Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
Why This Learning Technology Company Reimagined the School Desk
Advertising Agency
Toronto, Canada
The teams from D2L and Zulu Alpha Kilo on the importance of personalised education, and why designing a non-traditional, customisable desk was the perfect way to emphasise this, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

When looking at the educational systems of 2023, it’s become increasingly apparent that standardised methods are outdated. After all, if every person is unique, logically, it would follow that not everyone learns the exact same way. So why are we forcing so many square pegs into the round hole that is the traditional education system? 

Admittedly yes, there are major limiting factors like overpopulated classrooms, teacher shortages, and unplannable incidents like the covid-19 pandemic. However, ultimately, none of these are responsible for the fact that year after year, many institutions around the world insist on running the exact same worn-out curriculums without any serious consideration for the fact that - surprise - people learn differently. 

Symbolic of this in many ways is the school desk. Four legs, flat, even surface, maybe a cubby inside to hold some pencils and books, and that’s about it. It’s uniform, one-size-fits-all, and if it doesn’t work well for you, tough luck, you’re stuck with it for the year. And, it’s for this reason that global learning technology company D2L decided this was the perfect way to showcase how rethinking one aspect of the education system demonstrates the benefits of a more personalised approach - from primary school to working age. 

Collaborating with creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo, the two worked with acclaimed industrial designer Miles Keller, as well as teachers and students of all ages to create the ‘D2L Desk’. Featuring hinged panels made from Nordic wood, these enabled users to create different shapes and patterns, accommodating students of all physical capabilities and backgrounds, and offering them the chance to optimise per task, whether that be laying back and reading, or working in pairs.  

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with the teams from D2L and Zulu Alpha Kilo (ZAK) to learn more about how this desk came to be. 

LBB> Tell us about D2L! How do you personalise education, and why is this so important?  

D2L> D2L is a global learning technology company on a mission to transform the way the world learns. We focus on personalising education to give students a sense of autonomy, and empower them to take an active role in how they learn.  

Personalised education looks different for everyone. D2L Brightspace’s learning innovation platform is backed by learning science, helping educators create learning experiences that target each individual student’s needs. Personalised learning is important to D2L because it helps support different student needs and enhances student engagement and motivation to learn.    

LBB> With that in mind, what was the brief, and what immediate ideas surfaced?

ZAK> The brief was to create a B2B campaign to tell teachers and school administrators that D2L’s online learning platforms can be personalised to the needs of each student. The assumption was that we were going to make pretty traditional product videos for its platforms. But, we wondered how else we could creatively communicate D2L’s beliefs and offerings.

To this end, the desk started as a thought exercise – a way to bring tangible, physical form to the D2L philosophy of personalised learning. The desk was over a year in the making, and we’re all very proud of the end result. We never could have envisioned the ultimate output.

LBB> Was this desk the first idea you had, or were there other ideas under consideration? And what made it the best approach for the campaign? 

ZAK> The train of thought that led to the ‘D2L Desk’ was asking ourselves, ‘What could we personalise in the physical classroom to represent all the ways D2L personalises learning in general?’. In this regard, the school desk felt like the best, most iconic symbol of traditional classroom learning. 

Beyond this, the desk perfectly embodied D2L’s philosophy that education should be flexible enough to meet the unique needs and learning styles of every student, meaning it also needed to be able to accommodate the needs and desires of every student. 

D2L> D2L has always been guided by the idea that every learner is unique, so their learning should be too. However, a lot of learning comes in a one-size-fits-all approach. Some educational institutions are still using traditional methods and models, providing every learner with the same instructions and materials, regardless of how they learn. We know the right tools and a personalised approach can help create a love for learning, and the desk acts as a metaphor for D2L Brightspace’s personalised and adaptable approach to learning. The desk exemplifies the strides that D2L is making to transform traditional education and corporate learning to better fit students' learning needs and help them grow, so that they can innovate and transform our ever-changing world.  

LBB> For the creation process, you worked with acclaimed industrial designer Miles Keller, and incorporated the input of teachers and students. What was this process like?

ZAK> We had the idea to create a desk that could be reimagined and reshaped to the desires of every student. But, we had no idea what that desk would look like, or how it would function. It didn’t exist yet, so we knew the best way to bring it to life was to partner with an industrial designer with expertise in creating innovative and interesting furniture, like Miles.

From there, we interviewed a variety of students and teachers, having them test out the desk for themselves. We actually started interviewing before we even began the design process, because we knew this research would help us discover pain points we’d want our desk to address. For example, while some students work better alone, others stated they prefer to work in groups. This led to ensuring the ‘D2L Desk’ could be reconfigured to accommodate two seats for two-student collaboration. The issue of comfort was another notable pain point. As a result, the desk allows students to sit or lay down in various positions, allowing them to focus in whatever position is most comfortable.

LBB> Another fun aspect of the campaign is the spot! How did this come to life? 

ZAK> Watching different students interact with the ‘D2L Desk’ was the most gratifying part of the experience. It was great to watch them explore the possibilities of the desk and hone in on the permutations they liked best. One of the students uses a wheelchair, and his mother was moved to tears by the fact that there was finally a desk that could be reshaped around the wheelchair and accommodate her son. No other desk had been able to do that for him, so we were very proud to finally help provide that experience! 

LBB> Since launch, what has the response to the campaign been like? 

D2L> It’s evident in the video that the reimagined desk had an immediate and positive impact. Not only did the desk pique students’ curiosity, it also opened up the possibilities for learning to be more accessible, fun and more comfortable. The response has been inspiring - we’re seeing engagement on a topic that is critical to the future success of learners across the world.  

LBB> How does this campaign fit into D2L’s platform for 2023 and beyond? 

D2L> At D2L, we believe in the power of learning to change people’s lives; every individual is unique, and their learning platform should be too. While we will not be manufacturing desks, we will continue to create products that help people design and deliver more accessible, meaningful, and engaging learning experiences. These values will continue to drive D2L forward.  

ZAK> We’re hoping that this is just the beginning of applying this thought process and design exploration to other elements of the classroom that haven’t evolved over time. And, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but we’re in discussions to put the D2L Desk on display in one of Canada’s most prestigious art and design institutions!

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