CSU team lands international honor for design research

A Colorado State University team that created CSU’s innovative Design Lab, or [d] lab, has received a top research honor from the international Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA).

Leigh, left, and Malinin inside the [d] lab
Leigh, left, and Malinin inside the [d] lab

The [d] lab is an open, configurable learning area designed to enhance creativity and collaboration. Completed in Aylesworth Hall in 2013 to serve interior design students in the Department of Design and Merchandising, the project was one of only nine recipients of EDRA’s inaugural Certificate of Research Excellence (CORE) in 2015. Other project teams honored were in Turkey, British Columbia, Australia and the United States.

“This is one of the highest recognitions we could ever receive,” said CSU Professor Katharine Leigh, team leader. “We didn’t think we were going to get it.”

“It’s a nice validation of the work we do,” added Laura Malinin, assistant professor of interior design.

‘Rigorous’ research

CSU’s entry, “[d] lab: A collaborative learning space promoting creativity and learning,” was recognized for “rigorous, valuable and impactful practice-based research to spark innovation and promote best practice in environmental design,” according to the EDRA website.

Leigh said the CSU team — Malinin; the late CSU Professor Kenneth Tremblay Jr.; CSU alumna Amy Huber, who is now a faculty member at Florida State University; and Derrell Jackson of furniture manufacturer Herman Miller’s education team — benefitted from having one foot in academia and the other in the industry.

“We are research practitioners,” she said. “We had the unique combination of both perspectives and expertise.”

BBH Design Director of Research Nicholas Watkins, co-chair of the EDRA CORE Communications and PR Committee, explained that the award was created to honor projects exemplifying that ideal blend: Research that may have originated in academia but is not relegated to the ivory tower and is instead applied to practice in the private sector.

“Academia, traditionally, has been ‘publish or perish,’ and the business world is an entirely different model,” he said. “This opportunity to meet in the middle and recognize projects from both arenas is one way to encourage alignment and compromise as well. It encourages a bridge, as opposed to a chasm.”

Similar to LEED

Watkins said the EDRA CORE honor is distinctly different from the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program created by the U.S. Green Building Council.

photo“It’s more like a refereed journal,” he explained. “Research is evaluated for integrity, reliability, validity, and its potential contribution to the design industry, rather than fulfilling a prescriptive checklist of design requirements.”

He added, “The idea is to promote among students and faculty the opportunity to participate more in applied research that can impact the industry. We need prepared graduates coming into the field.”

Undergraduate and graduate students have been involved in planning and evaluating CSU’s [d] lab from the start. In fact, Malinin and Leigh said one factor bolstering their entry’s chances was that they have used student surveys, a design charrette, focus groups and other methods to document how the [d] lab provides measurable benefits over traditional learning spaces. Their data collection effort, which began before the [d] lab was built and continues today, is an example of “evidence-based design” that involves assessing the effectiveness of a space to perform in a way that confirms the project’s intentions and goals.

“The physical environment affects everything you do,” Leigh said.

Malinin, a licensed architect, added that she and Leigh worked with CSU Online to launch a certificate program on evidence-based design research in fall 2016, in recognition of this emerging trend in the field.

Leigh and Malinin also received the 2015 Vice President for Research’s Emerging Team award, recognizing that their interests and experiences meld to tease out the best in their research activities.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.