Where Am I? Using Students to Gauge Perceived Institutional Identity and Propose Effective Environmental Elucidations

Presented by: Emily McLaughlin

Content Areas: Institutional, Design Process, Service Learning/Social Responsibility Higher education institutions are involved in an ongoing rivalry. It is an enduring competition to entice international talent to attend OUR institutions for the purpose of advancing program reputation, gaining notoriety, and progressing research in our respective disciplines with highly qualified scholars. As a result, creating institutional environments which retain a strong sense of place where students feel comfortable, supported, and inspired to engage in active learning is critical for recruitment and retention in higher education. It is these objectives which make it decisively important for interior design scholars to ascertain the methods for effectively exploring and realizing the factors which make college spaces both attractive and highly functional, while imparting a strong sense of pride and identity in ones alma mater. While the need to integrate branding into institutional design facilities is unmistakable, a limited number of studies for this assimilation have been previously evaluated (Dawidziuk, 2012; Iqbal et al, 2012; Joseph et al, 2012). In this case, the pedagogical goal of exposing interior design students to the importance of successful programming and inquiry was essential; therefore a junior-level undergraduate studio course was solicited to examine user perceptions relative to a sorely neglected common corridor at a research institution in the Midwest. After receiving IRB approval, the students administered a self-created questionnaire to 107 end users of the space which examined the acuities of these users relative to both aesthetics and function. The survey asked users to describe how the space made them feel about their institution, as well as identify environments on campus which they feel idealize the vibe of the college. In addition, the university website was examined and campus administrators were interviewed in an effort to gain additional perspective relative to the mission and branding of the institution. The results of these efforts were examined and analyzed, and used as a basis for proposed interior design solutions. The observed results of this exploratory study are significant. First, exposing students directly to the experiential process of probing a multitude of key informants and end users was reported as extremely useful by the junior-level students. Strong endorsements from course participants indicate robust validation for using this first-hand methodology, and the majority expressed excitement that the inquiry methods provided a framework for future, real-world programming activities which they will undertake as professional designers. Second, critique of the student design solutions by a panel of University administrators and design professionals suggests that valuable proficiencies were gained in translating an identified institutional culture and brand into aesthetic environments which provides a sense of place while supporting the research-based mission of the institution. Key attributes reflective of the demographic and intrinsic nature of the University were apparent and successfully used in the delivered work. Finally, it was observed that students who were able to fully understand how institutional building occupants felt about their spatial environment were better able to layer functional solutions throughout the design in an effort to enhance quality of life. Students were able to identify distinct elements which end users at this institution valued, and were therefore able to respond with practical solutions. The use of applied inquest methods relative to information gathering in interior design education retains great value (Cherry, 1999; Preiser, 2015). This approach should resonate with design educators, as the byproduct of such activities is students who gain a better sense of their own learning and mastery of inquiry techniques used to create successful solutions.


  • Cherry, E. (1999). Programming for design: From theory to practice. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Dawidziuk, S. (2012). A universitys brand in the contemporary world. Prace Instytutu Lotnictwa, (6 (227)), 173-180.
  • Iqbal, M. J., Rasli, A. B. M., & Hassan, I. (2012). University branding: A myth or a reality. Pakistan journal of commerce and social sciences, 6(1), 168-184.
  • Joseph, M., Mullen, E. W., & Spake, D. (2012). University branding: Understanding students’ choice of an educational institution. Journal of Brand Management, 20(1), 1-12.
  • Preiser, W. (2015). Professional Practice in Facility Programming (Routledge Revivals). Routledge.
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