Advanced Corporate: Course Summary

Jessica Jae Ainsworth-Truong

| ID3442 Advanced Corporate Design | Course Summary |

This summary reflects my personal approach to the course and is based on the course description and competencies outlined by The Art Institutes International Minnesota.

This course covers corporate design from programming to design development and requires students to work together as a team.  Much of the beginning of the class is focused on team communication through the medium of concept and how that influences schematic design.  The middle of the course broadens their discussions into definitive plans, beginning elevations, and more specific product and material selections.  The final weeks of the quarter are spent refining the design and focusing in on client presentation.

Overarching Course Goal.

The major focus of this studio is teamwork.  The students need to overcome differences and learn to design as a team.  So much of education is focused on the individual project when people spend most of their time in their careers working in groups.  Organizing and managing a team of peers is very difficult, and it is my role to teach the students best practices for communication, professionalism, and understanding.  Through teamwork, they begin to understand the value of diverse ideas and the best products come when many are sharply focused on one solution.

I put the students in teams of four or five.  I do not let them choose.  By this point in their career, I know these students personally and I place them together for a reason.  It is not random and they know it.  I place them together because they may have complimentary strengths, strong personalities, or similar work ethic.  With most of the groups this is very successful, while the other few have problems – usually with one group member.  The problems stem from one source – communication.

I try my best to eliminate communication issues from the get-go.  The first day of class, they are given a three page contract.  In this contract, they outline their schedules so they know when everyone is available and give all personal contact information.  The second page has them come to consensus on the definition of key team responsibilities, such as when items need to be completed and what completed means.  They then agree to the terms in writing.  There is an additional clause; if I feel that a team member has acted unprofessionally and is not living up to the contract I can lower their final grade by one letter.  I have only had to do this once.  They are also responsible for 25% of each other’s final grade and hand out individual assessments throughout the quarter.

This assessment has proven very valuable.  They answer pertinent questions that give me a lot of insight into how the team is working.  I can address these issues through exercises.  Usually, we have a group discussion on the definition of professionalism and respect after the first assessment is turned in.  After this general anonymous warning this type of issue usually dissipates.

I have formulated two other teamwork exercises for this course that I am particularly proud of.  The first is an early space planning exercise.  The students are asked to go out individually and find a texture or two that represents their concept and bring the object, a photo, or a rubbing back.  When they come back together as a group, they need to explain their choice to the other members.  Then, they use what they have collected to create a space plan for the space.  Many students have not approached planning from a more abstract direction and the teams find that this helps them unify their definition of their concept and provides many ideas for their plan and sections throughout the space.

The second exercise is more personal, but helps the students understand how others may view them.  I have them spend a few minutes writing down their greatest strength and what good things it brings them.  This is to be a personality trait, like confidence, not a skill.  While they are thinking, I write mine on the board.  Theirs do not need to be shared, but I have realized that sharing things like this with students earns their trust and makes them more willing to try exercises that seem unusual.

After about five minutes, I ask them how this greatest strength could also be their worst liability.  How can it be a bad or challenging trait?  I write my answer on the board as well.  We then discuss why it is important to look at yourself when you are part of a team and why this particular exercise is helpful.

We complete many more exercises and have a lot of critiques to help the students work through the design as a team.  I feel this focus better prepares them for their future than any exercise I could lead on ADA compliant thresholds or selecting commercial wall coverings.  That knowledge can be learned from a book, learning to work as a team takes experience.

The project.

The project is for Tonique, a fictional men’s bath and body product company who is renovating a building in Saint Paul, Minnesota as their corporate headquarters.  The design must address their mission, “Address the senses, nurture the spirit… of the body… of the world,” address sustainable elements, and include a complex program.  There is one flexible aspect to the program, the students are to create spaces for innovative and impromptu collaboration.

The concept is based on one of Tonique’s signature fragrances.  The space is supposed to become the visual and tactile representation of this scent.  Giving the teams an unusual starting point for concept gets them talking and working together from the start.  After they present their concept, they begin researching proto-types and different forms of collaboration space.

The schematic design phase focuses on developing one concept and creating two schemes around it.  The critique focuses on how they are addressing concept in their plans, experiential perspectives, and selections from both schemes.  We then discuss the merits of each scheme and what needs to be taken from each to the next phase in design.

The design development review focuses the schemes into one strong design.  The plan should be developed by the end of this phase, along with refined themes for three dimensional space, materials, and furnishings.  We critique again based on concept and add workability and code compliance.

The final review and job book help the students organize the project into something that could be presented to a client and worked through construction documents.  The job book compiles furnishings and materials and includes schedules and key details.  The final review is the place for students to finalize design decisions and focus on how to clearly present them visually and verbally.


For the most part, I am pleased with how this course is going.  Like everyone, I always wish for more time.  Right now, I feel as though I am only touching on sustainability in the course (meaning the students are mostly applying it through material selection) when I would like them to be designing with it in all decisions (daylighting, energy efficiency, etc).  I know they are introduced to the concepts earlier in the curriculum, I teach the course, but to add the implementation of sustainable techniques to an already large and complex project, let alone all of the team dynamics, seems impossible.



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