Spacial Design, Public Seating


public seating, space design

Connection Product Design with Spacial Design, this project focuses on designing public seating within the Northwestern Beinen School of Music building that enhances the space and provides a multifaceted seating option for students, guests, and faculty.

My Role:

In creating this project, my partner, SueSan, and I worked together in conducting user interviews and research to help inform the seating design.  We laser-cut and assembled corregated cardboard layers to build the prototypes.


SueSan Chen

Isabel Ngan

quick Facts:

  • 5 hours of laser cutting

  • 15 hours of field research

  • Inspired by a quarter rest

  • Created only with cardboard


Inspired by the quarter rest in music, the Rest allows the public to lounge, sit, and relax within the space of the Bienen Music Building. The seating is all 100% made from cardboard, and we looked at the material and the qualities of cardboard to create this piece to support the weight of individuals.

Final Prototypes and Models

Our prototype is 1/16th scale and made from layered, corrugated cardboard.  For future iterations, we hope to first make a full scale model of cardboard and experiment with different types of metal or wood to find the best in terms of comfort, durability, and aesthetic appeal.

The Process

The Method

  1. Researched space and interview students who interact with the space

  2. Collected user insights and needs

  3. Sketched out ideas that accomplish fulfilling user needs

  4. Utilized CAD to render idea

  5. Utilized Illustrator to convert the form for laser cutting

We looked at what and how the space is used through interviewing students and faculty and documented our finding through photographs and video. Through interviews and observations, we learned that students and professors often use the lobby as a meeting point or work space. Additionally, we found the lack of public seating led to students and guest to utilizing desks and table from other areas of the building while waiting for recitals and concerts. Our interviews and research revealed insights and user needs, and the challenge was creating seating that not only was beautiful while still fulfilled user needs.

We worked through different concepts of how we can utilize cardboard and difference designs (agnostic to material constraints). From our 20 designs, we looked at feasibility and desirability from our users and design public seating that was both functional and aesthetically beautiful.


The Challenges we faced

The challenge we faced was the material and how we wanted to utilize the cardboard. Though this would be a temporary installation, we were worried about the wear-and-tear of the material, so we had to think about the way users could interact with the seating.

Additional Areas of Exploration

Throughout the design and iteration process, I thought about several additional areas to explore. Though the final mock-up fulfilled the major pain points presented by our initial research, I recognize that the searing may not address how each edge case would be accounted for. I have thought through all of them extensively and would address them in a more extensive prototype.

  • How much weight can corrugated hold?

  • Do the curves of the seating compromise the integrity of the corrugation?

  • Does the seating provide enough space for the number of people interacting with it?

Next Steps

After creating a mock up, 1/16th of the final size and presenting it to my Engineering/Design Peers and Faculty, it was a tremendously valuable experience to see their interest in the conception fo the design and feedback. Working closely with users on seating that is not available to the community was an exciting endeavor. It allowed me to get into a mind of a designer that looks beyond functionality, but also aesthetics. It allows me to utilize my art and sculpting background with pair it well with the human-centered design process.

If I was to take our idea further, I would create a full size model and conduct user testing. From the feedback, I would iterate and adjust the design focusing on usability and desirability. Once a final design is determines and a corrugated cardboard version is placed, I would observe how the seating is used and think about other materials that the seating could be made out of for a more permanent seating.

In the news

After presenting at the 2016 Fall Design Expo, the Segal Design Institute featured Rest in their project gallery. Read the full article here.