AUD X Steelcase: Showroom Redesign Contest

On 3rd February 2024, the Steelcase showroom was a field of nervous anticipation. Five final-year students from the American University in Dubai had prepared their final presentation and were awaiting the results of a competition. Who won? Most importantly, what was this contest about?

Students are future designers. They are at an impressionable stage, often sculpted by the mentorship they receive. In this regard, teachers and professors hold a mammoth responsibility in acquainting them with the basics of design and training them to develop a unique worldview. The same students are also a resource. They come with a wealth of ideas, each free from constraints in a seasoned professional’s mind. 

Well-established brands such as Steelcase understand this unique proposition. That is why they have been working with universities such as the American University in Dubai (AUD) to organise training modules that familiarise students with the undercurrents of interior design. 

In this case, these deep-dive sessions culminated in a student contest to redesign Steelcase’s showroom based on a brief. Five of the 16 final students who participated impressed the panel of judges. The jury comprised members from AUD’s Interior Design department and professionals from Steelcase, ensuring the projects were evaluated based on academic and industry insights.

AUD X Steelcase: The Agenda

Poupak Parvaresh, Assistant Professor of Interior Design at AUD and Claudia Rus, Business Development Manager at Steelcase, helmed this initiative, ultimately adapting it into a lucrative student experience.

Poupak shares, “Middle Eastern history is full of colours, patterns, and stories. I encouraged my students to mix that with new design trends. It’s like taking the best of both worlds – the classic and the modern – and seeing what amazing things could come out. They got hands-on experience with some neat materials and tech, aiming to make spaces look astonishing. I really wanted to convey to the students that design isn’t just about putting furniture in a room or picking out paint colours.”

“And when the students started their projects, you could see them thinking about these ideas. They were designed for the eyes, sure, but also for the heart and the mind. It’s all about crafting those unique experiences that remain long after you’ve left a space. That’s the power of good design – it stays with you and becomes a part of who you are”, she finishes.

The Day of the Awards at Steelcase Showroom

If you have been to the Steelcase showroom, you know its signature is a spiral staircase leading up to the mezzanine. The space, although tight, decently balances open areas and workspaces. But, as with every location, every set of eyes perceives the showroom differently. The challenge for the students was to fit all their aspirations of a happening showroom into this space. 

“At the core of Steelcase, we look into human behaviour”, Claudia began addressing the students that fateful day. “Through our research, we try to bridge the gap between reality and an ideal experience. A unique approach is as important at Steelcase as in-depth analysis. So, for the competition, we did not expect you [the students] to create a space that fulfils all the criteria. Instead, I was keen to see what made your proposal stand out.”

Three significant factors deciding a proposal’s merit were the sensory journey, the memoryscape, and sparking human interaction. Finally, Steelcase’s ‘Work Better’ concept enveloped the challenge. As each of the five students present that day walked through their projects, it became evident that they had indeed embedded these values in their designs.

The Student Showcase

Thasneem Abuthahir embarked on a futuristic journey for her version of Steelcase’s showroom. VR screens and interactive technology punctuated the space. The reception was replaced by a hologram exhibit that played docent to visitors. Features such as feeling upholstery textures using VR beforehand depicted Thasneem’s far-sightedness.

Next, Lina Hassan’s iteration spotlighted human-centric design. She imagined furniture and other ambulatory factors in the showroom as puzzle pieces. Her vision was to bring the comfort of home to the office. Flexibility and ergonomics took precedence, and Lina’s ability to craft an adaptable environment underscored her concern for employee well-being.

Haneen Kilany wanted to engage the senses. From placing motion sensors at the entrance to curating a game at the reception, she wanted to make sure the experience at the showroom was one to write home about. Haneen was keen on promoting team spirit and human interaction by designing an open space plan for employees.

Farah El Sayed took the regional context at its actual value. She was diligent and conducted a vernacular spatial analysis. She then used her findings to bestow a Middle Eastern undertone to Steelcase’s office. The arches, carpets, corridors, and even privacy alcoves in Farah’s rendition speak volumes about the untapped potential of classic Arabic features in a design.

Finally, Cud Kayali married the tactility of materials with calmer hues and attributes. Even in dealing with such a ‘physical concept’, she ensured the design lent itself to technology. Dedicated spaces to collaborations and a few strategies to mitigate boundaries perfectly contributed to her concept of Seamless Serenity.

