How Students Are Transforming a Pasadena Campus With Social Media

Art Center College of Design welcomed feedback—then drew up design plans

It’s not unusual that Art Center College of Design in Pasadena is expanding. After all, they have a history of change. In 2004 the school branched out from its Hillside Campus and opened South Campus in a renovated supersonic wind tunnel. What is unusual about the latest developments is what prompted the change: social media.

In September 2013, Art Center enlisted the help of the innovation and design consultants at Continuum, among them some Art Center alumni. Their goal? To come up with ways to help Art Center be a more efficient space with more engaged students. Their method: let those students talk. The experts at Continuum wanted to know how the current campus layout succeeded and how it failed in regard to learning, community, and unity between campuses. They turned to Facebook to find out.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to be on campus 24/7,” says Continuum managing director Alex Hennen, “so we needed to figure out some kind of platform to tap into the common consciousness of the student body. And social media, meeting the students on their turf, seemed to be the appropriate tool.”

They invited a group of eight diverse students to join a private Facebook group and tasked each with uploading a sort of video confessional every week for a full 14-week term.

“We asked them to recall their week and then to talk a little bit about their hopes and dreams,” says Hennen.“It was a platform for us to observe them.”

Through these confessionals, Hennen and his team were able to ascertain where and how students spent their time. The videos also gave a glimpse into each student’s creative practice.

In addition to the focused study, Continuum invited the entire student body to engage in the redesign process through Facebook and Instagram. On those platforms, students were encouraged to point out campus features that did or didn’t work through the hashtags #accdwin and #accdfail. The response was impressive.

The results of the study highlighted the importance, for students, of maintaining creative flow. Once students entered a productive groove, they didn’t want to have their process disrupted by an inconvenient campus setup. According to Maggie Hendrie, chair of the Interaction Design department at Art Center and a leader on the research project, the ideal campus would be a visually interconnected workspace where students could move seamlessly from café to classroom, from Hillside Campus to South Campus.

“The idea of a centralized campus is outdated,” says Hennen. “We noticed that students were doing work pretty much anywhere on the two campuses as well as at home. And these various environments were not seamlessly connected. So a lot of our recommendations revolved around careful conservation of how people transition between home and campus, between campuses, and between the spaces of learning and collaboration.”

Now those results are being put to use.

Last year Art Center opened a new building in a repurposed post office on South Campus. Not only does the addition have classrooms and a printmaking studio, it also has individual studios and shared exhibition spaces. Emphasis was put on reducing divisions between the studio, the classroom, and open spaces, while providing easier access to tools, both physical and digital.

Another South Campus building, an old office building at 1111 South Arroyo Parkway, is undergoing adaptive renovation and will open to students this fall, Hendrie says. The building will feature group workspaces as well as areas for rest, storage, and one-on-one faculty/student interaction.

One major inspiration? The school’s existing library. “It’s a melting pot across departments. It’s connective tissue,” Hendrie says. “That quality of space, multimodal space where students can do a few things at once; that’s what we want to replicate.”