Interior design is about space planning, lighting, architecture and the environment.
But ultimately, Dr. Junghwa Suh likes to tell her students, it’s about people. How people live, work – and play.
And this year, the associate professor of Environmental + Interior Design at Chaminade, took that lesson to new lengths with an innovative collaboration that weaved in key principles of psychology.
For the project, Suh partnered with Dr. Blendine Hawkins, Assistant Professor of Psychology.
Together, they tasked PSY 321: The Psychology of Personality students and EID 200: Introduction of Interior Design students with working side by side to analyze the character and personality traits of their clients to envision a truly person-centered home – complete with a unique design feature.
And the project had a fun twist: The so-called “clients” were actually characters from “The Office.”
So one group of psychology and EID students designed a home for Angela Martin, head of accounting on the show and known for more than a few eccentricities, including treating her four cats like her children.
Another designed a living space for Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), the boss of the paper distribution branch featured in the show who – rather oddly – fancies himself a skilled performer.
The two professors came up with the idea for the project while Suh was visiting Hawkins’ class for a peer teaching observation. Afterwards, the two were chatting and Suh mentioned just how relevant psychology is to the field of interior design, especially when thinking about living spaces.
“Together we came up with the idea that it would be interesting to have psychology and design students collaborate,” Hawkins said, “by bringing the learning from their respective field into a culminating project” and having students from each field serve as experts to their peer counterparts.
The professors launched the project in the fall, both classes coming together frequently to build a foundation of knowledge in psychology and interior design, then to apply what they’d learned and finally to present their final projects – those client-centered living spaces – at the end of the term.
The psychology students were tasked with “developing a deep understanding” of their “Office” character and communicating that analysis to their design colleagues. The design students then used the analysis from their peers to develop a living space that truly incorporates their character’s traits.
The professors said the project was a hit with students, who appreciated the chance to learn about another field of study, apply it to their own – and, of course, watch some episodes from “The Office.”
Environmental Science student Noah Lorenzo ’21 was among the psychology students and said he enjoyed working closely with students from different majors and applying the theories he learned in a concrete way – to a home designed for a client. “My biggest takeaway from this project is seeing that it is possible for two different majors to collaborate on a single project,” Lorenzo said.
He added he’d love to see more interdisciplinary collaboration in other classes.
“It was interesting because I took the class to learn why people act a certain way,” Lorenzo said. “This project was fun because we did just that and applied it to a realistic setting.”
Suh said the interdisciplinary project had its challenges, especially as students sought to better understand their counterparts’ fields of study and incorporate them into their own. “We were able to witness the benefits of this collaboration,” she said, adding that she and Hawkins also learned a lot along the way – and are already thinking about how to bring their students together again.