The Kids Can Create

At what age can kids understand and benefit from learning how the design process works?

That was a question that the New York industrial design firm Aruliden and the North Carolina furniture firm Bernhardt Design set out to discover in an astonishing project that began last fall and will culminate this spring at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.

The two companies partnered with The School at Columbia, a private K-8 school in Manhattan, to field a project called Tools for Schools. The idea: teach eighth graders how industrial designers work, and turn them loose to try the process for themselves by designing furniture for the classroom of the future.

The kids astonished the designers, their teachers, and themselves, with their ability to grasp the concepts and the process, and brainstorm some truly innovative improvements on the neglected category of school furniture.

In fact, the ideas were so good that Aruliden synthesized them, and turned them into professional renderings. Bernhardt will take the project one step further by manufacturing prototypes, and showcasing them in its booth at ICFF in May.

Best of all, along the way, the design project was integrated into the school’s curriculum, turning subjects like math, English, and science into instantly relevant topics, in service to an idea that the kids were already jazzed about.

This slideshow documents their journey – from research and mood boards, to big idea, to models and renderings. What’s missing? Only a soundtrack of the sheer delight that these kids expressed as they watched their ideas come to life.

The Kids Can Create
Students brainstorming their research approach.
The Kids Can Create
A student shares his research findings with his group members.
The Kids Can Create
A student group presenting their big idea of “comfortable and functionality.”
The Kids Can Create
A student group presenting their big idea of “comfortable and functionality.”
The Kids Can Create
A student group presenting their big idea of “comfortable and functionality.”
The Kids Can Create
The final chair design, based on the students’ requests for comfort and easier storage.
The Kids Can Create
The final chair design allows for movement back and forth while sitting.
The Kids Can Create
The final model of the “flexibility” desk, incorporating accessory panels that can be swapped in and out.
The Kids Can Create
One desk accessory option for a Biology class.
The Kids Can Create
The final desk design, based on the students’ ideas of a modular and flexible desk.
The Kids Can Create
The final desk incorporates an accessory system that allows the desk to meet the needs of different classrooms and environments.
The Kids Can Create
The final desk incorporates an accessory system that allows the desk to meet the needs of different classrooms and environments.
The Kids Can Create
The final locker design, based on the students’ needs for more space and better storage.
The Kids Can Create
The basket at the bottom of the locker swings out, allowing for quick access for students to throw things in.
The Kids Can Create
The locking mechanism provides and name tag and is shaped like a doorknob, solving for the students’ request for a more personal locker experience.
The Kids Can Create
The name tag on the locker opens, creating a mailbox for personal notes and messages.