September 1, 2016 issue of the Plainsman’sLetter to the Editor section included a letter by Associate Provost dr. Constance Relihan titled Some Tips for Auburn Students.
The letter contained many important points and words of advice in order to make students’ life on Auburn campus easier. This letter became a focus of a project in Environmental Design course (ENVD 4010 - Elements of Design Thinking and Visual Communication) in the fall semester of 2017.
In the first half of the semester, ENVD 4010 course is always centered around group project. It is a different project every time the class is taught, but always based on the same underlying question: how can we improve quality of life on our campus through implementation of (relatively) simple design and design thinking actions? The assignment in this, 2017 class, was to first, and foremost, carefully study wise words and advice of dr. Relihan, and then try to find different ways to translate these words into the best possible interface that maximizes their impact and usability on our campus.
The objective of this assignment was to find the appropriate visual medium/format that effectively conveys the written message to the undergraduate student population. There were no preconceived ideas of what the final outcome could be - a brochure, a letter, a video, an app, a combination of things … or something entirely different. The final proposal was to be presented as a collective proposal that is good enough to be implemented (possibly with further refinements). As it is case with all of ENVD projects, this class was a great opportunity to exercise professional behavior and ENVD students’ dedication to betterment of our immediate environment - and in this case, the one that they know well - their campus, and their peers.
Under the direction of two faculty members and a GTA, the students worked in teams - from a smaller team to a larger team at the end of the process - changing their role to adapt to the task at the moment. There were eight teams, and the class had 43 students. The students had to quickly and decisively foreground certain aspects of their ideas, and temporarily or permanently shelf the other ones. They had to learn to lead, and to yield – and sometimes do both at the same time. Above all, they had to learn to move towards a single common goal - the best possible proposal for the final presentation.
The project was grounded in design thinking methodology: rather than relying on just their own research and knowledge (experience), students worked with different constituencies and collaborators developing a broad range of ideas, and then gradually narrowing them down to the most applicable and important ones. Different options were tested in real scale/application when possible; and a number of surveys and interviews were conducted with different user groups.
Auburn Chair Project
Can something as simple as placing chairs around campus improve the quality of social life? That’s what ENVD 4010 Elements of Design Thinking and Visual Communication class set out to discover. The Auburn Chair Project studied whether the introduction of a simple, inexpensive, and movable element- a chair - can improve the quality of life in the built environment, specifically, the Auburn campus.
The class of twenty-two students worked in groups on different aspects of the project implementation and review of its impact. They researched social and physical aspects of chair, as well as precedents, and studied pedestrian traffic patterns on Auburn’s campus because areas in proximity to foot traffic intersection are good places to sit. They did a seating inventory and discovered that there are only eight movable chairs on campus (and they are rocking chairs). The rest are attached to tables.
Sixteen inviting Adirondack chairs (six wooden and ten plastic) were purchased specifically to test the premise of the project, and they were strategically placed in high foot traffic intersection areas. Small groups of chairs were placed in shady spots near Cater Hall, the Student Center island and the Quad. ENVD students used social media to invite students, staff and faculty to test the new seating, and signs on campus invited people to try the chairs. The chairs were re-arranged from time to time, and ENVD students observed their use and interviewed people who used them about their thoughts and experiences.
Survey results were very positive with everyone wanting more chairs, and in more locations such as the Village and at Shelby. They liked that the chairs were outside and in the shade and felt that the chairs created community. Another interesting finding was that none of the chairs were taken—not even through two home football games. The ENVD students hope that their research and documentation will provide a convincing argument that addition of moveable chair seating will improve life on Auburn University campus. The results of their research and testing were presented to Dr. Constance Rellihan, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies, and Mr. Scott Fuller, Executive Director, Design and Construction, Auburn University Facilities Management.