Space is a platform for dynamic experiences, not a just a static container. So, how can designers prepare to design spaces that empower a more mobile, personal and participatory experience?[1]

This was the question I posed to the students at the beginning of our half-day workshop at the gradate school of architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.[2] The workshop introduced students to ‘service design’ methodologies and ‘user experience’ tools and techniques as a way to consider designing an experience from the point of view of the user, rather then a form or a space from the point of view of the designer.

Brief introduction to service design:

Service Design is an emerging field focused on the creation of well thought through experience using a combination of intangible and tangible mediums. It provides numerous benefits to the end user experience when applied to sectors such as retail, banking, transportation and healthcare. Service design as a practice generally results in the design of systems and processes aimed at providing a holistic service to the user.[3]

A brief overview of service design principles:[4]

1)   USER CENTERED: Services should be experiences through the customers eyes

2)   CO-CREATIVE: All stakeholders should be included in the service design process

3)   SEQUENCING: The services should be visualized as a sequence of interrelated actions

4)   EVIDENCING: Intangible services should be visualized in terms of physical artifacts

5)   HOLISTIC: The entire environment of services should be considered

The students were participating in this workshop as part of their studio project, entitled: CARING PLACES: NEW ARCHITECTURAL CONSIDERATIONS, FOR THE CARE OF THOSE AFFECTED BY CANCER. Our challenge was to get the students to understand the range of stakeholders involved in such a center, and find design opportunities by creating ‘imagined’ scenarios based on the cancer center users motivations, beliefs, limitation and behaviors.

Our workshop learning outcomes were focused on introducing new ways to better connect students to the ‘user groups’ that would potentially engage their building design. The idea being, if we can better understand the people connected to the proposed cancer center (like understanding their beliefs, behaviors, motivations and limitations) insightful, creative, and considerate design concepts will emerge that connect space, furniture, products, services, culture, relationships and conversations. The design proposal will move beyond a building as a container, and will consider a building as a platform for a rich and engaging experience.


Below is a summary of our workshop activities:


Students created persona profiles that identified 3 potential ‘users’ of the cancer center and their traits, including, behaviors, motivations, limitations.


Students then “body-stormed” a scene from a cancer center experience from one users perspective. The students acted out the traits of the user by showing, not telling. (These were done in groups of 4 students)

Key concepts to body-storming:

–       Brainstorming- allow for your group to get lots of ideas out on ‘the table’ start to organize these ideas according to themes, content or context. See if there are commonalities, patterns that emerge. Pick a direction and start to develop the idea.

–       Context- set your scene in a specific place. This helps your ‘actors’ be specific in their actions and decisions, rather then acting around generic conditions.

–       Point of view- consider from whose point of view is the scene being presented to or for

–       Enact scenarios- try all sort of different iterations of your scene, before settling on one

–       Personify objects- give voice to objects as well as people. Also, consider a person/objects inner monologue vs. exterior monologue

–       Assign roles- make sure everyone as a role in your scene. Including the ‘director’ or ‘narrator’ role. This person is key to moving the story along and giving direction to the actors.


Students then created a ‘journey map’ of the users entire experience (but started with describing the previous scene they just acted out and then placing this scene within a larger experience)


Students were then asked to find one ‘touch-point’ in the entire experience (could be the same one as before or different) and pin-point a design opportunity that would help/empower/ assist the user to overcome a limitation, or assist in a goal, desire, motivation. The students prototyped this design opportunity. The prototype could be a new piece of furniture, a new role/character, a new way of having a conversation or communicating a message. The groups then acted this out for the others. We saw some great innovations here! Most notably, now that the students better understood the motivations, behaviors and limitations of their personas through body storming a scenario, they were able to make more thoughtful and responsive prototype designs that look at design opportunities holistically. Scenarios that were one-dimensional became three dimensional with layers of space and furniture design, services and roles and dialogue design.


Students were then asked to create a storyboard conveying a cancer center experience from the point of view of a ‘user’. This was there homework for the next studio. The idea was to get them out of the mindset of programming spaces, and rather programming a scenario that a space can be developed around.

As future architects, these students are spending tremendous time and effort developing the ‘hard ‘skills that allow them to see and create systems of interconnected design elements; skills like site, structure and mechanical analysis, sketching, rendering, modeling, and drafting. The idea of this workshop was to stretch the students understanding of ‘what is designed’ to also include culture, roles and scenarios that perhaps can inform architectural design decisions. These are what I call the ‘soft’ skills; like listening, interviewing, observation, collaboration and facilitation that allow designers to better connect to each other as well as empowering the users they are designing for.

There were some really great ideas and innovations that came out of this workshop. I hope the students use these tools again and I look forward to seeing their final design ideas come this May.

[1] Brightspot strategy, elliot felix

[2] this workshop is part of a studio, run by Craig Dykers and Aaron Dorf of Snohetta Architecture, NY, NY and Peter McKeith, faculty at Washington University, St. Louis, MO

[3] The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, 2008

[4] from THIS IS SERVICE DESIGN THINKING, BIS Publishers, 2010