Node Chair for Steelcase

A reconfigurable seat that complements the way students learn — and the tools they use.

Steelcase is a global company with annual sales of $2.3 billion in interior architecture, office furniture, and technology. In 2010, Steelcase created an Education Solutions Group to bring its expertise to classrooms and other educational spaces. The group’s director, Sean Corcorran, noted that innovation in workplace design was largely unmatched in learning environments, and he sought to change that.

IDEO collaborated with Steelcase to find and design the right platform for improving the classroom experience. The team observed, among other things, that tablet-arm desks had remained unchanged for decades, even though class sizes and densities had grown dramatically. This presented an opportunity for Steelcase to enter the education market with a product that could immediately make an impact on seating arrangements.

IDEO created a series of furniture concepts. As part of an iterative design process, the team built various full-scale product prototypes, invited students and instructors to test them out, and often swapped parts on the fly in response to feedback. After IDEO delivered a fully realized industrial design, Steelcase engineered its production on an accelerated schedule, so that the product’s market arrival would coincide with schools’ purchasing cycles.

The final product, dubbed the Node chair, has received praise for promoting student collaboration, allowing educators to reconfigure classrooms to fit different teaching styles, and enabling institutions to save money by making spaces more flexible and accommodating for varied uses.

The Node chair’s sleek, utilitarian design has received accolades. “The details betray a remarkable thoughtfulness,” Cliff Kuang wrote in an article for FastCompany. “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.”

Steelcase unveiled the Node chair in June at the NeoCon 2010 World Trade Fair, where it won an Innovation Award. Prior to the chair’s availability two months later, Steelcase received nearly 5,000 pre-orders for it worldwide, at a price of $599, or $399 without tablet. Node subsequently won a Spark! Award for “superlative” design.

Project date: 2010