Designing Small Spaces: A Case Study of the Florida International University Digital Writing Studio

Designing Small Spaces: A Case Study of the Florida International University Digital Writing Studio

Ben Lauren (Florida International University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2673-7.ch004


This case is useful as a model for institutions creating media labs in small spaces with a limited budget and advances a discussion of effective design among scholars, K-12 educators, a range of industries, and the corporate sector. By addressing how small spaces can function effectively for users, the author encourages representatives from these areas to design media labs in usable ways. The study begins by arguing for a user-centered approach to designing digital media labs in order to engage stakeholders in the design process. Then, the chapter explains the process of how the author engaged users while piloting several iterations of the Florida International University Digital Writing Studio, reporting what was learned about designing the space. Finally, the study investigates the usability of the Digital Writing Studio through a usability test meant to investigate the functionality of the space for collaboration among users. This case demonstrates a challenge that many must take on at a time when budgets are being cut and space is difficult to secure. Usability methods of inquiry can help create a space designed in part by stakeholders—a method that this case argues can be built into annual program assessment.
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Designing For Users

Since the pairing of computers and writing, researchers have been interested in the design of digital media labs and classrooms (Boiarsky, 1990; Myers, 1993; Nagelhout & Rutz, 2004), especially those that enhance collaboration between students and faculty. When developing a model for media lab design, administrators are likely to discover several excellent approaches that focus on designing larger spaces (Sheridan & Inman, 2010; Gresham & Yancey, 2004), developing curriculum (Carter & Dunbar-Odom, 2009), or distributing the workplace (Harrison, Wheeler, & Whitehead, 2004). When thinking about designing media labs, there are certainly other considerations to make depending on the pedagogical goals of the program. For instance, where collaboration is valued, Handa’s (1993) discussion of pods might be useful for thinking about the organization of workstations. Similarly, Bemer, Moeller, and Ball’s (2009) focus on space mobility and collaboration shows that media labs can be flexible spaces and adjust to use. On the other hand, Inman (2010) provides a helpful way to think about designating areas for specific activities through spatial relationships, such as the location of potentially loud audio/video editing stations in a space. He calls this a “zoning approach.”

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