The design brief was to create a chair, on commission from bookseller Barnes & Noble, that would encourage a first grader to spend more time reading. Each chair had to incorporate the specific desires of the first grade client and support the student ergonomically and anthropometrically in his or her preferred reading position, while also reflecting the Fay Creator Class Design ethos which requires designs to be useful, beautiful, functional, and sustainable.
To gather the necessary information and feedback for their design, each ninth grade design student met with the first grade client three times. The first meeting was a designer-client interview to gather details about reading habits, preferred reading position, and requested design elements. Some first graders indicated that they like to read lying down; others wanted additional features like an armrest or a cup holder; and some wanted to incorporate a book stand so that they could read hands-free.
At this meeting, the ninth graders also took measurements to ensure the chair would be the right size and sketched ideas with their clients to get an initial sense of the design. The first graders were not shy about sharing their likes, dislikes, and big ideas. “First graders have infinite imaginations,” notes ninth grader HP. “In fact, I'd call them an idea gold mine!" HP’s clients, Courtney and Amaia, were both strongly drawn to the idea of a spherical chair that they could sit inside. This created a design challenge for HP, who would be creating the final chair out of cardboard, a material that doesn’t lend itself to curves. But his clients were insistent. “They pushed me to continue with this idea, which ultimately led to a unique chair design.”
For the second meeting, the ninth graders brought a 1:10 scale model of the chair’s initial design, and the first graders brought a 1:10 scale model of themselves to place in the chair. In art class, the first graders had worked with Primary School art teacher Cathy Gruetzke-Blais to create flexible and proportional models of themselves out of modeling clay or pipe cleaners. Placing the models in the chairs enabled the first graders to imagine themselves seated in the final design and gave them a way to evaluate and articulate their opinions about the design. “They were tough and honest clients,” notes David Dixon. “Our designers had to listen to the clients’ wishes and opinions, and at times it was quite humbling to have a first grader tell them that they had to change the design.”
When it was time to produce the full-sized pieces, students transferred their designs into a CAD program and sent the files to WebsterOneSource, a printing, marketing, and logistics company based in Hanson, Massachusetts. WebsterOneSource imported the designs directly into their CNC router tool, cut the individual cardboard pieces out for each design, flat-packed them, and delivered them to Fay for final assembly. “WebsterOneSource and President Ernie Foster were amazingly supportive of the project to the point of incredible generosity,” notes David.
The individual pieces were assembled and fastened together by the designers using tools from a cardboard construction system called Makedo. The Makedo parts fastened several layers of cardboard together to create a support system composed of corner holders, pillars, and bones. During the assembly process, the designers were constantly testing and modifying their designs to ensure that the finished product would be strong, safe, and attractive.
After the assembled chairs were placed on display for a week at the Barnes & Noble store in Millbury, Massachusetts, the chairs were presented to the first grade students for their inspection and seal of approval. Reflecting on the project, ninth grader Jake noted that “it showed us what real designers do every day: meeting deadlines, conferring with clients, and constructing models. My clients were a big help in the process because I knew that I was constructing a chair that someone will actually be using every day.”