The story of the Steelcase Node: Sean Corcorran Interview (Part 1)

June 16, 2010, 6:30 am

I’ve had the opportunity to work with both Steelcase and
Herman Miller. Both are icons in the furniture industry. What I really like is
their competition for the learning spaces marketplace. It drives innovation. It
propels new concepts forward. This is good because we get to witness the
advancement right before our eyes.


This competition results in research—research into unmet
needs. Here is a little history on one such project. I’ve been a fan of Node
since March
and I am grateful that Steelcase gave me an interview with
Sean Corcorran, Director, Product Development & Marketing, for
their educational division. On the same week that he’s talking with
and Metropolis
he found some time to fit me in.


Here is some of what he shared with me:


  • Before the Node, Sean was a product developer for 20 years.
    17 years at IDEO. He was there when it all began in the 1980’s when it was
    David Kelley Design.


  • Steelcase has been involved with Higher Ed for over 75
    years, however, it has mostly office settings for faculty and admin.


  • Seven years ago Steelcase started doing research on classrooms.
    This lead to learn lab in 2006. Check out this promo video. This
    was their foray into designing furniture for learning spaces.


  • They have more than 50 installations of learn labs around
    the country in high schools and colleges. But they wanted to focus more on a
    classroom setting. They wanted to offer a more active learning environment that
    could support a multitude of pedagogy, not just lectures but project based
    learning and student sharing. Basically a more collaborative learning space.


  • To address area this they conducted research in classrooms,
    libraries, and adjacencies (in-between spaces) – this led to a year of
    observations and studies toward how they could go deeper into the learning
    environment. What was needed?


  • This led them to develop a point of view: they saw a huge
    gap between the aspirations of the 21st century learning environment
    vs. what was actually out there. Traditional classroom furniture was a barrier
    to the way people wanted to teach/learn.


  • They wanted to come up with a solution that would address
    the need for collaborative learning, but also deal with the practical issues of
    getting more students into a room, as well as issues that students and faculty
    have while teaching/learning— and make it cost effective. This would be a
    good thing!


  • What was shocking to them was that there was nothing new in
    the past 50 years in terms of classroom chairs. When they visited rooms around
    the country they saw a lot of 50-year-old tablet-arm chairs or tablet desks—
    or they saw 5-year-old ones that looked just like the older ones, but with newer


  • The classroom chair market was only made small evolutionary
    steps, but failed to provide what was necessary for modern instruction. They wanted
    to address the unmet needs of colleges and high schools.


  • They began with a blank sheet of paper. They didn’t start
    out with the notion of designing a new tablet-arm chair, they build around a
    broader idea of “a student learning pod.”


  • The official project name was SLP1

The concept:
(S) Students would be first and
(L) The emphasis would be on
learning, not just teaching.
(P) It would be a pod, a cocoon, a
student’s home base in the classroom.
(1) It would be first and one of a





That’s it for now. I’ll continue with more of the
interview tomorrow or perhaps later tonight. 

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