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I know, you think school desk and B-movie horrors of being eaten by one while creepy freckled children laugh scream their way back into memory… while you’re in the middle of a presentation… for a multi-million dollar contract. Not good.

Fortunately, Phelan Miller has a fresh take on school desk for the learning establishments of the world and drop-kicks the whole concept of how they’re used into the upper atmosphere of design brilliance. Here, he tells us about his process using Rhino and provides a glimpse of future worktops.

The Mesa Table: School Desk Redesign in Rhino

Mesa is an interactive two person desk that finds errors in day-to-day schoolwork, helps students learn why corrections are needed, and provides guidance to solutions.

I work with Rhino mostly for 3D modeling just because of its ease of use and speed. I rendered the desk in Bunkspeed but in the end I photoshopped it about 25% to get it to look the way I wanted.

As your probably figured, I did most of the designing though sketching and simple model making (foam core.) Once most of the design was knocked out I began to play around with Rhino. A month or two earlier I had read a Core77 article (A Periodic Table of Form: The secret language of surface and meaning in product design, by Gray Holland.) It explained a level of surfacing I had never been taught in my CAD education.

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Instead of making the legs of the table independently of the body and then using a fillet to bring them together I started by bending a NURBS plain to form the entire shape of the desk. This was the first time I bothered making the surface a higher degree than just 2 (when rendered models in 2 degrees will give sharp lines next to fillets.) I did this mostly because I wanted any highlights or reflections cast on the desk to be very smooth and graceful where the desk bends at the legs. From there, I trimmed and shaped the surface to create the top portion of the desk. I used the offset tool to make the inside surface which I sculpted a bit with control points. Lastly I made some part lines and patched the surfaces together to complete the form.

For most of my CAD, I worked in two stages. I start by creating a rough primary model to make sure all my dimensions were working out. I explored the details like the taper in the legs, angle of the screen and the depth of the desk. Once the details were knocked out I used it as a underlay for my final model. This enabled me to work faster in Rhino so I could explore a variety of different shapes. Once I was satisfied, I used my rough model as a underlayment for my final model. Because I have had practice exploring different modeling techniques with my rough model the final model takes shape rather quickly.

Rockin’ cool Phelan. Thanks for sharing that process with us. You can check out more of his design on Coroflot. We’re talking about redesigning products in another post, because, just as you’ve seen with Phelan’s design above, there are new ways to approach existing designs. Is this desk design better? I’d use it and wouldn’t mind a different version for my office.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.