Person To Environment Interactions

The last type of interaction I have been working with this year is person-to-environment interactions. These interactions take place between a person and a physical space, or a system of artifacts, other interactions, and people. I have mainly been dealing with designing a physical space that influences these other parts of a system. Physical spaces fulfill many purposes including a place to meet, a place to work, a place to keep your things, and a place to interact with other people. To understand the importance of a person-to-environment interaction you must first understand the connection between mental an physical spaces.

The connection between a physical place and a mental place becomes clear if you really think about it. The more comfortable and happy you are in an environment, the happier and more comfortable your mind set will be. People want to work in environments they feel comfortable in. If someone does not feel comfortable in a space, they tend avoid it. In addition to comfort and happiness, there are benefits to working in a common workspace— you get feedback and engagement from others which makes you grow in whatever situation you may be in.

This year I spent a lot of time evaluating the mental to physical connection in the CD studio. It turns out in the beginning of the year it wasn’t so great, so I replanned and redesigned our studio.

This Was Not A Happy Place

The CD studio was so underused at the beginning of the year; It was disgusting. One of the main reasons that I enrolled at CIA was because of the studio space that every student gets to call their own. I wanted my own area to pin things up in, fill with my things, and to make a comfortable location to work and learn in. Unfortunately, the CD studio did not provide these things in the capacity I thought it would.

I knew when I started this project that something had to be done about the room we call our studio. It is supposed to serve as the meeting place for class, the area provided by the school in which to work and grow as designers, and a place that students spend a lot of time creating relationships and making friends. Essentially it is a place of interaction. The studio has the potential to be fantastic, but unfortunately with the way the studio was set up, students and faculty alike did not feel the personal connection to “their space.” They didn’t feel like coming to the studio to work outside of class time, and because of this they missed out on the benefits of having a potentially great studio. This is extremely unfortunate, as one of the main reasons many people come to CIA is for studio space.

The CD studio was dim, dingy, dirty, and cluttered with unused furniture that took up a ton of space. It was an uninspiring and scary place to be when all by yourself. Classes were held at the front of the room where the student workspaces blend in to. This became a huge problem when people wanted to work in the studio and a class is being held. This situation creates the feeling of being unable to utilize one’s own space.

A studio space should be creatively inspiring, welcoming, and have the ability to serve multiple people and multiple functions at the same time without interrupting one another. A studio space should be customized to its users and their specific needs. A studio space should have the ability to change easily to accommodate new users and new purposes. A studio space should be a reflection of who is using it. That is what I aimed to accomplish.

Why Is That Even Here?

At the beginning of this project it became clear very quickly that something had to be done about the studio space in order to get members of this community to use it. Not only do I want people to use the studio as a place to work, but as a place to interact with each other, have conversations, form relationships, and critique work in progress. All of these things were absent from the CD culture at the beginning of this project, and students were unable to reach their full potential because of this.

I had to find out why it was that people were choosing not to utilize the studio space outside of class time. In order to make any sort of reasonable change, I had to find out what people thought of the space, where they normally do their work, and what makes them comfortable. After speaking with nearly everyone in the department, and asking them the same questions, I heard the same answer over and over again “I don’t feel comfortable working in this creatively uninspiring, cluttered, closed off room.” The only upside to these answers was that I was feeling the same way and that we all wanted something similar.

It was then that I started to evaluate what the actual issues the studio had. Aside from being dirty and painted displeasing colors, the studio was not set up in an effective way. The entire back of the studio was full of unused cabinets and broken equipment. Just removing all of this junk freed up loads of space for a more effective layout. There is no CD classroom and class was held in the middle of the students work area. There was nothing on the walls to inspire creativity and comfort of the students. Overall, the studio was vacant because it was set up to be vacant. I really started to think “Why is all of this crap here? No one uses it. It needs to go.”

Fanatically Fixing Fixtures

Now that I had a better understanding of the sort of things people took issue with, I could start asking what they wanted. Paint was a common theme in those conversations (for good reason). The members of this community all wanted something that makes you happy to be a part of, something that doesn’t make you depressed the moment you walk into it. We looked at paint swatches as a group and decided on a direction to go with color.

Besides giving the studio a much needed paint job, I reevaluated the use of the space and formed a plan to rearrange furniture, and get rid of clutter. This clutter was a lot of those empty cabinets I mentioned earlier. This part of the project relied heavily on using the studio’s space and contents in a more effective way rather than buying new materials and furniture to fill it.

I submitted the plan for the new studio in early December (2011) and it was approved! The studio was renovated over winter break and everyone was surprised and super happy when they got back from break. CD now has the best, and coolest studio at CIA!

The new studio has an open floor plan, allowing for easy transportation of one’s items and self through the studio. This makes the whole room feel much more welcoming and invites students to be a more integrated part of their community. The new floor plan I designed leaves a wide open space in the middle of the room to be used whenever and however the students need it. The computers, printer, and cutting tables are all centrally located here for everyone to use.

Moving the classroom area behind the partition that was already in place at the back of the room was key to creating a comfortable atmosphere during class hours. This involves moving a table and a projector to the back of the studio after removing much of the unused cabinetry and trash that used to be there. This
created an isolated environment for classes, and increased the student workspace a lot.

Something that the members of this community expressed interest in having was a lounge area in the studio. Part of the design process is having a comfortable conversation. Whether that is with a classmate, client, or professor, a comfortable conversation leads to more intimate details and design. The consensus of every one was to have an area reserved for this comfort, for taking breaks from work while keeping students in the studio. Unfortunately this part of the project never came to fruition. It wasn’t in the budget to purchase the special fire rated furniture the fire code requires. There is room built into the studio space if and when the budget exists to make the purchase.

Welcome Home?

The new studio is great. Everyone agrees on that. It is clean, a pleasant place to be in, and definitely inspires conversation when people are in it. The problem that still exists is that people don’t utilize the studio enough outside of class time. They still prefer to go work on their own from home. I believe that this is a learned response from the old culture that CD had. Now that I have initiated change, the community is in a transitional period that will take awhile to get everybody to the studio all the time. It will change, I know it will.

People, Interfaces, Environments. It's all wrapped up in Chapter Eight: The Future.