Ray, a furniture system for schools, is designed to promote constant micro-adjustments.

These micro-movements originate at the seat, which is made of a thin plastic that deforms very easily.

Because it’s so flexible, sitters open up their legs to balance, as you would on a horse.

The pelvis tilts downward and the spinal position neutralizes. This way, kids avoid the dreaded “right angle” sitting position that has been linked to many health problems.

There is a roller version of the chair, as well as a stationary version.

The Ray desk tilts up like a drafting table, getting kids closer to what they’re working on.

The the flat angle of standard school desks forces kids to hunch over, forcing the spine into an unnatural position.

Because Dennehy’s system was originally designed for a Scandinavian market, it’s price fairly high for American schools.

But Perch is working to develop less expensive options, with a mid-range version currently being sold in the UK.

Co.Design

Ray: A School Furniture System Designed To Make Sitting Healthier

Curing childhood obesity isn’t about forcing kids onto a treadmill. Encouraging constant movement throughout the day could help just as much.

When I first heard of Ray, an ergonomic school furniture gaining popularity in Scandinavia, I wrongly assumed its name was a tribute to the fabled Eames of the same name. Simon Dennehy, the Irish industrial designer who conceived of Ray, sets me straight: It’s named for the fish, whose long, flexible wings mimic the chair’s thin seat.

Ray is Dennehy’s brainchild, and the flagship product of his firm, Perch. He designed it while still a student, but the testing and development phase has lasted seven years. It’s unusual for a designer to pursue school furniture right off the bat, but Dennehy sees it as a market desperately in need of solutions to the health problems associated with sitting for eight hours a day. “We could have designed an office chair with all the bells and whistles,” he says. “But when you strip a chair down to its basic parts, as you do with school furniture, functionality and ergonomics become essential. We think it’s important to target that market.”

Chairs that encourage movement are old hat but are rarely seen in school settings—as a result, Ray is spreading quickly through schools in Scandinavia, England, and Germany. Though the system is popular with administrators, the initial idea for Ray emerged from a series of tests Dennehy did with a group of schoolkids. He asked them what their perfect school chair would be, receiving a volley of suggestions that included details like under-chair fridges and sofa-esque padding. “A lot of people laughed at those details,” he says. “But at the core of it, these kids were uncomfortable.”

Ray is based on a patented technology that encourages students to “self support” by engaging their feet and core muscles constantly throughout the day. These micro-movements originate at the seat, which is made of a thin plastic that deforms very easily. Because it’s so flexible, sitters open up their legs to balance, as you would on a horse (“saddle seats” do something similar). The pelvis tilts downward and the spinal position neutralizes. This way, kids avoid the dreaded “right angle” sitting position that has been linked to so many health problems as of late. The desk tilts up like a drafting table, getting kids closer to what they’re working on (according to Dennehy, the flat angle of standard school desks forces kids to hunch over, forcing the spine into an unnatural position).

Because Dennehy’s system was originally designed for a Scandinavian market (it’s produced by Danish company Labofa), it’s priced fairly high for American schools. But Perch is working to develop less expensive options, with a mid-range version currently being sold in the U.K. What’s really clever about Ray, though, is that it doesn’t require any of the bells and whistles (read: hydraulics) of other dynamic seating systems, so making it less expensive shouldn’t be difficult. Either way, it’ll be a lot cheaper than buying every school kid in America a treadmill desk.

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2 Comments

  • Mark Butler

    Neither the article nor the links makes clear if the open-leg sitting posture is required due to the seats design or just something students switch back and forth into. I mention it because girls wearing traditional long skirts at our school typically do not have enough play to open that wide of a stance, and the girls wearing short skirts wouldn't want to (at least most of them.)

    For the desk, I'm not sure how well it would fly in the US as-is - the riser rod looks like a safety hazard in the photo. Hopefully there will be some more work around the potential hazards. For example, currently desks hinge the opposite way for a reason - the hinge must be at the farthest point away from students so they can't trap fingers under normal usage, unfortunately this design makes accidents much more easy

  • Simon Dennehy

    Hi Mark. A friend pointed me to your comment, so please allow me to answer some of your queries.

    The chair does not require the student to sit high, with abducted hips (open leg) or with open angles (hip-thigh angles above 90 degrees). Wile I strongly advocate both as a way to sit, I am very aware that forcing people into predefined positions can be frustrating, dangerous and bad design. For this reason, niche aesthetics remain in the niche.

    The flexible seat does deform, only at the front corners, meaning that to utilize the above popliteal height settings, you must separate your legs, however this is an option. Sitting low will function much like a normal chair. We've tested the chair with both boys and girls, with no complaints. Sure, those wearing short skirts, sitting very high may find it awkward, however the beauty of this, it they have a choice.

    In terms of the desk, I'm happy to let you know that there is no way of catching your fingers on this. Every surface is elevated far from the frame. Even the hinges are not technically hinges - but rather flexible, solid polymer struts, which bend as the desk tilts. Also, you should know that it is Not possible for the surface to slam flat, or for the lever to swing violently, as a result of two high quality air pumps, which are built into the desk legs. This is a similar principle to a bike pump. The result is a very controlled, practical and safe desk. This is also height adjustable.

    It's difficult to explain everything in a short interview and because the product is so new, it's difficult to get all features across, but we're working on it. I hope the above helps to explain the offering.

    Feel free to tweet me on @perch_design for any more queries.

    Simon