KSA #04 Subject Knowledge · KSA #07 Student Needs · KSA #09 Instructional Strategies

Design Thinking – Chair Build

In design thinking students were tasked with two different chair building projects.

The first asked students to build a chair using only newspaper and masking tape that could support the weight of each of the members of their team. Each group had to complete the following:

  • Complete and submit a blueprint for the chair
  • Build only using newspaper and masking tape
  • Make the chair safe (won’t collapse)
  • Build a chair with legs
  • Build a chair with a backrest
  • Build a chair to the specifications of your blueprints
  • Consider comfort of the user when creating your design

At first groups told me that this was an impossible task. As they began working, prototyping and testing students started to discover ways to make a seemingly weak material, newspaper, extremely strong. Below are two examples of chairs built by students.

Following this project we discussed as a class if we did an effective job of engaging in the design thinking process in this project. Students decided that they did a good job of ideation, prototyping and testing, but the project lacked the empathy and discovery elements which are crucial to the design thinking process.

Our next project I found on Standford d.school’s website, the 5 Chairs Exercise. In this project, students were tasked with building a chair to meet the needs of an assigned client. Students built three model chairs. Each model was made out of one of the following: out of toothpicks, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. Our initial newspaper chair allowed students to live in a space of play through prototyping and testing. This project allowed students to continue in a space of play, but instead there was a purpose – this project became meaningful.

With each of these projects students were clearly able to articulate the constraints that each material presented to them and how they had to be innovative in their ideas to ensure that they met the needs of their client. Photo 1 shows a chair designed for an elderly man. The chair comes equipped with a recliner and holder for the Grandpa’s cane. In Photo 2 comfort was taken into consideration with cushions, massage and heat components (shown by square pieces of popsicle sticks or curved lines formed with hot glue). Finally, in Photo 3 we have a chair built for an astronaut. There are straps in place to ensure the astronaut does not float away when in space.

Through teaching design thinking this year, I have found the piece of empathy is key to a successful project. Students buy into the projects when they are able to relate or connect to a client and/or see a purpose to what they are doing.

Until next time,
Mr. B

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