Five Chairs - Digital Promise Global

Five Chairs

Objective: Students will use human centered design strategies to create design for a chair for a specific user. They will create models of their designs using analog materials, which can be scanned and extended as digital models. They will also learn and practice presentation skills to present their designs and reflective skills to analyze and further instantiate their learnings from the entire design process.

Tools/Materials Required: Story Cards, paper and pencils, Model Magic, HP Sprout and turntable, Laptop, 3D modeling or CAD software, presentation software, 3D printer (optional).

Depth of Knowledge: Strategic Thinking

Teacher’s notes are in purple. For the student’s version, see Five Chairs Student Guide. For the student’s version in Spanish, see Cinco Sillas


Prepare: Learn about the key ideas in this project

This project works well as a whole class activity with five smaller groups but could also be used for a single individual or small group project.

This activity is grounded in the idea of designing for a specific user and can be a great introduction to human-centered design methodologies. This method is defined by the following five steps:

Empathize ~ Define ~ Ideate ~ Prototype ~ Test

What do these terms mean? How do they apply to designing something for someone? Why is the user important and how is that reflected in this routine?

It is also important to understand that this is a thinking routine and not a process. What is the difference between these two ideas? How do you apply a routine to your work differently than a process?

This video demonstrates this routine being applied by a design team at IDEO, the company that developed this idea of human centered design. What other aspects of their process for solving problems and designing products seem unique or interesting?


Practice: Try as many activities to as you would like to build your skills

Practice using the thinking routine in the Museum of the Mundane project to examine a chair in your classroom or home.

Make a Paper Boat to learn and practice using the Sprout and Capture Stage for 3D scanning and MeshMixer to repair and modify your scanned models.

Design a billboard to make your presentations more engaging. Presentation slides are considered “glance media” and well-designed slides share many elements with billboards.

Read this article on designing better presentations with billboards as a guide and then design your own billboard for something you’ve made in the Learning Studio. (Or something in your backpack, or a favorite toy, etc.) Use Sketchbook or Collage software in the Sprout Workspace or make a PowerPoint slide to design your billboard.


Produce: Dig into the project and make it your own!

Part 1: Identify Design Principles

  1. Split into 5 groups of even size. Each group take a “Story Card.”
  2. Determine 2 specific needs of your user to incorporate into the design of their chair (these are called “design principles”).
  3. Share out design principles for your chair with the whole group.

Part 2: Rapid Iteration

  1. Sketch your chair (individually). Incorporate the 2 design principles you identified in Part 1. Your third design principle is that your design must reflect your own style.
  2. Share sketches with your group and come up with a new version that incorporates the best elements from your individual designs.
  3. Build a model of your group’s design using modeling clay.
  4. Share your models with the other groups and solicit feedback. Discuss how you can incorporate the feedback into your design.
  5. Build another model (improving on the last) using any material available to you.

Part 3: Digitize and Present

  1. Create a 3D scan of your chair model using the HP Sprout and Capture Stage. If there are elements of your design that weren’t fully captured in clay, you could try adding or modifying your 3D model using MeshMixer or TinkerCAD.
  2. Design a presentation of approximately 3 minutes in length (no longer). You will need to share information about your user, describe and highlight your design principles, and display and describe the overall design of your chair and the decisions you made in the design process. Focus more on how you can show your ideas instead of tell your ideas. Make your presentation visually engaging and informative. Here are some presentation ideas:
    • Use Sway or Powerpoint to create a visually engaging presentation – focus on images over text. Write a script to use when you deliver your presentation.
    • Create a video showing your design with 360 degree views around your chair. Record a voiceover for the video explaining your ideas (write the script out before you try recording).
    • Create a stop motion or other animation of your chair in use using either the clay model and stop motion software on the Sprout or an online tool that can import your digital model (Check out Animoto, Moovly, or search for other applications to try).
  3. Present your designs (remember, 3 min. or less). Ask your audience for feedback – your job is to listen and think about it, not to respond and defend your ideas. Ideally the final presentations can be made to a group who has not been a part of the design process – a different class of students, or a panel of teachers, any group that might be free during the time your students need to present will work. 

Part 4: Reflect
Think about the process you just engaged in. Answer the following questions – first in writing, then discuss with your classmates:

  • What was it like to create different iterations of your design very quickly? Why do you think you were asked to go through so many versions in such a short time?
  • What did you change along the way? How much did you include the feedback of others in these changes? What did you learn from your prototypes?
  • Did you get stuck at any point? What was that like? What did you do to get unstuck?
  • If your group didn’t agree on an idea for the design or the presentation how did you resolve this? How might you do this better next time?
  • Do you think the audience for your presentation fully understood your designs and ideas? If not, what could you have done to increase their understanding?

This project is adapted from 5 Chairs Exercise, Stanford d.School K12 Lab Wiki

Produced by Digital Promise Global, with thanks to the Open Educational Resources listed throughout this guide. Distributed to Learning Studios schools as part of HP, Inc. and Microsoft’s Reinvent the Classroom.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. You may share this project or modified versions of it under this same license.

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