Service-Learning Projects as a Tool for Promoting Evidence-Based Design for Special Populations

Presented by: Tonya Miller

Service-learning projects have long been believed to enhance learning outcomes for interior design students by promoting community engagement and professional competence (Zollinger, Guerin, Hadjiyanni, & Martin, 2009; Watson, 2001). These types of projects also support the most common learning style among interior design students which is hands-on (Watson, 2001). However, there are perhaps even further benefits of this learning model beyond those which have been previously explored. This poster illustrates two case study projects that explore how service-learning projects can be used as a tool for promoting evidence-based design solutions. The Center for Health Design (2016) defines evidence-based design as “the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes.” The special physical, intellectual, social, and psychological considerations of the user groups for these projects dictated the enhanced need for design decisions that were based on credible research. In these case studies, the research-based approach is believed to have not only improved learning outcomes but also improved the quality of the design solutions produced for the community partners. The first case study project paired students with a local non-profit organization aimed at providing assistance to veterans in need. The organization, known as ROVER (Regional Outreach Veterans Engagement Resources), solicited the students’ help in developing design ideas for their new regional facility which will serve as a hub for learning, socializing, and providing physical and psychological care to veterans including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and a variety of other physical and psychological conditions. Students worked in teams to develop unique, research-based approaches to the design project. The second case study project involved students designing a multi-sensory environment for the Orange Grove Center, a private non-profit organization that serves adults and children with intellectual disabilities. Students gathered evidence to inform their designs by reviewing existing literature and interviewing occupational therapy consultants. Students designed a space which will not only be used by the Orange Grove Center, but will serve as a research tool and model for the implementation of multi-sensory environments in the public school setting. In both scenarios, the presence of a “real-life” design problem and the interaction with an actual client provided a level of reality not achievable through fictitious design scenarios. Students expressed an increased motivation to conduct more thorough research in an effort to produce the best possible design solution for these clients to whom many felt personally connected due to their interaction. In order to measure the success of these service-learning projects as a tool for promoting evidence-based design, a student survey has been developed. Findings will reveal student opinions regarding how the service-oriented nature of these projects impacted understanding, motivation, and the quality of outcomes. Preliminary findings indicate a strong connection between the level of reality achieved through the service-learning format and a perceived improvement in learning objectives.


  • The Center for Health Design. (2016). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from
  • Watson, S. A. (2001). Learning Styles of Interior Design Students as Assessed by the Gregorc Style Delineator. Journal of Interior Design, 27(1), 12-19. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1668.2001.tb00362.x
  • Zollinger, S. W., Guerin, D. A., Hadjiyanni, T., & Martin, C. S. (2009). Deconstructing Service-Learning: A Framework for Interior Design. Journal of Interior Design, 34(3), 31-45. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1668.2009.01022.x
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