Decoding Design

Herman Miller study points to the future of university design

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Why are some campus meeting spots more popular than others? A new survey from furniture maker Herman Miller looks at the latest design trends found in hubs where college students socialize and effectively collaborate on ideas

College and university campuses are filled with meeting spots designed specifically to encourage people to gather and discuss their ideas, from student lounges in dormitories to coffee bars in libraries. But what makes some of these areas more attractive than others? Are there design secrets from such spaces that can be utilized not only in schools, but also in offices, to encourage groups of young people to linger, socialize, collaborate, and return to do so again and again?

Herman Miller, the furniture maker behind the iconic Aeron chair, has published a new study that looks at what design aspects of campus hotspots make them popular and effective. The company is presenting the study at the Society for College and University Planning's annual meeting, now taking place through July 27 in Baltimore, Md. The study, called "Hub Life: Insights that Shape Campus Spaces," is based on a survey of higher education facility planners, architects, and designers conducted in February 2011. It focuses on campus "hub zones," defined as indoor destinations designed to be meeting places for students, who use these environments for mingling, studying, or surfing the Internet recreationally. These hubs can come in many forms (library, studio, cafe, lounge).

Here are some nuggets from the Herman Miller survey:

  • "Flexibility" (of furniture and whiteboards) is the most predominant design trend seen in hub zones, chosen by 59% of respondents, followed by "multiple seating types" (19%), "multi-media plug-in capabilities" (17%) and "comfort" (11%).
  • New design tactics tried recently in campus hubs include a "mixture of private and collaborative spaces" (21% of respondents agreed), "improved flexibility of furniture" (15%), "increased square footage" (15%), and "variety in hub designs" (15%).
  • Most respondents (41%) said that they plan for a group of ten or fewer people to use a typical hub zone. Thirteen percent said they plan for groups of 11-20. Five percent said they expect 21-30 people to use a hub they are designing. But 41% also stated that they design hubs with no number in mind.

Designers and facilities planners working on future university spaces can benefit from the survey's insight, which points to the popularity of spaces where small groups gather, where students choose flexibility of furniture and presentation equipment over comfort so they can engage in both collaborative and solo activity in the same area. In a broader context, the Herman Miller study may also prove helpful to anyone researching the types of settings people now in their late teens and early twenties prefer, as the findings could suggest what office environments they might feel most comfortable in, seek out, or even design themselves when they join the workforce.

Photo: Disavian/Wikimedia Commons

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure