The Story

In the spring of 2022, I took a twelve-week independent study in grad school to help evaluate the studio space for the Master of Science Design + Innovation (MDI) program. MDI is a multi-disciplinary, design-thinking program with creative students from all different backgrounds. The program has a designated studio space for MDI students to have classes, listen to speakers, and work on their projects.

The Challenge

The MDI studio had been in place for only a year and was a sectioned-off area of an open floor in the engineering building. The simple space was very sterile with a lot of concrete and acrylic throughout the room. MDI students described the space as drab, unsexy, and cluttered. I felt that these were not the terms that align with the heart of the MDI program and its students as their space should.

The problem to solve: How might we create a space that reflects the personality of MDI and the students that make up the program?

The solution: Creating a sense of ownership and belonging in the studio by involving the students in a personalized project.



Expert interviews Analogous Desktop




Concept testing Student feedback


Iterated designs
Installed solution


Since I started this project with no previous interior design experience, I knew I couldn’t do anything until I gathered some research.

Expert Interviews
UW Makerspace leaders, professors in the interior architecture program, and a local creative director.

Desk Research
The Third Teacher, Make Space, and Interior Architecture course presentations.

Site Visits
The Hamel Music Center, UpperHouse, and Colectivo Coffee.


Having taken some time to explore the how-to of space design, I took a step back to think about the MDI students and what they have expressed are their needs for their studio. I identified the three elements I hypothesized to be most important to the students.

Ownership: As makers, students want to feel like their studio space is theirs to spread out and claim how they see fit.

Expressiveness: As creatives, students want their surroundings to reflect their style and spark creativity.

Mental Ease: As graduate students, the group wants to be able to take a break from the work they are doing and have space to disconnect from their work mode.


To validate my assumptions, I generated 15 unique concepts that fell under one or more of the three elements and conducted one-on-one interviews with MDI students for concept testing.

MDI students voting on concept elements they liked with sticky notes

After interviewing, three concepts rose to the top as aligning with students’ feelings about the MDI program and studio.


“There’s so much acrylic and concrete in here!”

“The saddest thing about the current tables is the plastic covering the natural wood.”

Students Make the Space

“Then every cohort’s legacy would be showcased at any time to anyone who comes to the space.”

‘It would be cool if it could keep building with every cohort.”

Private Spaces

“It would be nice to have our own space to create any atmosphere we want.”

“I work in there a lot and it’s hard to keep people from talking to you when you’re trying to get work done.”

While there was excitement around the ideas of some furniture changes and sprucing up of the studio, the number one insight I got out of the interviews is that the thing students love most about the program is the cohort of people they get to go through the program with.

“This program feels right because it’s full of other people that are as curious as I am.”

– David Gruba, MDI Student


It appeared that the thing that created a sense of home and ownership of MDI was the human connection and sharing of ideas with interesting people who became friends over the course of the program. It was this realization that lead me to choose the Student Make the Space concept to generate the MDI Yearbook, a legacy wall mural to celebrate the humans and their experiences with each other in the program.

The concept generated a lot of excitement with the group, so I got started CNC routering, testing, painting, installing the pieces, and laser cutting the tiles to generate a three-sided wall wrap with cutouts for current and future students.

Resulting in a final wall mural with enough spots to hold roughly the next eight years of program cohorts with a spot for each student to include a personalized hexagon tile with their name, year, and creative twist.


As with most creative endeavors, this project pushed me more than I thought it would. When I mocked up my digital design of the MDI Yearbook, I didn’t quite know what I was in for when creating it. Each step of the creation process caused me to do something I have never done before, from using 3D modeling software, CNC routering, prepping and painting plywood, and installing the pieces on the wall. I came out of this with a whole new set of skills in addition to a really exciting final result.

So, did the result make the students feel more included in the space? I’ll let them speak for themselves.