Coffee and Social Design

I’ll never forget the day that my journalism professor humiliated me in front of the class. I was 19 years old, worry free, and attending my local community college. My friend Julia had bought me a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that morning, so my body had a particular buzz to it. I felt so privileged sitting there sipping on my coffee waiting for class to start; it felt like a step into adulthood. Leaning against the cinder block walls of the classroom, I wondered if it was the intention of the designer to make us feel like we were in a prison. It was an adult prison though, with coffee, so I couldn’t complain much. My teacher began talking about the complexities of words and how important clarity with “no fluff” was in journalism. She said she had selected quotes from our last paper that contained useless information, aka, fluff. She mentioned that the writers of the quotes would remain anonymous. I remember thinking that there was no way anything from my paper would be up there, I was a genius writer after all. I’m pretty sure that was just the coffee talking.

“I read this and realized I needed a glass of wine. I drank the wine, I read it again, and it still made absolutely no sense to me,” my professor chuckled. “This is the exact kind of thing you don’t want to do.” Her judgement was palpable.

There on the projector was a quote from my paper. I can’t remember what it said, but I know it was poetic and flowery and apparently it was fluffy too. My face turned beat red and I remember feeling like I had absolutely no talent. My next break could not come soon enough.

After class I burst into the cold fall air scanning the crowd of smokers for my friend Julia. All of the buildings in the college were old and they had a way of making you feel like you were in a basement. The courtyard was no different. The cold benches of the outdoor lounge were blocked in by all of the brick buildings. The concrete seemed to swallow the sun. I remember sitting there and shivering in the sea of gray, day after day, staring into the small rectangular prison-like windows.

Delaware County Community College (DCCC) is not the campus it once was. I was there a few years ago to pick up transcripts and I was shocked by the changes of the campus. The newest building on the main campus is called the STEM center. It is a building that was so obviously built by social design. Social design is when a building, or school in this case, is created with the people who will use it in mind (Gruman, Schneider & Coutts, 2017). Social design has six main goals: matching the needs of the user, satisfying the user, changing the behavior of the user, enhancing the user’s personal control, facilitating social support for the user, and employing easy use and navigation for all users (Gruman et. al., 2017). Essentially, social designers take into account a building’s use first, rather than its architectural beauty (Gruman et. al., 2017).

The STEM center was built in 2010, with the goal to provide an engaging learning environment that encourages interactions between students and teachers (Delaware County Community College [DCCC], 2020). There are amenities including: fitness centers, lecture halls, learning pods and a first floor café, with coffee might I add, in order to satisfy its occupants (DCCC, 2020). The building’s design of smaller classrooms and over sized lounges call for a change in independent behavior by increasing collaboration among teachers and students. The STEM center also takes the environment into account, with its use of energy efficient systems and recycled materials (DCCC, 2020).  This allows the college’s students to have a sense of respect and control over their physical environment as a part of the social design. The buildings large interior signs and multiple access points (including stairwells and elevators at every corner), allow for easy navigation. Basically, the STEM center is a stimulating and comfortable glass prism of social education. I wish it had been there when I was a student.

Now, I’m not saying that this gorgeous building based on social design would have eased the blow of my very first reality check in college, but, a little comfort never hurt anyone.



Delaware County Community College. (2020) Our Facilities and Technology. Retrieved from,pursuit%20of%20science%20and%20enlightenment.

Gruman, J.A.,Schneider, F.W., & Coutts, L.A. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


  1. I really like this post because it’s so easy to relate too and make real life connections too. Looking back at my community college that I attended it was built exactly the way you are explaining it. The brick walls inside and no windows made it feel like a prison. Since I have attended they have updated a lot of the campus. Social design is huge when it comes to drawing in people and keeping them happy. If my community college was designed better and updated I would have enjoyed going there and probably would have performed better. As time goes on I feel like social design is being incorporated a lot more into new buildings and spaces to benefit the people. People are realizing that social design really has it’s affects on keeping people engaged and happy. “Therefore social design research has become necessary in industrial and postindustrial societies.” (Gruman)

    Gruman, J.A.,Schneider, F.W., & Coutts, L.A. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  2. Let’s face it, the rapid growth of social designs have changed throughout time. Building are more structured to keep humans engage. Companies tend to focus on “design” in order to keep consumers influenced (Feldman, P., 2019). Over the years, many schools have implicated this same concept in the school building. I shared a similar experience, to the one you experienced with Reading Area Community College in 2011. The hallways were, dark and gloomy. There was also, a strange smell that reminded me of a basement. However recently, when I went to drop of one of my friends that attended that campus, I took a walk inside and they showed me the updated campus. No longer was a small room, used as a bookstore. Now they have a complete bookstore on the campus. The hallways are bright, with a clear pathway. There are colorful posters of either student’s work or events that are occurring. I thought to myself, “wow the amount of money they must’ve spend in updating”. There was also a nice garage, actually there was multiple garages that were available to students. Despite of the past, the campus made great updates in order to keep their students engaged.
    There are numerous changes being implemented within our society. Especially with the rapid growth of technology, it makes changes more effective (Feldman, P., 2019). There is an advance structures proving that money is being spent on building designs. Researchers have the ability to know what keeps consumers engaged. With such rapid changes, I cannot wait to see what is in store for the future. I wonder, how the designs will for schools will be like for my future children. We can expect to see, extreme changes.
    Feldman, P., Papanastasiou, Y., & Segev, E. (2019). Social learning and the design of new experience goods. Management Science, 65(4), 1502-1519. doi:10.1287/mnsc.2017.3024

