Ideal Design Solutions for the Modern Student

Contract magazine is proud to announce a blog installation from one of three guest design student bloggers. Lisa Backus, Brittany Hahn, and La Keisha Leek regularly will be writing and sharing their design experiences at TalkContract for the next year. Check back often to see what's the buzz among the next generation of designers, and be sure to share with them your feedback and design advice by commenting below: 

I often wonder if I'm the only design student sitting in class redesigning the space, as the instructor stands up there lecturing about this and that while glazed eyes stare back at him. When I snap back to reality, I look around the room to see if it was just me. I don't have to look further than the eight inches of space between me and those sitting on either side of me and in front or behind me.

News flash: we college students aren't lackadaisical. The problem is there's nothing less inspiring to an Art and Design student than a stuffy, cramped classroom with the same furniture that has been in place since the ’80s.

The forward thinker has become today's college student. This generation feeds off of flexibility and mobility in their environment, as it reflects their lifestyle. During NeoCon® World Trade Fair 2010, there were quite a few manufacturers that seemed to have similar ideas of bringing institutional facilities up to date with the student in mind.


Node One of the most innovative design solutions I've seen during my college career is Steelcase's Node (above), a winner of a 2010 Best of NeoCon® award. The term mobile is literal, with a four-wheeled swivel allowing students to alternate between independent study and an array of group, interactive positions. The bottom compartment comes in handy for books and backpacks, leaving the aisle and surrounding areas clear for a flow in the space. (I suppose its genius actually! I've tripped over many backpacks trying to get to and from my seat.)

While the Node is ideal and trendy, a more practical setting may also have the same effect in a classroom. HON also has created a great design solution with its Smart Link student desk. Although the desks aren’t as inherently mobile, they can take on different seating arrangements and heights—ones where the instructor can interact on a more intimate level with just a few students, and ones where the students can work together in pairs or large groups. But the cool thing is that the desks won’t take up unnecessary amounts of space in these pairings, as the edges interlock like Legos.

Lecture halls in some parts of the country have already had their facelifts. At the University of Michigan they have implemented the Node in some of the class spaces, while in Canada HON has completed a revamping process at several institutions. The key aim in both of these educational design solutions seems to be to create individual workspaces that are both flexible and functional. I think that both were achieved.

Do you think that more emphasis should be put into the environments in which students are expected to learn?  What changes need to be made to enhance education?

–La Keisha Leek



  1. Keep up the good work. Classrooms need to take on a different look even in elementary, middle and high school the seating is so traditionally boring and uncomfortable. It's great to see a change coming.

  2. Great post! Creating a more flexible learning environment gives instructors the ability to engage their students in the learning process and bring the subject matter to life. I agree with Muriel…it's exciting to see such a positive change on the horizon!