Design Making as a Recruiting Tool: Body, Space and Experience

Presented by: Nathan Bicak, Lindsey Bahe

Problem In 90 minutes, how does one introduce prospective design students to creative problem-solving whilst addressing the design of the built environment? Can a project be crafted to simulate the design studio experience, from the introduction of core concepts of body, space, and experience; to those of ideation, prototyping, testing and presentation? This design thinking exercise was crafted to engage high school seniors (n=57) visiting a college of architecture for an open house and recruiting event. (Appendix A) Methods The exercise asked students to design and build an apparatus that the human body could wear or engage with in order to alter one’s perception or experience of space. First, the students viewed a lecture on ideas of body, proximity, experience and space; the lecture topics included engaging human senses(1), objects as cues for human behavior(2), framing views and design principles as instruments for filtering spatial experiences. (Appendix B) In teams of three, students spent ten minutes sketching ideas of how their devices were going to interact with the body and alter one’s spatial experience. Next, they merged ideas and spent 45 minutes constructing prototypes. The objectives of this exercise were that it be: [1] fun, it should excite students about the study of design; [2] collaborative, using teamwork as a learning strategy; [3] informative, as it introduced spatial design principles; and [4] process driven, as it introduced the design process via ideation sketching, representation through making, testing through rapid prototyping and communicating/evaluating through verbal presentation. Outcomes This exercise asked students to consider anthropometrics, the body’s interaction with a design proposal, and to purposefully alter how one views a space. Once completed, the teams tested their prototypes and demonstrated their solution. Many strategies implemented mirrors; one in particular was worn on the head and intended to “reveal only someone’s blind spot, as this is an area relative to our bodies in space that we never see.” (Appendix C) Another engaged the existing environment, opening up a discussion of site and host. This prototype was mounted to a wall and occupied from the front, giving the occupant a view of the room behind. (Appendix C) After the activity, students had the option to complete a survey (n=45) that measured the activity’s impact on their interest in attending the college, asked them to identify aspects of the exercise that expanded their understanding of the process of design and allowed them to comment on the experience. From this survey it was clear that roughly half (25, 56%) were more interested in attending the institution after this exercise, while 17 (38%) opinions remained unchanged. In identifying aspects of the project they felt expanded their learning related to design, 76% said "working in teams," 78% said "working with design process" and 76% said "making something" were valuable knowledge. 62% connected with design’s role in spatial experience while fewer (46%) made connections with understanding the human body’s role in space. Three of the 45 thought the exercise was "unrelated to their interest in coming to the college". The survey provided the instructors with positive feedback relative to the goals of instilling enthusiasm and crafting a project that quickly introduced the core concepts of design and its process. The survey also identified areas that need to be addressed in future project delivery, which include the designer’s role in spatial experience and understanding the human body’s role in space. It is the intention of the instructors to use this exercise and assessment tool as a one-week introductory project to a first year Design Making Studio in Spring 2017. This presentation will generate excellent discussion on using this project type for recruiting and on introducing core design concepts to prospective students in a short period of time.


  • (1) Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa, and Alberto Perez-Gomez, “An Architecture of the Seven Senses,” Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture, (San Francisco: William Stout Publishers, 2006), 27-37.
  • (2) Andrew Blauvelt, “Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life,” Towards a New Interior: An Anthology of Interior Design Theory, (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011), 163-174.