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.


About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.