The MacArthur Foundation, Digital Youth Network, and the Chicago Public Library tapped the ETC for a new project in conjunction with Katie Salen's Institute of Play to design a new media space for teenagers in the Harold Washington Library Center in downtown Chicago, Illinois. Chicago Scenic Studios was our partner for advising the design and ultimately coordinating its manufacture. We completed this project in 15 weeks.

The Chicago Public Library provided us with a floorplan and the vision they developed with the MacArthur Foundation and the Digital Youth Network. From there, we were able to begin our design in earnest.

We began with many hours of research in which we searched the internet, read architectural, interior and color design books, and learned about existing teen spaces and programs in other cities. 

Additionally, we made sure to visit the space in person early on, so that we could take measurements and pictures that we could use for reference as we worked on the design back in PIttsburgh.  To the left is one of the first pictures we took of the space, which was being used for storage at the time.  Our visit also allowed us to speak with the students and mentors of the YouMedia program (which would be housed in the space) for the first time and get their thoughts on what they wanted in the space.

After these early stages, we began sketching ideas on whiteboards and copies of the floorplan, and built a scale model out of foamcore to help us understand how objects were going to fit in the space. We even made a 3D virtual space. All of these tools helped us iterate quickly. On a weekly basis, we presented our plans and collected feedback from our clients, and incorporated their suggestions into new designs.

Based on that feedback, we gave a lot of thought not only to the layout of the room, but to what might go in it.  We researched and brainstormed custom furniture and bookshelves for the space and designed some concepts that would help inform our choices for commercially available products in line with our vision later down the line - especially when it was clear that custom-made pieces would be an ineffective application of our budget.  We also leveraged our creative talents to choose a color scheme and design for the room.  Color was used to delineate different areas of the space where teens could hang out, mess around and take workshops.

We also leveraged our creative talents to choose a color scheme and design for the room.  Color was used to delineate different areas of the space where teens could hang out, mess around and take workshops. Additionally, we would be challenged by the selection of colors in wall paint and furniture, since we couldn't see the physical objects in the space before they were purchased.  Our 3D visualizations helped us balance the colors as our clients made the final choices.


As a team, we fielded technical considerations as well as creative ones.  We developed an electrical plan for data and power needed to support the digital activities in the room and considered how and where students could store their belongings; fire code restrictions; and how and where to fit the 5,000 book Young Adult collection.  This was all in addition to the basic technical requirement of making sure all of our product selections would fit within the dimensions of the space.

Last, but certainly not least, we designed a logo for YouMedia for branding purposes.  The logo needed to be easily scalable and reproducible for print and other applications.  We were very proud to see this logo representing the space at the grand opening. 

As our project reached an end, we knew we wanted to contribute a signature interactive piece to the room that would complement its themes of creativity and social activity.  This desire manifested itself in the form of our "LCD Tree."  The tree trunk is a magnetic whiteboard surface to which teens can write on and post items, while the five LCD picture frames can be set to display images the teens and mentors want to show.  Chicago Scenic Studios took our design (left) and built an elegant, colorful installment that we feel is representative and even iconic of the space.


The YouMedia space opened on July 10, 2009, two months after the culmination of our design project.  During those two months, Chicago Scenic Studios and the library's union workers from U.S. Equities delivered on our plans and manufactured a truly fantastic room where any teenager can feel comfortable just hanging out after school, playing games, doing homework, or learning new digital skills via the YouMedia workshops.