Humber College & iQ Business Media: Learn by Doing

When students are challenged with real-world design assignments, the overall project outcomes are more resilient and solutions more meaningful.

In a world as fluid and evolving as the one we live in today, interior designer and educator Anna Stranks believes it is not enough for design students to “go through the motions” of just theoretical explorations in design studios. Research data cannot keep up with the rapid changes and observing life from a digital screen cannot fully construct the empathy and deeper knowledge that designers require to solve their client’s problems. “The interior design profession is heavily based on qualitative research, which is very sensory orientated,” says Stranks. “You see the bulb go off faster when students’ learning experiences include strong connections to people and places outside of the studio and collaborating with external partners who can identify opportunities and challenges in real time for a project.”

This belief resonated strongly as Stranks began building a semester-long internal studio project for her third year Interior Design students in the Faculty of Applied Science and Technology at Toronto’s Humber College, and soon a solution became clear: “I wanted to find a client who has an interesting business model and keen interest in innovation and design excellence, and a deep understanding of the design and construction industry both nationally and internationally,” says Stranks. Which led her to approach iQ Business Media, a Toronto-based B2B media company and owner of this magazine as well as Canadian Architect, Building, Design Source Guide and Supply Professional, as a client partner for this project. Working closely with iQ Business Media, Stranks shaped a client program that would, in her words, “provide the students with a rich narrative for the project and an opportunity to position themselves as critical thinkers and creative co-partners while collaborating with external resources.”

In the project brief, students were challenged to “re-imagine a new kind of workplace environment for iQ Business Media, which would allow the organization to connect with their audience in dynamic ways and expand the programming of their business brand,” and “employ design strategies situated in human-centred and inclusive design principles addressing visible and invisible abilities; evidence-based design workplace strategies which support well-being and productivity; technological advancements and environmental design best practices while keeping in mind the client’s business model and building code compliances.”

In order for the entire class to have the same building frame of reference, they were instructed to carve out the best 10,000 square feet for iQ Business Media from the new Student Welcome and Resource Centre on Humber’s Lakeshore Campus. In addition to the immediate iQ office space, the new space program included zones for conferences and social gatherings; onsite production and editing capabilities for various media productions; immersive zones; exhibition spaces; library and resource centre; and a co-working office space available to the design community. Collaboration was also done with reps at Haworth’s downtown Toronto showroom, who provided additional learning resources to enhance the students’ understanding of workplace design and appropriate furniture specification.

At the completion of the project, a day of poster presentations was conducted at the Haworth showroom with industry veterans to provide feedback, strengthen the student’s communication skills and select a shortlist of favourites. A little later, that shortlist was invited to virtually present (due to COVID-19) their project to the team at iQ Business Media, which included myself, publisher Martin Spreer and owner Alex Papanou, after which three Top of Class students were selected: Lily Donald; Nicola Klahre; and John Armstrong.

“The future looks hopeful, as interior design students demonstrated that their eyes are wide open to new ideas and capable of solving complex problems even during unpredictable disruptive times,” says Stranks.

According to Lily Donald’s concept brief, “[t]he Powerhouse is the main area where work is produced efficiently and effectively. The design of the iQ Business Media office encourages collaboration, energy, innovation and focus through elements of scale, light and circulation. Each zone of the office is connected to the central Powerhouse.”
“This concept enriches the IQ Business Media office space with new innovative collaboration spaces that are implemented to help the team work together and have small hubs to gather in. These spaces can be used by teams or individually for an employee to have down time to restore their well-being,” says Nicola Klahre in her concept brief.
“The conceptual approach amongst this office space is RISE, which focuses on future company growth. In terms of design, authentic working spaces that involve outstanding social collaborative areas will be implemented, to enhance the ability of working together,” said John Armstrong in his concept brief.