FIT, MOVEMENT, & STORAGE: More on the Steelcase NODE (Interview with Sean Corcorran, Part 2)

June 27, 2010, 11:14 am

Someone commented on the previous post asking how
different body shapes would fit in the Node. I recommend viewing this
because it shows real students using the chairs. You’re able
to get a sense of spacing. The nice thing about the tablet workspace is that
you can adjust it accordingly– it is fairly accommodating to each person.


 I was in a classroom last week for a faculty training
session and these were the chairs we had to work with. If you want to talk
about limited space for Big & Tall take a look at the current era of chairs
on your campus.



Continuing my interview wit Sean
Corcorran, Director, Product Development & Marketing @ Steelcase

  • The big aspiration was to support active learning. That was
    the core theme they wanted to explore. As students and technology and teaching
    styles have changed, there has been a widening gap between classroom needs and
    what exists. The sense I got from their research is that current state of
    furniture and classroom models might actually be preventing the activity of
    learning from reaching it’s full potential. Mentally we’ve evolved but are confined
    by physical limitations.


  • Sean said that as they moved into the conceptualization
    phase that there were three central concepts that they wanted to express in the
    design:  fit, movement, and storage.


  • FIT. They
    were creating something that would fit both the needs and the bodies of today’s
    students—from 300-pound football players to more petite students. It had to be
    a shape that was comfortable and accommodating. Sean spoke a lot about avoiding
    pinch-points and sharp edges. They didn’t want students to feel wedged in.
    Students needed to be able to shift around in their seat, cross their legs, and
    twist about. They can also rock in place, which I really like. The back of the
    seat also has a little give. And like I mentioned about the work surface can be
    positioned for what is needed. (Writing, typing, reading, eating, or out of the
    way completely.)  The main points:
    it fits the student, their stuff, and what they need to do.)


  • Movement. Portability was the first aspect that really
    grabbed my attention. When I sat in the Node I knew this was something
    different. The theme of movement was critical on several levels. On a macro
    level they wanted students to be able to move to different points in the room
    (lecture mode, small group, circles, etc)—the casters enable that. Sean used
    the phrase “active ride” to describe the motion—it cruises along nicely. On a
    micro level the seats rotate in place allowing you to maintain eye contact with
    others or to focus attention to other spots in the room, such as whiteboards,
    screens, maps, etc. These elements work together allowing students to move
    around the room physically and mentally.


  • Storage. As they observed classroom settings they realized
    that it’s no longer about bookracks on the bottom of chairs, but rather all about
    backpacks these days. Steelcase wanted to reclaim the space under the seat and
    make it functional for the user. They found that current seating made it difficult
    for students to access their stuff during class, so they not only created a large
    hole in the bottom area, but also created elbow perches that could double as
    backpack holders. I like the phrasing he used about “reclaiming” the space for
    the user. It also helps get stuff off the floor. The chair also becomes a
    utility closest of sorts, reducing the amount of clutter on the work surface.





  • Chairs come with or without tablet arm. You can pull the
    chairs up to tables. Oh and it’s not a tablet arm— it’s a personal work
    surface! It was designed to hold laptops.


  • They tested Node at two sites: a high school and a big state
    U (with an underperforming football and basketball team!) Obviously they needed
    to test it in the real world in order to fold ideas back into the design. At
    the university they choose a general humanities building which hosted a variety
    of classes (History, Film, French) with the idea of testing the chairs with
    different instructors and different students.


  • In the high school they tried it with one class, an English
    class. In this case the teacher owned the room, it was her space, she used it
    the entire day. She was impressed with how quickly the students adapted to the
    chairs and how they learned to transition between the various setups: U-shapes,
    semi-circle, lecture mode, groups of three, etc. This enabled her to experiment
    more with assignments and teaching style.


  • These onsite tests confirmed that transitions between
    learning modes were helpful for teaching/learning also could occur very quickly.
    Students not only found the chairs to be comfortable, but they thought they
    were cool, modern, and felt special they got to try them out. There is a study
    for someone out there—the impact of stylish furniture on the attitudes and
    aptitude of learning. In their research (and this is the PR talking) they found
    that 100% of the participants said they “loved” the Node compared to other
    classroom seating that they were familiar with and that they especially liked
    the work surface.




  • When the Steelcase training their sales force on the Node they found that
    after using Node for a day that it felt very limiting to go back to using standard
    classroom chair. They had felt more active and involved with the environment
    and each other in the Node rooms.


  • Their goal was to design light
    years beyond
    the traditional classroom chair. The design of existing chairs
    was poor and dated and not very suited for 21st century learning. He
    really stressed 21st Century learning, I suspect that’s the message
    that are building into the brand. The goal was to solve the problems of
    storage, comfort, movement, and fit and to make a modern and beautiful chair that
    could reinvent the classroom.


  • Sean mentioned that they spoke with Dr. Lennie Scott Weber (Radford)—she
    advised them that if they truly wanted to encourage faculty and students to act
    differently in the classroom setting that they needed to give them permission
    to do so. If Steelcase just designed the same old thing or only made small
    improvements, it would be too easy to default to what they knew—the static mode
    of teaching. What was needed was a surprise, perhaps to even scare them a
    little—make them curious—make them want to understand how it works—make them
    want to try it out. So the goal wasn’t just to make a chair that looked
    different but to really push the envelope, conceptually and visually.

Some More Concept Pics


That’s it
for now. I’ll have one more Node-related post after the 4th—and I’ll
tie it all into libraries and our role in the educational ecosystem. Hope
everyone had a nice time at ALA. I’m afraid to cross back over the mountains
and feel the drench of humidity.

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