  3. Having shared similar experiences, I thought this was a very entertaining post. I was a transfer student from CCAC (community college of allegheny county) and that campus had gone under some social design with the construction of a new STEM building next to the main campus. An embarrassing experience I had at my community college was when a professor used one of my math exam problems to demonstrate to the class an incorrect method. My name and grade on the exam were projected on the overhead for everyone to see. I’m not sure if this was intentional or a complete mistake, but I remember feeling increasingly embarrassed as he was going over my exam with the class. I remember I had a C- on that particular exam. After going over my exam he then went over another students exam who had an A and showed the “correct” method. I confronted the professor after class and he seemed to deny that my name was visible to the class and it was a random example. I know that my name was very clear and large on the top of the projector display however, I didn’t feel like arguing the point so left it like that.

    CCAC, similarly to DCCC, had undergone major changes in design. The K. Leroy Irvis Science Center building project began in early June, 2011. ( CCAC 2020) The science building was very small and was changed specifically into business courses. The new construction of the science building took almost two years while I was a student there. The previous science building was a smaller building with very bland and simple architecture. It certainly felt prison-like, as you explained your community college experience was. There just wasn’t much to this building. The outside area went straight to the street and there were very small areas for students to interact outside of the classroom. The new STEM building, once all the construction was done, was ready to be accessed by the students. I remember having a biology course there and it was a completely different change in environment. They had small classroom sizes and oversized halls and study areas. As you explained, this encourages collaborations and engagement between students and teachers outside the classroom. They added a starbucks and bookstore inside the building as well. The campus didn’t really have an area for clubs before the stem building was added and they added an area exclusively for clubs to meet. The building was environmentally friendly, being energy efficient. K. Leroy Irvis Science Center, designed by Hayes Large Architects, was constructed using green building technology, earning the highly coveted LEED Silver Energy rating. (CCAC 2020) Social design as described in our textbook was successfully implemented at CCAC. Creating a more user friendly environment, the building complemented the needs of the students and teachers resulting in a better learning environment and overall college experience. I was happy I got to experience some of my education in that building during my last year of community college. 2020. K. Leroy Irvis Science Center. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 September 2020].

    Gruman, J.A.,Schneider, F.W., & Coutts, L.A. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  4. Chance,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. My teacher was really tough that year, but I will say she made me appreciate the art of simplicity. I hadn’t thought about the effects of habitability on further education but now that you say it, it makes sense to me. If you associate a negative experience with community college, I could see how that would easily translate into not wanting to go on further. I actually took a long break after my associate’s degree so it’s possible that the college had an affect on me.

  5. First and foremost, this is a very well written and engaging blog post. Also, your professor at DCCC was completely inappropriate when she made an example of your writing. It would have been easy for her to simply reference writing she encountered elsewhere, whether in a class from prior years, online, etc.

    I can relate to your observations about the increasing influence of social design. My high school was very similar to DCCC in that it felt like a prison. I was not thrilled when they started demolishing parts of the campus in order to update the look and functionality of the school. Looking back, my freshmen through senior years was a stressful period of exams scored by the chaotic sounds of jackhammers and heavy machinery. Like you, I noticed the new building was much more appealing to look at and user friendly. I have often wondered how a new setting might have influenced my classmates and me. I attended a guest lecture with Nancy Hill, a developmental psychologist and professor at Harvard. She pointed out some interesting data in how social environment plays a role in high school students’ development and how it may relate to their aspirations to attend college (Hill, 2020). This made me wonder if an environment, like high school or community college, that feels like a prison could potentially influence a student’s decision regarding continuing their education. In the future, the concept of habitability described in our textbook may prove to be more powerful than previously thought (Gruman, 2017). I would hypothesize that if students feel negatively about the habitability of a space, they would be less likely to continue pursuing their education, even at another institution that scored higher in habitability ratings. I imagine this is so because they would generalize their experience to other environments with a similar purpose and desire a change of the perceived scenery. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Gruman, J.A.,Schneider, F.W., & Coutts, L.A. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Hill, N. (2020, September 17). The end of adolescence: purpose, insecurity and indecision in the pathway toward adulthood. Lecture conducted from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

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