One Design Student’s Affordable Solution to the Sit/Stand Problem

Research shows sitting for hours a day can be harmful to the body. The market has responded accordingly, but its options can be cost-prohibitive.

Courtesy Tristan Cannan

The workplace and workforce have changed drastically in just one generation, and millennials are at the forefront of this shift. Metropolis and Poppin have partnered with the undergraduate industrial design students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) as they dream up what the future office could be. If you missed Part 1, Koby Trout’s account of how we came up with our product design ideas, click here.

After spending all of February researching and sketching, March arrived like a wake-up call. With only four weeks to take our ideas from pen and paper to physical prototypes, the class had to work quickly to refine models until a Poppin-friendly product emerged from the masses of foam and glue collecting in the studio.

Of the many tools in the industrial designer’s tool box, foam may be the most important. This is the same moldable-but-dense material a DIY home renovator might stuff his/her walls with for insulation. The industrial designer, however, uses it to build hypothetical products. Sculpting it with rasps and saws is “quick and dirty,” which is essential when pressed with an ever-present deadline and dozens of ideas to test. Also in the industrial designer’s arsenal of tools? Wood and particle boards, plastics, fabrics, and whatever scrap materials we can get our hands on.

My project concept, developed for RIT’s Metaproject which partners students with manufacturers and industry leaders, came from the dilemma young companies face when furnishing work spaces—namely, buying desks. Research shows sitting for hours a day can be harmful to the body. The market’s response has been a huge push towards standing desks, yet high-end models can cost hundreds of dollars, if not more, and cheaper versions don’t allow for movement. In a survey I conducted with 81 participants (about half of them students), 60 stated they would prefer transitioning between sitting and standing at their desk versus only being able to do one or the other. I wondered: why fork over thousands of dollars for this freedom when it should be available to everyone regardless of their workspace or budget? I set out to make an affordable solution to the transitional seating conundrum.

With my direction set and dozens of hand sketches guiding my way, I bent steel rods and strapped them to an MDF board—the first physical iteration of many. Testing for size, height, and methods of conversion, I explored hinge mechanisms to lock the legs in place and various leg configurations for height adjustability. Ultimately, I settled on one of my simplest concepts for detachable legs that deploy when lifted to the standing position, which can also be pushed back under when returning to a seated position. The next step was to take my rough prototype and make it as close to a functional product as possible.

RIT student Tristan Cannan uses a compound bender to form the 1/4″ steel rod into legs for his prototype.

3D printing was used to prototype hinges with various angle stops for the legs.

Sourcing the right materials became a much bigger challenge than anticipated. I visited a local plastics supplier and spent a week traveling back and forth to retrieve samples to test in the studio. A few of the stronger candidates included acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, high density polyethylene, and homopoly polypropylene, which often were not in stock. To get them cost a few hundred dollars, but, thankfully, I had had the foresight to budget accordingly.

Another week was spent learning and testing on the CNC, a giant robot drill that dutifully makes anything you program it to. I fed my design to the computer and had the CNC test it on a piece of MDF. The test proved good enough to move on to the next material, polyethylene. To my surprise, what I got instead of a standing desk solution was a potato chip—the plastic had warped due to tension within the material. After consulting with the supplier, I learned of some other plastics that could be better for the job. Only further testing will tell! Still, after 3D printing hinges for the legs and cleaning up the CNCed plastic, this model serves as an excellent proof of concept.

While many other students also used 3D printing and CNCing as methods of fabrication, a few others utilized less technology-reliant methods, such as sewing. Danielle Marino, who is working out how we might remove plastic bags from the daily lunch run, went through several iterations of sewn fabric models before arriving on her final product: a simple yet elegant bag design that doubles as a placemat.

Another student, Brendan Babiarz, reached out to professional welders in the area. His product is an extruded piece of metal that clips to a desk and functions as an elegant tree for coats, bags, and keys. Under Brendan’s direction, a team of welders and powder coaters were able to create a product that very well may be part of Poppin’s product line in the near future.

What I learned in this phase of the project is to never underestimate materials when fabricating prototypes. It’s important to gather as many opinions as possible, because someone has likely done something very similar before. A lot of it is trial and error, but there’s nothing more rewarding that getting to hold a near-final design that you brought into infancy.

The last installment in this series will come from student Veronica Lin. She will write about the communication portion of this project, a collaboration between ID and New Media Digital Design students, in preparation for showcasing the work at next month’s ICFF in NYC.

The final fabricated prototype is a Poppin-friendly product that allows the user to move without disrupting their work.

Categories: Design Education, Sponsored