On the edge of their seats: a human-centred approach to primary school chair design

  • Jacqueline Elaine Lightfoot

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research will contribute to a small but increasing body of knowledge in design-related research specifically for primary school furniture and will be of significance to those in design, education, ergonomics and the school furniture industry. School chairs connect pupils with the surrounding classroom environment and are, therefore, a vital factor in providing appropriate physical support for children to learn in comfort. Evidence indicates that this is not the current state-of-affairs. Studies show that school furniture, including chairs, does not provide a good physical fit for pupils and this is a contributory factor in children reporting back problems. So, apart from being uncomfortable to use, badly fitting school chairs could be detrimental to children’s long-term wellbeing. The aim of this design practice-based research was to find ways of contributing to children’s long-term wellbeing by improving the design of primary school chairs. On the face of it, this appeared to be a straightforward design problem. However, taking this view is too simplistic because the chair exists in a social environment affecting all aspects of its being. This real world setting holds clues to addressing the design problem. A multi-stakeholder and participatory approach has been used to explore furniture design issues within the real world setting of a working classroom. Ethically approved, field research used qualitative, ethnographic based methods. Insights from the field have been used to test a design concept for school chairs with greater relevance for those in primary education. However, research findings also demonstrate that the archetypal school chair is an inappropriate design for primary school users and identifies why design alone will not alter the status quo. Social and cultural factors as well as the design affect the way that children use chairs in school and both need to alter for any real change to take effect.
Date of AwardJun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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