All the five students had put their best foot forward. Every presentation sheet was meticulously designed to highlight the most engaging aspects of a proposal. But then, in the end, there can only be one winner.

Students Corner

(Arranged in order of rank obtained)

Thasneem Abuthahir

What has been your most significant learning from this experience?

The idea of turning an existing office space completely technologically revolved but at the same time ensuring the idea of an “escape” was hard to translate into drawings. Moving on, I faced few hardships into translating this idea into real renders as sometimes we designers face issues in translating our dream images into real image renders. Further, I had taken up the task of making my walkthrough using VR glasses to create an immersive experience which required me learning a completely new software, which was quite difficult.

As final-year students, what about working as a designer? Does it seem most exciting to you, and what makes you anxious?

As a passionate design student, I have completed a good number of internships. The experiences I have learnt at AUD have catered me in building a good experience at my workplace too. Our professors at AUD have made sure that we could learn design in a hands-on method with real life experiences which have helped me heavily. Design as a process is the most exciting and engaging part I came across! I love designing for functionality and can’t wait to grow further in this field.

The last series you binge-watched?

Haha! I love watching shows related to technology and AI. The one that has been on my list is: Black Mirror, which was suggested by my mentor!

Haneen Kilany

What has been your most significant learning from this experience?

With determination and clear goals, anything is achievable. Interior design and design in general isn’t just about getting ideas and having pretty images put together, it is more about using the challenges and issues that you face while designing a beautiful space that is inspiring and gives an unforgettable user experience. I have also learned that despite the difficulties and challenges in designing, especially at the beginning, having belief in yourself and staying true to your goals can make anything possible in the end.

As final-year students, what about working as a designer? Does it seem most exciting to you, and what makes you anxious?

As a final-year student, the idea of stepping into the world of design excites me so much, especially for finally being able to turn my creative ideas into actual spaces. What excites me the most is the opportunity to make a real impact and leave a lasting imprint behind through my designs. And despite feeling a bit anxious about the unknown challenges that lie ahead, I try to view them as opportunities to grow, learn, and become the designer I aspire to be.

The last series you binge-watched?

An Egyptian show called ‘Rivo.’ The storytelling and mystery in each episode are just too good to resist. Definitely worth watching!

Farah Elsayed

What has been your most significant learning from this experience?

What I learned the most about working on this project is that every space has the potential to look and feel creative regardless of its size. Working on this project was challenging for me due my to concept. I didn’t think I would be able to achieve the vision I had in my head without making the space look small or overcrowded. I also learned a lot of information about the technicality that goes through working on a project solely. It felt good to be responsible for an entire project from A-Z so we can really get the full experience. The entire process was fun yet challenging.

As final-year students, what about working as a designer? Does it seem most exciting to you, and what makes you anxious?

Working as a designer is extremely challenging since the field is all about competition, however, all hard work and sleepless nights become worth it when you see the end result and realize that you really achieved what you were working so hard for.

The last series you binge-watched?

How to Get Away with Murder

Lina Hassan

What has been your most significant learning from this experience?

Through this experience, I became more decisive in my choices, regardless of whether they were design-related or not. It was challenging for me during my university years to be confident in my decisions, and I changed things and started over many times. It was thanks to this experience that I learned to be more certain in my work rather than starting over because of a lack of confidence.

As final-year students, what about working as a designer? Does it seem most exciting to you, and what makes you anxious?

I am looking forward to the unexpected aspects of working professionally and applying my skill of design into other industries like automotive design, furniture design and product design, all of which are passions of mine. There are countless opportunities for me, and I may meet interesting people along the way. My only worry is that I do not have many connections or people I know who work in the design field, which makes me feel somewhat alone, but optimistic as well for a fresh start.

The last series you binge-watched?

During the winter break, I binge-watched The Good Wife. 

Cud Kayali

What has been your most significant learning from this experience?

Throughout my learning journey in interior design, I learned to take my creativity to the extreme and to apply it visually on my work.

As final-year students, what about working as a designer? Does it seem most exciting to you, and what makes you anxious?

In general, interior design is very competitive major and that’s what makes me anxious sometimes about my work. However, whenever I work hard on a project and realized what I have achieved, all the hard work pays off.

The last series you binge-watched?

The last show I watched was an Arabic series called ( حالة خاصة) which means the special case that explains the life of a student who has autism.

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Date added:

12 February, 2024

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