In late February, furniture manufacturer OM Smart Seating joined forces with California State University Long Beach (CSULB) to task senior design students with designing a seating option for collaborative education environments. With the help of i+s Editor-in-Chief Kadie Yale, three student designs were selected based on criteria including innovation/creativity, comfort, simplicity, manufacturing potential, and the overall presentation of their concepts. They had one week to theorize, collaborate in groups, and execute individual ideas and drawings before presenting to the class; instructor Chris Collins; Wilson Chow, president of OM: Eric MacDonald, product design and development manager at OM; and Yale.
Matthew Nickel, whose design was chosen as the top concept from three student proposals, said he knew from the beginning of the project that he wanted to offer a design with various options. “I’m the most productive when I can hear and see people around me and know that others are working as well,” he said. With that, he developed a “cocoon” concept that allows users to face inward for privacy and noise reduction. “But then with spin-around seating, the shell can be behind you, and you can hear what another person is saying across the room,” he explained. “It services collaboration and focusing on people around you.”
As a judge, Yale said Nickel “came up with a design which caused all of the judges to discuss and pull apart the rendering. In the end, we felt satiated that there was nothing left to question, as he had designed the answers into the design.”
Another seating solution among the top three, developed by Sam Gutierrez, facilitates both group collaboration and independent work. “My design focuses on transforming one piece of furniture that is more casual, not a [traditional] classroom piece, so someone can collaborate and lounge and narrow in and focus. I thought about what will enable someone to be collaborative in a group, but if their environment changes they can focus [on their own]. I was inspired by modular furniture and how beautiful it often looks.”
People who work at home, or are most productive in a home-like atmosphere, inspired the third selected seating concept, created by student Johanna Chin. “Some people cannot focus when there are other people around and lots of noise,” she said. “And there are some people who like working on a bed for comfort. The design is focused on creating spaces for privacy and collaboration. There are panels around the chair to isolate the user from noises.” The chair was designed specifically for the student union space. “The student union is a busy place where everyone walks around and talks. [With this chair design], people can cut themselves out from others and noisiness, and relax and focus on their work.”
OM’s Chow saw the project as an opportunity for all involved. “As a company, we got to see a lot of brilliant ideas,” he said. “We don’t want to be too insular. Talking to students is a constant source for fresh voices. From them, we can give that experience on the manufacturing side, marketing side, risk-assessment side, and product design development. Even in the compressed time we had, the students got the benefit. It is not uncommon in the real world to have these [shorter] timelines.”
In conclusion, Yale added, “All of the students came forward with innovative design projects, but Matt, Sam, and Johanna really stood out from the rest. Sam’s design was fun and well-conceived, and the presentation blew us all away. Johanna stepped outside of the typical collaboration seating box to address changes in the industry … And the simplicity in which she designed everyday problems, like where to stash your bag, was a palate cleanser in today’s world of high-tech gadgets.”