Designing for Protected Populations a Service Learning Experience for Interior Design Students

Presented by: Mia Kile, Amanda Yamaguchi, Cecelia Brown

Problem On average, incarcerated youth are reading at a fourth grade level and more than one third of incarcerated youth are illiterate (Brunner, 1993). Literature has the ability to change the way one thinks about or acts. According to Kuiken, et al. (2004) readers who make connections between narrative and their own experiences are more likely to report changes in beliefs and shifts in self-perception. This is important when considering rehabilitation of the incarcerated youth. Background This presentation unveils the outcomes from of a service learning design charrette. The project involved the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), a nonprofit Environmental Design Group (EDG), and Interior Design (ID) students. The project served as a means to encourage reading for the youth housed at the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC). Students enrolled in the SLIS graduate program volunteered to help organize and develop the existing reading collection. Once visiting the space, the students realized the environment was not supportive of the intended activities of a library. Project Description Through a connection with EDG the SLIS brought the project to the ID program. Students enrolled in the program were presented this design challenge in the form of a design charrette. In the kickoff meeting, the students were presented with the design prospectus, research information such as, designing for special populations, and demographics for the JJC. Students working in teams of four over a period of two weeks, presented their design solutions to a panel consisting of members from SLIS and EDG. The final presentations were provided to the staff at JJC for approval. Methods Through the experiential learning framework this service learning experience provided, the interior design students researched and applied design considerations for special populations such as building codes, color theory, materials specifications, feasibility and budgets. Teaming empowered the students to explore various design considerations within a short time, divide work based on own area of expertise thus producing a polished final project. Outcomes The experience opened the eyes of the students. While most think of interior design as glamourous, few consider design for the not so glamorous. Interior designers have the unique opportunity to make a positive change in someone’s life through the thoughtful design of the spaces they inhabit. Ultimately, the projects provided the JJC with realistic opportunities to improve the library space. Since the presentation, a local donor financed some of the design considerations. Additional donated funds have supported increase of the library collection to better suit the reading level and interest of the residents of the JJC. Student volunteers from SLIS have organized and set up the space per the interior design student recommendations. While this is still a work in progress, according to the teachers at the JJC, the residents, “never turn down a chance to go to the library.” Future Implications Because of the positive outcome, we foresee future collaborative efforts between ID, SLIS, EDG, and JJC. We hope to encourage the incarcerated youth to become more engaged in reading after they are released to promote positive life choices. Building partnerships with the local public libraries to foster this connection will be the next step.


  • Brunner, Michael. Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential. Portland, OR: HalcyonHouse, 1993, p.133.
  • Kuiken, D., Phillips, L., Gregus, M., Miall, D., Verbitsky, M., & Tonkonogy, A. (2004).
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