An Interior and Graphic Design Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Presented at the 2013 SEGD Academic Summit

ISBN: 

978-1-940297-02-6

Miranda Hall and Nicole Bieak Kreidler

La Roche College

ABSTRACT

Design has undergone many changes over the past several decades. What was once a trade activity is now a practice based profession that has diversified into very distinct disciplines (Buchanan, 1998). Design disciplines have worked independently until recently, when interdisciplinary collaboration has become increasingly valuable. Studies have shown that collaborative efforts can produce new and original ideas not possible in a uni-disciplinary setting (Nelson, Wilson and Yen, 2009). Too often design education lags behind what is happening within the design profession and it is for this reason that this collaboration was initiated. The decision to plan the interdisciplinary collaboration came out of a discussion of the crossover of content topics within two courses in the Design Division at La Roche College. After additional conversations and planning, it was also driven by the desire to better integrate students and initiate them as co-creators.

INTRODUCTION

Design professionals are being asked more frequently to co-create with people from other design disciplines (Holston, 2011). In order to replicate this within the studio environment, one of the main objectives in this project was to initiate a collaboration between Graphic Design majors and Interior Design majors at La Roche College. The two courses that were brought together for this course were Design for Packaging and Environments, which is a major elective course in Graphic Design and Design Studio III, which is a required course for Interior Design.

This collaboration included these project-based studio courses working first on a “warm-up” project and then a multi-part project for the remainder of the semester. The combination of the two projects provided the opportunity to explore the challenges and successes of student interdisciplinary design problem solving, working together on ideation and execution through the schematic design phase of an interior design and graphic design collaborative project.

FORMAT OF THE CLASS

Both classes met together for the first three weeks of the semester for close collaboration on the “warm-up” project. Collaborative meeting times for the second project were changed to meeting once a week in order to accommodate discipline specific feedback. Blackboard, an online classroom tool, was used for sharing materials for the course including course documents, articles of interest, recorded lectures with slides, as well as for communication of assignments and various announcements throughout the semester. Additionally, each student group was required to maintain a blog, which allowed them to share project research and progress with instructors, cohorts and the college community. The blog also served as a means to problem-solve; it facilitated communicating with one another in order to discuss issues with group dynamics and project obstacles.

Course Planning and Implementation

The two faculty members collaborated closely on writing projects including the project objectives, intended outcomes, process, milestones and deliverables, as well as creating the grading rubrics
to set the criteria upon which student work would be evaluated. We spent significant time developing the plan for the courses before the semester began and then in advance of each class we would discuss the planned use of class time, assignments for the week and successes and failures from the previous week. The format of each class session was primarily for the instructors to review group work and provide feedback and guidance.

Introductory project

Overview

The introductory project for the course was for PARK(ing) Day. For this project, students collaborated in small groups made up of two Interior Design and two Graphic Design students. Within a four-week time frame, students developed a concept based on research of a social issue, and then designed, planned and implemented a public temporary park on that topic to fit within a parking space on the La Roche College campus. This project was in conjunction with PARK(ing) Day, an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks, to create public awareness for the importance of green spaces within our cities and neighborhoods.

Objectives

This project was intended to serve as a warm-up for the next part of the course and give students experience in working within their groups and designing for a temporary space. Through this project, students aimed to achieve the following objectives:

  • Work within a team to develop a concept and design for a temporary space based on a topic to serve the purpose of educating/informing the public on that topic.
  • Understand planning a three-dimensional space with a limited footprint and explore concepts of flow, containment and creating an experience within that space.
  • Explore appropriate traditional and non-traditional materials used in the creation of environmental graphic design elements.
  • Practice effective use of typography and visual images, photography and illustrations, in the structure of information for communication on three-dimensional surfaces. • Practice effective use of space planning, material use and storytelling in the enculturation and structure of information for communication within the three-dimensional space.
  • Understand and practice design methodologies for environmental graphic design and packaging, including sketching for three-dimensional design, working in scale to create elevations for dimensional forms and physical environments and building models (physical and digital) for developing dimensional design.

Goals

Students were to address the following in their design communication:

  • Develop a strong concept that clearly communicates to the visitors of the park an idea or theme related to the chosen social issue topic.
  • Use the park concept to inform the public on a social or environmental issue as well as on the value of spaces for community gathering.
  • Communicate visually, and with narrative, the concept of their park.
  • Implement an immersive and memorable park experience to educate the public and particularly the La Roche community.
  • Design a giveaway piece for visitors to remember and continue to learn from the experience.

Process and outcomes

In teams the students studied various social issues and then determined the potential approaches for their parking space parks. The groups worked collaboratively throughout the first four weeks of the semester for a final implemented park design that was hosted at La Roche College on the date of the international PARK(ing) day event.

