Getting to know your Client or Zen and the Design of Homework Desks the Precursor

By Centennial Middle School, January 28, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

120 minutes for classroom activities


Students will be involved in initial design exercises in order to prepare them to design their own desk.  

National Standards


Students will gain an understanding of design education and Roman design through exercises that will introduce them to the design process.



  • paper
  • pencils
  • felt-tip pens
  • colored pencils
  • markers
  • metallic colors
  • white drawing paper


  • design process: a systematic problem solving strategy, with criteria and constraints, used to develop many possible solutions to solve a problem or satisfy human needs and wants and to narrow down the possible solutions to one final choice
  • prototype: a standard or typical example
  • ergonomics: the science of the design of equipment, especially so as to reduce operator fatigue, discomfort, and injury
  • aesthetics: a philosophical theory as to what is beautiful
  • geometric: of, or relating to geometry; increasing or decreasing in a geometric progression; using simple shapes such as circles, triangles, and lines in a decorative object
  • fibula: an ancient Greek or Roman brooch
  • mosaic: art consisting of a design made of small pieces of colored stone or glass


1. Tell students: Understanding a client is one of the most important facets of design.  You will be introduced to three different Roman design objects.  You will discuss how and why each of these objects address the needs of the user (individual or societal, utilitarian or practical, or ornamental, etc.) 2. Explain to students that: Rome was a city of contrasts.  There were magnificent public buildings, baths, and parks, but there were also narrow streets crammed with shabby dwellings.  The Romans were a practical-minded people.  They were more interested in such things as engineering, law, and government than in art.  Romans, did, however, make some very important contributions to the world of art and design.  You will discuss three of these: The fibula, mosaics, and the Arch of Constantine:
  • Fibula: The early Greeks and Romans did not have buttons, snaps, and zippers.  They used a pin called a fibula, which is like an early safety pin.  It usually consisted of a straight pin that coiled to form a spring.  The metal was then curved back over itself to form a bow and a catch-plate to fasten the pin.  Early fibulas were very simple in design, but later pins were heavily ornamented.  The metal bow of the pin was made wider and thicker.  Some pins were covered with swirls, interlacing lines, and other geometric designs.  In some, tiny rows of animals were attached to the bow of the pin.  In others, the bow itself was made in the shape of an animal.
  • Mosaics:  As a way of expressing their ideas and feelings, Romans created many mosaics on walls, furniture, sidewalks, and other surfaces.  Some mosaics showed colorful patterns of geometric and organic shapes.  Others conveyed realistic stories about people, events, places, and animals.  Like most modern mosaics, those from ancient Rome were made of tesserae.  These small bits of materials such as glass colored tiles, or pieces of marble, were glued onto a flat surface such as wood or cement.  The spaces around the tesserae were filled with grout, a plaster-like substance.  Many Roman mosaics were so finely constructed that the various shades of tesserae showed shadows of objects.
  • Arch of Constantine:  The triumphal arch was a monument built to celebrate great army victories.  The largest ever built was the Arch of Constantine.  The round arch was used by the ancient Romans purely for decorative reasons.  The structure uses three round arches.  The emperor and his officers would ride chariots or horses through the large center arch.  Foot soldiers would march through smaller side arches as the people of Rome cheered.
3. Use the following guidelines to structure students’ discussions on the need to understand the client in the design of Roman objects:
  • Name the object and its purpose.
  • State the time period it was designed.
  • Why was the object designed?
  • How was it used?
  • Who created the object?
  • Was the object used to identify social position or status?
  • Is the object designed to contribute or to enhance forms of play or entertainment?
  • Is the object a representative design form of the Roman culture?
  (Note: This would be an excellent interdisciplinary exercise if students are also studying Greek and Roman history.) 4.  Tell the students: You have discovered how important it is to know the client you are designing for.  Now that you understand how Romans designed for particular purposes you will start to think about designing your own desk.  For each design project a designer must answer questions such as:  Who will use the product?  What are the kinds of desks you currently use?  For what purpose will the product be used?  The designer conducts research to answer questions.  These answers may help strengthen your desk design.  Some designers interview potential customers.  A designer may also conduct a written survey.  A survey about a new desk design that improves upon an existing desk might include questions such as these:  Do you currently have a desk at home?  What features do you like about your current desk?  What features do you dislike about it?  What features would you like to see on a new desk?   List your ideas for improving your desk. 5.  Have students conduct research in a library, and ask friends questions to help them form your list. 6.  Students should make sketches of the front and side views of their desk ideas.   They should transfer their design sketches to a 12" x 18" sheet of white drawing paper that is folded in half.  They should show a different point of view on each half.  They should include any measurement notations that might be helpful to a manufacturer. 7.  Students should draw over pencil lines with black felt-tip pens, and add color with colored pencils and markers.    


The determination of success for this lesson will be if the student can transfer this knowledge of design into their final design of their desk; and if the student can indicate knowing the importance of understanding the client you are designing for.    

Enrichment Extension Activities

Please note the across-the-curriculum footnote mentioned previously.

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