This pop up desk was the final prototype that I worked on in a team of three as part of a class called Product Design Methodology throughout the fall semester of 2017. My teammates were Daniel Castle and Teni Odumakinde. The pop up desk is meant to be a portable, easy and intuitive to use, and lightweight desk for students on the go.

It is highly modular and, though not demonstrated in the protoype, many additional features, such as a light, a USB bank, and more could be easily added. The prototype does demonstrate a slide out mouse pad, a slide out cupholder and additional space (perhaps for a cellphone), a pencil case space and a general workspace. The height is also adjustable, as well as the angle of the desk.


Problem Statement

Our first step was to define the scope of the problem area

How might we create an efficient, productive and portable space that is adaptable for users between the ages 14 to 22 years old to do schoolwork on and off campus?

Competitive Product Research / IP Search

Our next step was to research similar products and patent filings

1. Satchelboard 3-in-1: Desk, Chair, and Bag

Woman sitting in satchelboard portable desk and chair


  • Increased Productivity
  • Portable and Lightweight
  • Compact
  • Multipurpose
  • Caters to Various Lifestyles
  • Water Resistant
  • Slots for Cord Management
  • Laptop Ventilation Holes


  • Size Limitations (17 in)
  • Weight Limitations (230 lbs)
  • Expensive ($193)
  • Not Stylish
  • No Portable Charging

2. Songmics: Multifunctional Laptop Desk

Songmics bamboo laptop desk


  • Adjustable Angle
  • Additional Storage Available
  • Sturdy Material
  • Sits Above Lap
  • Cup Holder
  • Decent Price ($33)
  • Fan for Laptop Cooling


  • Heavy (5.5 lbs)
  • Clunky
  • Poorly Constructed (according to reviews)
  • Difficult to Maneuver
  • Height Not Adjustable

3. Etable Folding adjustable lap desk

Etable plastic folding laptop desk


  • Built-in Battery (10,000 mAh)
  • Has LED Light
  • Can Carry 25 lbs
  • Fits 17" Laptop
  • Foldable Legs
  • Can Rest Tablets and Phones


  • Somewhat Heavy (4.8 lbs)
  • Not Very Stable
  • No Locks for Leg Height
  • Nothing to Hold Phone in Place
  • Nothing Stops Tablets from Falling Over

Patent: US20100116860A1 - Backpack Laptop Tray

Patent of backpack laptop tray


"An enclosure having a front side, a back side, and at least one peripheral edge, the sides and edges together defining an internal volume, the front side including a laptop compartment flap selectively closable to seal a laptop compartment comprising at least a portion of the volume of the enclosure, the laptop compartment flap hinged across a horizontal fold line and pivotable between a closed and an open position, the laptop compartment flap including a stop means preventing the laptop compartment flap from extending past the open position."

User Research

We asked a variety of users questions to ascertain the root cause of their problems and discover what aspects of their study routine are most important to them

Questions Asked

  • Tell me about your typical study materials...
  • What would you say is the most important factor in your study success?
  • What sort of distractions have the most negative impact on your studying?
  • How important is it to you to have access to charged electronic devices?
  • Which devices are most important?
  • What items do you carry daily in your backpack?
  • How do you feel about a backpack versus a messenger bag?
  • What sort of environment do you conduct your studying in?


Study Materials

  • Laptop (Mac/PC)
  • Tablet
  • Notebook
  • Writing Utensils

Conclusion: A wide variety of study materials are necessary and many take up large amounts of space

Study Spaces

  • Library
  • Classrooms
  • Desk at Home
  • Public Areas (e.g. Coffee Shop)

Conclusion: A useful study desk must be adaptable and easily transportable and packable


  • Phone
  • Clutter

Conclusion: Easy access to cell phone is a major distraction

Success Factors

  • Quiet
  • Organization
  • Solitude

Conclusion: Organization is the most important factor in studying

Requirements and Specifications

We then defined the requirements for our product and the specifications that define the acceptance criteria


  • Charger
  • USB Port
  • Light
  • Space for Laptop
  • Space for Notebook
  • Space for Pens/Pencils
  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy


  • Under 3 lbs
  • Stands, Sticks, or Rests on Ground
  • Able to Hold 10 lbs
  • Have up to 5 Compartments for Important Study Materials


We sketched a number of ideas, experimenting with different configurations that would allow us to fulfill our design requirements

Sketches of portable desks

Decision Matrix

After sketching, our next step was to create a decision matrix to narrow down the options. We rated our requirements based on importances as either a 1, 3, or 7 and then did the same with how well each solution option fulfils the criteria. The scores are then multiplied by the weights and added to determine which one was the best fit.

Criteria and Weight
Criteria Weight
Main Workspace Available 7
Large Storage Space 3
Sturdy 7
Visually Pleasing 1
Easy Transport 7
Adjustable 3
Intuitive & Easy Setup 3
Water Resistant 3
Decision Matrix
Criteria Mod Attach Pop Up Full Collapse Flippable Slide Out Cube Removable Legs Fully Modular Identical Pieces Solid
Main Space Available 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Large Storage Space 7 7 3 1 1 7 1 7 1 7
Sturdy 3 1 7 1 7 7 3 3 1 3
Visually Pleasing 7 7 1 7 1 1 1 1 3 7
Easy Transport 3 7 7 7 7 7 7 1 1 7
Adjustable 1 1 1 1 7 3 1 3 7 1
Intuitive & Easy Setup 148 178 156 160 170 176 124 128 102 192
Water Resistant 148 178 156 160 170 176 124 128 102 192
Total 148 178 156 160 170 176 124 128 102 192


Next we used cardboard (and a lot of tape!) to prototype our "pop up" idea, which we decided was the best idea to pursue after our decision matrix and additional conversation

Sideview of cardboard prototype
Frontview of cardboard prototype

Final Prototype

For our final protoype we opted to use balsa wood due to its lightweight nature, low cost, and high strength to weight ratio. We chose laser cutting as our manufacturing method because it is easily and accurately repeatable, reliable, and cheap (free in our case!)

Engineering sketches for final prototype
Sketches of pieces for laser cutting
Adobe Illustrator file for laser cutting

Above: sketches and Adobe Illustrator files for the laser cut of the final prototype

Pieces assembled but not glued, slid out
Pieces assuembled but not glued, collapsed
Top view of finished prototype
Sideview of finished prototype
Underside view of finished prototype

Above: Photographs of the finished piece and assembly process and video of height being adjusted.


Date: Fall 2017
Contributors: Brenna Sorkin, Daniel Castle, Teni Odumakinde
Tags: Engineering, Product Design
Client: GE 5020: Engineering Product Design Methodology


This project an interesting challenge for me because of the engineering focus. I learned a lot about the overall process of product development as well as laser cutting and a little bit of mechanical engineering. I also was able to work on my presentation and teamwork skills.