Home-based learning can be difficult for some students, and not just because of the usual distractions that come with trying to study while the whole household buzzes around you. For many underprivileged children and teens around Singapore, their homes simply aren’t equipped for focused study — for many of them, having even a dedicated desk for work is a luxury.
It’s why Singapore-based design consultancy Chemistry came up with the aptly-named #HBLTable. In June, they introduced an adjustable cardboard desk that they say is “easier than a typical IKEA table” when it comes to assembly. And despite being made from cardboard, the HBLTable and its accompanying stool can each bear up to 100kg in weight.
As the firm’s director John Chan puts it, he and his team saw it as a chance for the team to put their design chops to good use.
“In the worst of scenarios, children have neither the furniture nor space to do home-based learning,” he says. “These children from lower-income families, who live in 1 or 2 bedroom HDBs, were studying uncomfortable in bad postures on the floor and have their textbooks and stationery just strewn all over.”
“Beyond just conduciveness and productivity, this affects their wellbeing too.”
The HBLTable doesn’t just provide kids with a dedicated place to work. It also includes several thoughtful features, like an integrated laptop and tablet stand — for online Zoom classes and activities — and even a cute cactus table accessory that they’re encouraged to doodle on and personalise.
And since the table is made of just 3 cardboard pieces — accompanied by a wordless, picture-based assembly guide — it can be built by just about anyone. To accommodate fast-growing kids, or a family with several children of different ages, the table’s height is also adjustable simply by flipping it over.
Chan says that designing a project as intuitive as the HBLTable took not just several weeks of brainstorming and prototyping, but also extensive conversation and one-on-one interviews with the families that would need it most.
“The goal was really to do something not just to stroke our design egos or to demonstrate that design can make a difference during a crisis, but to help people who are struggling through the current pandemic,” he explains.
Since the release of the #HBLTable, Chemistry has given close to 50 sets to beneficiaries of charities such as the Fei Yue Family Service Centre and Society of Sheng Hong Welfare Services.
They plan to distribute up to 100 of them free of charge — not just through these organisations, but to struggling families who would prefer to reach out to them privately.
It’s their way of ensuring that the HBLTable quickly gets to where it is needed the most, without being “bottlenecked” by administrative processes and tedium along the way.
So far, the families who’ve received the table say that they’re thankful to have a dedicated workspace for their children to study on while at home — one beneficiary says that her children are ecstatic to relinquish the television console that they had to work on for the sturdy HBLTable.
“We evaluate projects by assessing the impact that they make,” says Chan, whose team was also behind projects like the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Road.
“In each project, we want to create tangible benefits to people and bring about change through experimentation — and the HBLTable fits in our portfolio for sure.”
For more information about the #HBLTable, visit Chemistry’s website here.