Enhancing Educational Spaces Through Experiential Graphic Design and Student Engagement

Elaine Danielson By Elaine Danielson, LEED Green Associate, Graphic Designer, Bassetti Architects
December 19, 2023

Experiential Graphic Design (EGD) is an innovative discipline that orchestrates typography, color, imagery, technology, and content to create immersive environments. Throughout history, human civilizations have used graphic elements to convey ideas, stories, and emotions, making EGD an essential aspect of visual communication. EGD evolved through various art forms, such as cave paintings, hieroglyphics, Roman lettering, stained glass, and murals. It was used for everything from propaganda to branded environments to wayfinding. It has become an integrated element of our built environments whether it is used in malls, offices, or schools.

EGD In the realm of education, EGD is going a step further. Emerging as an innovative approach to transforming schools and learning spaces, EGD creates engaging, personalized, and inspiring environments. By combining EGD with student engagement and expression, educational facilities can become more than just places of instruction – they can become canvases for fostering creativity, inclusivity, and a sense of community.


One example is using EGD to bring the outside world inside. Biophilic EGD in educational spaces can help emphasize a connection to nature. Studies have shown that exposure to natural elements can have a positive impact on students’ wellbeing and learning outcomes. Spruce Elementary School, which sits on an evergreen forested site, has embraced biophilic EGD. For example, a stairwell graphic features an evergreen tree with roots extended, reaching into a field of words about trees – leaf, roots, branch – written in student handwriting in the 20 languages spoken at the school. At each of the learning communities, large prints of nature elements depict one of the four seasons. Rounds from trees that were cleared for the new building were used to create a timeline of notable events decided by Spruce students.


Experiential graphic design can also celebrate and acknowledge the unique qualities of a school’s location and its community beyond its immediate landscape. For example, in Federal Way, Washington, Lakota Middle School graphics celebrate the Lushootseed language, one of the languages of the indigenous Coast Salish peoples upon whose ancestral land the school resides. The Land Acknowledgment Project at Portland Public Schools’ Multiple Pathways to Graduation uses cultural references, symbolism, and languages meaningful to the community in a large experiential graphic that pays homage to the people who have inhabited the land since time immemorial.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) can benefit from the application of EGD, which can use graphics to create spaces that allow for personalization, privacy for individual study or mentoring, and spaces of refuge within the greater learning community. Uplifting messages about self-worth, strategically placed throughout the school, help students focus on positive and encouraging thoughts, leading to improved self-efficacy and better learning outcomes. Graphics on translucent materials, like glass, play a critical role in defining spaces that require visibility while maintaining privacy, such as conference rooms and small reading areas.

One of the most remarkable aspects of EGD in educational spaces is how easily we can involve students in the design process. Portland Public Schools’ Multiple Pathways to Graduation exemplifies this concept, wherein students were included throughout the design process. Their voices ensured that the new school had a strong connection to nature and the personal expression of the students in the designs. Not only did we listen to students, but we worked with them to create wall graphics for their school using inspiring quotes which they wrote.

EGD Additionally, at the neighboring Benson Polytechnic High School, students designed banners that will line the new school courtyard. Bassetti held design workshops and critiqued the students’ work. These seemingly small moves help to create an atmosphere that is by and for the students and one that inspires them throughout the day. Student responses to being involved in creating the EGD included: “I think it’s really cool that I get to be a part of something like that.” And “I think it will make the school feel much more personal and connected to the students who go there.”

EGD Experiential graphic design has brought a transformative wave of creativity, engagement, and personalization to educational spaces. By embracing EGD and involving students in the design process, schools can create environments that not only inspire learning but also foster a deep sense of community, cultural appreciation, and connection to the world beyond the classroom. As EGD continues to evolve, the potential for educational spaces to become even more inclusive, expressive, and empowering for students remains boundless.

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