Walls for Scribbles is a campus wall installation facilitating connection at SMC's Center for Media and Design.
Operation Center for Media and Design
Frank Dawson, CMD Dean
Nicole Chan, Faculty Lead
How might we create community at Santa Monica College's new campus?
When the new Center for Media and Design opened its doors in August of 2017, classrooms filled with design, technology, and media students eager to hone their collaborative skills, build experience through experimentation, and, first and foremost, put their creativity to hard work.
Meanwhile, the administration was asking themselves some big questions: How do we welcome students into the new space? How do we encourage them to take ownership of the campus? And how do we establish a culture of innovation in which students feel safe enough to practice risk-taking, challenge norms, and push boundaries?
Dean Frank Dawson launched “Operation Center for Media and Design”. As part of the effort, my peers and I were asked to research, design, and prototype ways to create community within the new campus.
Connecting through physical barriers.
Over seven weeks, we developed a proposal: Walls for Scribbles. This wall installation will allow students, staff, and faculty to engage in public-private conversations, provide feedback, request support, express thoughts, and share ideas. The walls will facilitate casual collisions, help strangers break the ice, and foster cross-departmental relationships.
Understanding the heart of the matter.
We conducted observational studies of the campus environment and a dozen of qualitative interviews with students, staff, and faculty. We learned that CMD students find it difficult to connect with people both in and outside of class. They struggle to break the ice with strangers. Part of that problem is the pristine campus environment: it makes students feel constrained, uncomfortable, and unsure of how to claim the space. Additionally, the interviews revealed a disconnect between the administration and the student body. There are few opportunities for faculty to connect with students outside of class and even fewer for leadership and staff.
"Sometimes I end a semester without making a single friend."
Animation Student, CMD
How might we help students break the ice?
Recognizing that students struggle to initiate conversations, we decided to focus our concept on environmental icebreakers. Our first idea was to provide name tags carrying a personal message. Thinking that the tags would serve as natural conversation starters, we prototyped this concept using sticky notes.
Try, fail, try again.
We learned that personalized name tags are effective within defined contexts or in group settings (i.e. a class or an event). However, few students were compelled to participate independently as it made them feel either silly or exposed. With eyes fixed on our goal—breaking the ice between strangers—we headed back to the drawing board.
Our second prototype was inspired by Candy Chang's art project "Before I Die". We liked the idea of public-private conversations and wondered what barriers could be brought down by allowing students to interact with each other using the building itself as their canvas. We posted mega sticky notes around campus, stuck a few crayons in a pocket constructed out of tape, and waited.
In less than 24 hours, the walls filled up. Questions were asked and answered, drawings were started and finished, jokes were made and laughed at, and intimate ideas were shared and supported. We witnessed clusters of strangers interacting with each other around the wall installations. People were smiling, laughing, talking, sharing Instagram handles, and recommending lunch spots in the area. Students, staff, and faculty gathered, and the campus came to life in a beautifully organic way. We were onto something!
At the end of the project, we delivered a comprehensive research report and presented our concept to Dean Frank Dawson. From here, we will continue a conversation about how Walls for Scribbles could be installed and maintained.