August 9, 2019

Designing for Higher Education

Several factors have driven immense change in higher education design just in the last decade.

As college students head into a new school year, we wanted to better understand their needs and how our industry is designing for them today. We received feedback from architects, designers, project managers, facility managers, and teachers.

How often are schools renovating buildings on their campus?

Half of respondents concluded that buildings on higher education campuses are being renovated every five to 10 years.

Where is the focus today when planning for higher education spaces?

The top three most important spaces were classrooms, libraries, and student housing. The three least important spaces were bookstores, museums, and auditorium theaters.

What trends are you seeing in higher education?

Half of respondents are seeing more spaces for active, collaborative learning. A quarter of respondents noted more shared, common spaces. The other quarter of respondents mentioned more natural light in classrooms.

What are current issues with higher education spaces?

The four issues that are considered top issues were inefficient use of space, insufficient space to accommodate future growth, residential-grade furniture in high traffic areas, and not knowing student needs and workflows to best design for them.

What are current needs in higher education spaces?

The top two needs were space and furniture supporting student and faculty needs and having plug-and-play connectivity anytime, anywhere.

How is higher education planning for the future?

The top four ways clients and designers are planning for their future are providing furniture that supports technology, having more technology throughout the space, providing spaces and tools for distance learning, and designing flexible spaces and furniture for mixed-use needs.

Universities are accommodating a generation where technology and collaboration come naturally. These students expect flexibility, freedom, and quality campus spaces and services that will positively contribute to their wellbeing. This student demographic will change again when a new generation enters the college landscape with new education curricula and technologies in the world. Since we live in a world of continuous change, our industry needs to design for today and the future. Understanding who we are designing for is crucial. We can accomplish this user-centered approach through extensive research before jumping into space programming.

Chelsea Connolly | SKG Workplace Strategist | IIDA Associate, IIDA Austin City Center Sustainability Chair, WELL AP

SKG is a Knoll furniture dealer in Austin, Texas and San Antonio. We specialize in workplace design and furniture. Chelsea Connolly, our Workplace Strategist, sends out monthly surveys to our clients, design firms, followers, and the community to gauge current perspectives on workplace design. Each month has a different theme. After gathering data, we summarize our findings and share it out on social media. Please enjoy our first article in our 2018 ‘Survey & Summary’ series. If you’d like to be a part of these monthly surveys, please email Chelsea at All graphics provided by Danielle Zayas.


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