loaded with a desktop, and $399 without. Ludwig also says that he's gotten lots of confirmation from educators that the price point makes it viable in the market—and that already, there have been verbal commitments from university clients around the world.


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  • Matt

    wow! great chair & desk but i could never afford them for my classroom--price coming down anytime soon? these would be ideal with the new implementation of the Common Core Curriculum.

  • Nome

    We have these at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. They worked well in a class where we were often re-arranging or breaking for group work, though the ability to spin so much of the chair got distracting during a long lecture.

    Definite improvement over a traditional desk.

  • erik.hui

    This idea would be great......IF America would fix the obesity epidemic plaguing our youth and adults. The chairs are too small at this point.

  • Tom Weaver

    I'm a big fan of both IDEO and Steelcase as companies, but I have to say I don't see this as the future of "teaching".

    For one thing, I'm much more interested in exploring the future of "learning". That may seem like semantics, but it isn't. We've designed schools for a long time around the needs and requirements of teaching staff, and we've begun to make huge shifts in sustainable designing learning spaces in the last years. Teaching is core to this, and requires substantial change management, but our key "customer" is the learners.

    As such I take issue with the idea of a school desk that is a one size fits all approach to supporting every activity that could take place in a learning session. If you actually begin breaking down activities that would ideally take place in a learning experience (and this differs based on curriculum models, pedagogical frameworks and other factors), from a briefing by a teacher (15-30 learners, 15-20 min duration), to a collaborative brainstorm (4-6 learners, 20-40 mins duration), to debating, role playing, observing, designing, making...... all the others, all with different groupings, durations, atmospheres, behaviours... a much better strategy is to start to differentiate space and settings instead as these activities have different requirements.

    Some images etc of this in action in this piece on 5 Innovations in School Design:

    I think this furniture item has its place, and it will be a valuable one, but please let's consider it along with a range of other types of furniture to create a full bodied learning experience rather than one where I'm back sitting at the same table and chair all day long!

    Tom Weaver, Flywheel

  • steve westcott

    Tim I agree with the holistic approach to problem solving. I am not sure if a business class for such big picture thinking people could be developed to support the design brief. This design appears to address a brief aimed to redesign of the standard chair and desk solution.

  • Tom Weaver

    Steve, I agree. I think the design probably meets the brief given very well. I think we probably just need to be cautious about how that design is then communicated, as it very much falls within the comfort zones of many schools - too much so!

    Thinking of this as part of a wider furniture solution: I can definitely see its value.

  • Rick Yeates

    Just came back from NEOCON, the node chair has been designed & tested to support 300+ pound users which is the highest standard in the industry. The personal worksurface was researched extensively. It was designed to support laptops ,other student technology tools and regular books/notebooks simultaneously.

    Several "beta sites" were conducted check it out on YouTube at: Steelcase node classroom chair & Tribeca Flashpoint

  • Robert Lowe

    I also think that this design was not done enough with technology in mind. Most students will be working on a computer or tablet device, which should alter the desk top shape, design or even material.

  • Matt Stewart

    Chris Reich - Is there any topic for which he is not an expert? He can tell from just a few pics that this new product designed by one of the top design firms, manufactured by one of the top office furniture manufacturers, is "not a good IDEO" and will only last about 6 months. Get this guy a job at CNET!

  • steve westcott

    The concept is a great start, but I am left disappointed. Steelcase and IDEO both have a good designers, material researchers and development staffs. I except much more in the way of material usage and form and color refinement from these two groups. I would love to see the design brief, supporting trends data and any material and manufacturing constraints that were supplied to the teams.

  • Chris Reich

    The concept is good but these don't look very durable---can they handle the weight of the typical obese teen? I think the durability point was too understated. Plastic wheels, plastic seats. This looks like something you'd find at Target that would last about 6 months. Not a good IDEO. Needs to functional, durable and cute. They've designed in the wrong order.

    Chris Reich

  • Leslie Forsyth

    Do you think we will eventually evolve into muscle-less blobs of jelly sitting in nicely designed chairs? Or have we already?