All student teams worked together to address the form and function of the park, along with signage and environmental graphics explaining the concept and purpose of each group’s unique solution to the problem. The students were also required to create a giveaway for visitors of each park—a designed three-dimensional piece with communication related to the topic. Both disciplines addressed the various means of interaction and experiences the visitors had with the park as well as the materials, construction, communication and all pieces in the implementation of the project. This allowed all students to explore and practice the many aspects of the design process and execution, so that they were not limited to using only the skills within their own discipline. Students were provided a small budget to support purchasing materials for implementation of the project.

The final presentation of the project included an informational narrative for the park concept, perspectives, elevations and details of the designed elements of the system and documentation of the giveaway piece. Additionally, demonstration of the process by which students arrived at the chosen solution(s) was included along with the final photographs and summary of the results of the implemented park on PARK(ing) Day.

Semester-long project

Overview

Another significant purpose was to facilitate students’ understanding of, and ability for, collaboration across design disciplines. These young designers were introduced to a higher level of design problem solving through this collaboration. Holston (2011) identifies that, “The ability to collaborate, manage the increasing complexity of design problems, to design ‘in context’ to their target audiences, and be accountable for design decisions through measurement transforms designers from ‘makers of things’ to ‘design strategists’” (p.2).

Objectives

The primary objective of this project was to introduce students to the concept of pop-up spaces, branded environments and product packaging, through the development of a popup branded space for ModCloth.

Another significant purpose was to facilitate students’ understanding of, and ability for, collaboration across design disciplines. These young designers were introduced to a higher level of design problem solving through this collaboration. Holston (2011) identifies that, “The ability to collaborate, manage the increasing complexity of design problems, to design ‘in context’ to their target audiences, and be accountable for design decisions through measurement transforms designers from ‘makers of things’ to ‘design strategists’” (p.2).

Other objectives for the project included:

  • Explore the language and client experience of ModCloth consumers.
  • Identify differentiation of brand within environment from other “typical” bricks and mortar retailers.
  • Explore appropriate traditional and non-traditional materials used in the creation of environmental graphic design elements.
  • Practice effective use of typography and visual images, photography and illustrations, in the structure of information for communication on three-dimensional surfaces.
  • Understand and practice design methodologies for environmental graphic design and packaging, including sketching for three-dimensional design, working in scale to create elevations for dimensional forms and physical environments and building models (physical and digital) for developing dimensional design.

Goals

Students were to address the following in their design communication:

  • Create an immersive and memorable brand experience for ModCloth through this pop-up retail space.
  • Communicate the ModCloth story and showcase their products.
  • Provide an interactive experience for visitors to the space.
  • Facilitate the creation of lasting relationships with new and existing customers.
  • Communicate the brand essence and create a unique sense of place within the pop-up environment.

Process and outcomes

The project began as a collaborative effort between the interior and graphic design students in determining the potential purposes for the pop-up. Students were divided into the same groups as the previous project and began by collaborating on a concept and strategy for their project. The groups worked collaboratively throughout the semester to meet a series of presentation deadlines, working toward a final project, culminating in a final presentation at the end of the semester.

While the Interior Design students addressed the form and space of the popup, the Graphic Design students focused on how the brand could be translated graphically on the inside and outside of the space, as well as packaging and “take-away” materials related to the ModCloth products. Both disciplines addressed the various means of interaction and experiences the visitors have with the brand through the temporary retail experience.

To begin the project a kickoff session was held on location with the client, where students were presented the problem and gained a better understanding of the operations, marketing and general brand of ModCloth.

At the beginning of the project, all research and preliminary idea generation was developed collaboratively by each student group. Groups then developed their solutions, while sharing the gathered research resources and providing constructive feedback and support to each other along the way.

Students employed an extensive idea generation process in the development of the design. All design elements, along with process documentation, were reviewed at various stages throughout the process during discussions and critiques for feedback and evaluation. The final presentation of the work demonstrated the group’s process, concept and execution of the design.

The final presentation of all parts of the project included the following materials:

  • Project research summary and Creative Brief (GD/ID)
  • Creative idea generation documentation and sketches (GD/ID)
  • Documentation of pop-up concept sketches
  • Palette of colors, typography and a “kit of parts” for the developed brand (GD/ID)
  • Floor plans and elevations of the pop-up space and structure (ID)
  • Elevations and details for all environmental graphic design elements (GD)
  • Full size samples of graphics and designed information (GD)
  • Full size mock-up of designed packaging and studio photographs for all pieces (GD)
  • Materials boards and other presentation boards that included informational narrative and demonstrated the process by which groups arrived at the chosen solutions for all design elements (GD/ID)

The final deliverable included a process book documenting all process and the design results developed through the project, as well as boards outlining the project results. Each group was given twenty minutes for their formal presentation of the work, which was open to all faculty and students of the Design Division and the ModCloth client representative.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The decision to plan the project for a required Interior Design III course for Interior Design students and the Design for Packaging and Environments elective course for Graphic Designers came out of a discussion of the possible crossover of content and topic in those two courses. There were definite successes and failures within the course, allowing the educators to grow and understand how to better the course for the future. Vocabulary was a major communication barrier, as Pratt (2012) identifies, “...various academic disciplines use language in different ways, and the inability to use the same words consistently leads to challenges (p. 44).”

