Cardboard Body Support

-A Quick Design Exercise



Industrial Design I
[design exercise][structure design]
cardboard and only cardboard

The design prompt was to study people’s positions at a specific building on campus (Beckman Institute at University of Illinois), and then design and create a body support for users in that space, out of cardboard, and only cardboard. (No glue, tape etc.) The structure should also support the weight of an actual human.

The Design

My design is a playful cardboard chair. Users can sit on the chair to study/work or simply relax and have fun. 

The chair has a rounded shape, allowing users to swirl around and have some fun in a sitting position. 

adjustable seating
inner structure
   supports human weight

The Process


The Context- Beckman Institute

Beckman Institute is located in the Engineering campus at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For this project, we are observing and designing for the main common area.

Image source: Beckman Institute

Exploratory Research
I observed people’s activities and postures in the main common area at Beckman Institute. I interviewed students on what they do here, when they are here, and their opinions on the seatings here. I interviewed a professor specializing in empathetic design research on how seating/standing body support might effect work performance. 

The space appears to be a very popular space for students and faculty nearby to both work and relax.

Though sofas and table+chairs seems to pair with relaxation and work respectively, this is actually not the case.

The professor talked about how “we are all a little bit ‘attention deficit’”, which led me to think about simple toys/distractions such as finger spinners and small office toys

Design Objective

How can I create a body support for both work and relaxation?

How can I create a body support that provides a “fun” amount of distraction, but doesn’t negatively effect the user.

How can I create this body support out of cardboard, and nothing but cardboard, but still allow it to support human weight?


The Structure
Triangle has stability. Among all geometric shapes, triangle is the most stable one. When a force is applied, a triangle does not easily bend or change its shape, while other shapes do.
Because nothing other than cardboard (e.g. adhesive/hinge materials) is allowed for this project, building the structure out of triangles is the best option to allow the entire structure support human weight.

Triangles are employed in many real world architectural/engineering scenarios to help build strong structures.

(with accordance to the context)
While triangle is the most stable shape, a sphere could probably be considered the most fun 3D geometric shape. Perhaps this is due to a sphere’s ability to roll and bounce around.

I decided to make the overall shape of my seating structure design a sphere, while building small triangles in the inner structure for support. The sphere shape would provide the users at Beckman Institute a “fun” amount of distraction.

Initial ideation- An overall sphere shape for fun.

Incoporating triangle structures inside for support.

The bottom of the sphere, however, need to be a little more obtuse, for safety purposes.

Adjustable seating surface can provide users more comfort, whether they are studying/working or simply relaxing at Beckman Institute’s main common area.

Doing small “3D-sketches”, I found a way to make the seating surface adjustable.

Interestingly, corrugated cardboard-the one and only material for this project, also employs the stability of triangles in its inner layer.

When an outer-layer is pealed off, a piece of corrugated cardboard can then be twisted and curved.

I decided to employ this property of the cardboard to add another visual element into my design and also provide an adjustable back support for the user.


Further Thoughts

I usually tend to focus on concepts in my projects. However, this design exercise “forced” me to heavily think about the physical structure, with the prompt’s requiring supporting human weight with nothing but cardboard. For me, it was a stretch of the mind to another perspective. And all perspectives provide valuable insights for design. Perhaps I could try to change my emphasis once in while for future projects. 

Yinuo Han @2021