On the Edge of Their Seats: A Human-Centred Approach to Primary School Chair Design
Charlie, who is 5 years old, is sitting on the edge of his school chair and this annoys his teacher.
School chairs connect pupils with their surrounding environment and should provide appropriate physical support for children to learn in comfort. Indications are that school chairs, do not provide a good physical fit for the majority of pupils and this is a contributing factor to children experiencing back problems. So, apart from being uncomfortable to use, badly fitting school chairs could be bad for children’s long-term well-being.
My design-practice led research aims to find ways of contributing to children’s long-term well-being by improving the design of primary school chairs. The study takes a multi-stakeholder and participatory approach exploring furniture design issues within the real world setting of a working classroom. I am investigating the experiences of primary school pupils, their teachers and others associated with school chairs. My field research uses qualitative, ethnographic based methods.
Charlie sits on the edge of his seat because it’s comfortable when he’s writing. However, when he does this, the chair gets pushed backwards and becomes an obstacle for his teacher when she is moving around the classroom. The chair is causing a problem for Charlie and his teacher but for conflicting reasons.
I am using this type of insight to test design concepts and generate design guidelines for school chairs with greater relevance for those in primary education.
The study, set in context by a literature review and a critique of existing products, is seeking to answer the following key question:
What will a practice-based design and human-centred approach reveal that can be used to develop new concepts for primary school chairs?
Sub questions are used to establish specific methods and areas for data collection. These are:
What needs do pupils have from classroom furniture?
What needs do teachers have from classroom furniture?
What designable features could be identified and developed to improve ways of supporting these needs?
How are these needs affected by other stakeholders’ perceptions of the furniture, its use and their purchasing criteria?
As a furniture designer, yoga teacher and parent Lightfoot is intrigued by the impact school chairs have on children’s inherent good postural behaviours. She is also interested in drawing as research method and is a member of the University’s Drawing Research Interest Group.
She is a student representative on the University’s College of Arts and Humanities Research Ethics and Governance Committee. As a student member of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors she is an active participant in the Ergonomics for Children Special Interest Group.
Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Studentship