Despite the challenges this collaboration was a natural fit because of the topics covered within each course. Interior Design III was focusing on retail design during this semester and bringing this course together with Design for Packaging and Environments made sense. The idea to collaborate was on the table for a while therefore the leap was made during the Fall 2012 semester.

The challenges within this course were found in one course being required and one course being an elective (main class was cross-listed across disciplines).

Time and dedication to work differed depending on the major course the student was enrolled in. Additionally, student’s enthusiasm in collaboration depleted as the semester went on. Students enrolled in courses as they were taught in the past and changing focus to collaboration between disciplines created discomfort, as this was not how the course was taught in the past. Student groups were assigned; therefore students not having control of the cohorts they worked with created an additional stress.

As identified previously, vocabulary and communication were the biggest hurdles to overcome. It was amazing (from professor perspective) to see discontinuity amongst student groups, but when ideas were presented, students were saying the
same thing—differently. There was a clear difference in the culture and work ethic of the two disciplines of students, based on their training, experience and backgrounds. This course provided an opportunity for the two to learn from each other and required each to have to understand how to collaborate with the other discipline. There were apparent differences in approach to the project, how each discipline defined concepts, and the stages of the design process that had to be learned and overcome. Interior Design students were stronger researchers and had a more rigorous process and intensity in their work ethic, where Graphic Design students brought more to the creative brainstorming process at the early stages of the process.

Toward the end of the semester the professors realized that too much content was incorporated into the course, making it a struggle to achieve wanted outcomes from students. The course was much more successful for the more advanced and more motivated students. The students who lacked enthusiasm and motivation for the project and the course did not seem to learn what was intended and did not get near the quality of results as the students who were fully engaged. The gap was larger than a more traditional studio class where each student works more independently on their own project.

CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIELD

Holston (2011) identifies that there are many advantages that collaborative work brings to a design project including an increased participant motivation, lessened resistance to change, a wider knowledge pool, fostering of trust and offering multiple solutions to a problem (p. 43). In this type of collaborative design studio course, students can begin to understand the value of the experience and may even be able to differentiate themselves through this experience when entering the professional practice. This not only benefits the student but also the firms who will be hiring them in the near future. This interdisciplinary collaborative mentality will only make the students more prepared and heighten their potential in their chosen fields.

IMPLICATIONS OF THEORY AND PRACTICE

Collaboration between disciplines in the area of Environmental Graphic Design is vital, as every aspect of the field requires disciplines to work closely toward a common goal. Students do not often get opportunities to experience this interdisciplinary practice but instead move into professional practice and experience the challenge of communication of their own process and ideas to other disciplines. Being able to learn from mistakes while in an academic setting will put the best foot forward for the student while on the job, setting them apart from the cohorts who did not have similar experiences. Most student work within design studio courses focuses on the individual problem solving and development of their own ideas and solutions. The opportunity to collaborate does not typically occur until later in a student's academic career, and then it is typically discipline specific (group projects).

This collaboration experiment contributed to the field of Environmental Graphic Design as an innovative interdisciplinary teaching method and collaborative approach to design education. It can serve as a model in its methods and provide lessons learned for other educators. Some of these teachings include:

  • Devising means to facilitate communication amongst the groups in and outside of the classroom
  • Realizing the potential benefit of bringing in more professional perspectives and other techniques to help students learn to take constructive criticism from multiple individuals and filter that to make the best decisions on their own or as a group
  • Providing emphasized context of the value of the collaboration experience so the students can get the most out of it and realize the lasting benefits at the conclusion of the class

This project allowed students the opportunity to learn how another design discipline parallels or varies in process, approach and design solution results. Students were encouraged to share their process, find a common working vocabulary and to understand the similarities and differences between their own practice and that of their design counterparts. The students worked together to solve design problems, each sharing their own knowledge and strengths, experiencing the reality of their field and resulting in richer and more evolved design solutions.

As a major benefit for us as a design division, this collaboration was another step in bridging the divide between the two disciplines, which share the same educational environment and resources, yet do not create opportunities to collaborate often enough. We hope to find more of these occasions and connections within our discipline so students get more chances to co-create, cross-pollinate and gain a deeper understanding of the practice of design.
 

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