Connecting Millennials with Clients: Examples from Studio projects

Presented by: Christina Birkentall

At upper class levels, students need to expand on basic design principles and technical skills with programming and communication skills for clients. Two studio courses focused upon the collaborative nature of interaction with end users to help create the critical thinking skills needed of the student. Statement of the problem: Millennials often lack the skills to effectively communicate with clients and each other (Winograd & Hais,2011). Client-based learning projects are perceived by the student to be more challenging, interesting and valuable than traditional theory-based assignments and help the student develop skills in problem-solving, critical reasoning and adaptability. With the use of client-based pedagogy, students learn how to effectively respond to real clients by developing better communication skills (Addams et al, 2010). Students gain project management and collaboration experience, a portfolio piece and valuable preparation for internships. Clients gain fresh insight and new technologies employed by the students (Cooke, Williams, 2004). The challenge for the professor is to engage students in collaboration with the stakeholders while reinforcing course objectives. Method: Using the studio as the learning platform, the professor set up the opportunities to interact with stakeholders on fictional projects. In the Retail studio, the individual students produced a prototypical store design for an existing business to franchise. Lectures included the future of the physical store; retail as experiential design; branding and historic preservation concerns. No footprint was given and the concept store needed to fit into an existing Main Street of any town. Students utilized web based meeting opportunities to interview and present to the client. In the Healthcare studio, students were tasked to create from the ground up a medical home and life center for young people afflicted with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In teams, they researched and created programming questions for a variety of stakeholders including parents, doctors and consultants. Designs showcased solutions via plans, 3D modeling, product selections and wayfinding. In addition, the teams worked with an outside Environmental Graphics class to help create site specific way-finding solutions. The teams presented to the stake-holders in-person, showcasing unique and diverse solutions. Outcomes: The projects allowed students to engage and learn how to work as a team; with related professions and with real clients, solving complex problems through design. All students responded positively to the concept of working with real clients; developing their listening and summary skills. The class that worked in teams discovered their own leadership skills and respect of the others opinions; learning how to work with the diverse skill sets of each individual to create the best outcomes for the clients. Future implications: The student’s technical knowledge is measurable with final portfolio pieces, but teaching critical skills of collaboration and communication is often missing in the curriculum. By providing the student access to real clients and projects, the process creates a learning experience that allows them to be more at ease with their future collaborations once they become professionals in the building industry.


  • Addams, H.L., Woodbury, D.,Allred, T., & Addams, J.(2010). DEVELOPING STUDENT COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS WHILE ASSISTING NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS. Business Communication Quarterly, 73(3), 282-290
  • Cooke, L., & Williams, S.(2004). TWO APPROACHES TO USING CLIENT PROJECTS IN THE COLLEGE CLASSROOM. Business Communication Quarterly, 67(2), 139-152.
  • Winograd, M., & Hais, M.D.(2011) Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America. New Brunswich, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. 147.
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