Instead of meeting our mighty team of three East Bay School for Boys staff members for a space design day at their school, we started the morning at the universally designed Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley for inspiration. After immersing in the space and noting both the visible and invisible elements of design that make the campus as accessible as possible, we talked about what it meant to design with intention. Inspired by the book, Make Space, and a talk with one of the co-authors of the book, Scott Witthoft, at the d.school, we designed the day with the mantra that we were out to create intentional space, which elicits behaviors and emotions.
With the intentionality and “universality” of the Ed Roberts Campus in mind, we headed back to our true space of design, East Bay School for Boys, a progressive middle school set in an old church. The site of tension and opportunity was the backyard. This area is used for breaks, 6th and 7th/8th grade lunch, and after school programming. The educators were keen on the challenges of the backyard space -- conflicting activity interests, high density, and cleanliness, to name a few. To make sure their and our assumptions about the space were grounded in human need and stories, we spent a day at EBSB the week before and had a different student take us each on tour of their favorite and least favorite spaces at the school. We also observed the backyard during all the high traffic times -- picture basketballs flying into magic games, boys throwing juice boxes and wrappers, and flopping on one another in the one spot of shade.
To both recall and visualize the empathy work we had all done the week before, we had the educators organize their notes from the student interviews into things the students “said” “did” and “felt.” They organized their observations into “what,” “how,” and “why” things happened in the backyard. We went to the backyard and the educators each drew one through line of a “said, did, and felt” and a “what, how, and why” onto hand-drawn maps of their backyard. For example, Will said he likes to sit on the stoop and eat by these wooden sticks because they form back rests. When we observed that happening, he looked exactly like he said he felt -- relaxed and just on the outskirts of the chaos that surrounded him. Another educator observed a student starting a “whoot” call and drew how it echoed loudly around the backyard from other students picking onto it. We broke down why that might have happened. You can see the maps and all the other materials we used for the day here.
After we took sanctuary in our design space, the quiet entryway to a church, we had the team each draft a few point of view statements based on their backyard images.
Example Point of View statement: We met Will, a sporty, popular 6th grader who high fived everyone in the halls. We were amazed to realize he didn’t engage in some of the lunch-time debauchery while he quietly ate his lunch to the side outside the circle of other guys and only contributed when he saw fit. It would be game changing if we could help other students have a place where they also could engage with others while still feeling peaceful and safe.”
Given the point of view statements we generated individually, we took our game changing aspirations and intentions to a large drawn map of the backyard for the whole group to scribble on. Here we pivoted from narrowing in on what we observed and empathized with to what we hoped or inferred could be the future of the space. The group wrote their aspirations and intentions for the space on post its and stuck them to the larger backyard map. They also knocked down walls and drew potential new places and things in this mock backyard.
Before breaking for lunch, we continued to explore new potential for the space by having the team sort through 50 different inspirational or analogous space photos -- from bee-hives to monk dinners to vacation resorts. The team picked three images that could serve as a metaphors for how they would like to redesign the backyard. With those metaphors in mind, we turned our points of views into How Might We Statements (see picture).
Before jumping into ideation, we introduced different properties of space design from Make Space, much like the levers we use to help tease out different elements of ideas to bring into prototyping. The properties we chose to help us brainstorm were --
“Posture,” or how one’s physical being interacts with space
“Orientation,” or people who relate to others in space
“Ambiance,” or how a space makes you feel with details like music, lighting, etc.
The ideas flew up onto church glass. We built off of one another's ideas, clustered them into categories and then, after we all individually chose our top three ideas, we united as a team to chose a quick-win idea and wild idea to move into prototyping.
We went back outside with our legos, big strips of foam, paper, and glue guns and got down to business. We decided first to prototype a proposal for school leadership to stop cleaning up trash for a week to see if the students noticed. They would have a student photographer who was privy to the experiment to document the mess and the staff would design and facilitate a debrief at the end of the week. Ideally, students who continued to show interest in the cleanliness and space design (which was already happening throughout the design day) would organically form part of the student body leadership team to redesign the backyard.
We then built the wild idea, using the flimsy roof over the skate ramps and kitchen table in the backyard as a starting point for a new level for students to eat on. A lego model took form with a ladder on one of the trees for a fun way to access level 2, a fully shaded area with tables to eat at -- and a slide to come back down on. Students clustered around the educators making the model and started to build and give input. We continue to learn that co-design, especially enrolling students, is a powerful way to design change.
The day closed quickly with the staff dashing off to a meeting, but the team took their ideas to that meeting. We’re looking forward to following up with East Bay School for Boys to see how messy the backyard got over time and how empowered students are feeling to be part of redesigning their backyard.