Notes by Althea Wallop
Educ303X Designing Learning Spaces Class Tour
D.School at Stanford University
1:30-3:30pm on 5/8/2013
Date of Record: 5/9/2013
Since Katie, Taryn, and I partitioned out the field notes, I’ll be talking about the Atrium and the Signage aspects of the tour. Upon walking into the d.school, one of the first things you’ll notice is the minimalist approach. However, unlike the (also minimalist) GSB, the d.school feels more like a mix between a warehouse, a garage, and an architecture studio — it’s a place designed for collaboration, thinking, and getting your hands dirty. The concrete floors, neutral stone walls, metal staircase, modern, steel (rather than plush) furniture, unfinished ceilings, and cheeky signage all foster this vibe.
The culture of the d.school is present implicitly and explicitly immediately in the atrium. Our guide, Scott, spent a significant amount of time discussing this culture. One phrase he used that seemed to be exceptionally suitable was “prototype, pivot, iterate,” which really seems to encompass the space’s cyclical environment. It seems like the space, the people, and the ideas in the d.school are always updating; it’s a “here is not done” mentality. This notion is even present in the fact that the d.school is on its 5th iteration as a space already — and still not finished. Scott described the space as a picnic as opposed to fine dining.
In order to sustain this constantly changing environment, it is vital that the d.school space be as flexible as possible. Scott mentioned finding the minimum number of “props” (things in the space like furniture, whiteboards, etc.) that allow for the maximum number of permutations for use. In other words, d.school students, researchers, professors, and visitors (the main users of the space) need to have sufficient tools to work, but not too much “stuff” that they don’t know how to use it, and they need the flexibility to use it for different purposes (which may be quite varied).
A good example of this multi-purpose mentality is the projector in the atrium. The atrium serves mainly as a preliminary meeting spot, an entry into the d.school atmosphere (both physically and culturally), and a large space with a giant projector against the concrete wall (see picture).
The deliberate signage is also multi-purpose: it reflects the d.school’s productive and creative culture, helps to make the space less formal, is easily changed/updated, and helps guide behavior in the such a flexible space. The signage is usually in the strongest contrasting pair, black and white, with bold, square font usually expressing motivational mottos or instructions (or both!). For example, Scott discussed how the d.school has used the “reset before you go” signage to encourage people using the space to clean-up after their work, enforcing a behavioral norm that may not be evident given the studio atmosphere. Scott also discussed how signs like these serve as a confrontational buffer, allowing users to feel justified in their complaints if a space is messy and have the confidence to say something directly to the perpetrator. Similarly, the d.school signage, in contrast with the Stanford Standard Signage, is cut in vinyl allowing for flexibility, customizability, and efficiency in this constantly changing space. See pictures below for more examples.
So far, I’ve mostly discussed ways in which the d.school culture was designed to facilitate learning, and how this is reflected in the space. Despite this effort, there are a few things left about the space that could potentially inhibit learning. The warehouse feel could come across as too bare, which might stifle creativity to some of the more artistic types. Furthermore, some people may find the pressure to collaborate, the constant movement, and not-so-subtle motivation to be moving and making at all times overwhelming, which may actually inhibit learning for those sensitive types prone to overstimulation. On a final note, though, in an attempt to help d.schoolers feel ownership of their space, certain areas have been given their own, though slightly hidden, personal touch (read: disco-themed women’s restroom, complete with hot pink walls and mirror-balls).