The Oasis: A Gathering Place for Student Connection Centered Around the Importance of Water
by Brian Bishop and Katja Reich
Our design process began earlier than others in the Hive Summer Fellowship – starting in Shannon Randolph’s class, Design for Environmental Behavior Change. Our group was partnered with Brian, Anaa, and Lamah – the three founders of the social enterprise Didomi. Didomi creates high-quality water bottles and uses the funds generated from sales to combat the water crisis. However, they felt that through their work, they saw a general lack of awareness surrounding what exactly the water crisis was. So, the question they posed to us as a guide for our initial designs was: How might we engage students in the water crisis and inspire action around positive emotions rather than fear and guilt?
We began to interview students, asking questions about their knowledge of the water crisis and about their feelings toward campus engagement. We noticed patterns in our interviews quickly, as they seemed to articulate a similar sentiment:students lacked knowledge about the water crisis but were curious to learn more and become actors of change. On a personal level, many students felt disconnected from their community, their peers, and their purpose on campus entirely. With the return to school in the fall confirmed, students voiced mixed feelings of anticipation, excitement, and anxiety. One student spoke of her concern to “re-socialize” explaining that she disengaged from college and many friendships during the pandemic. For other students who had never even been to campus, the nerves around returning and finding community were heightened.
“It’s been really hard to feel like I’m actually in college, you know, I don’t have college friends and I’ve never been to campus. I don’t know where to begin with getting involved and it makes me feel pretty uneasy.”
These interviews guided the questions we geared our design around: How can we connect students with one another, the campus, and a sense of purpose that goes beyond the 5C’s? And further, how can we make this form of engagement approachable and welcoming so that students facing social anxiety would not feel intimidated? Is there a way we can create a genuine community among college students with the hope that this connectivity would instill a passion for solving the water crisis? It was clear that whatever solutions we generated, we needed to place inclusivity, approachability, and community at the center.
A component of Human-Centered Design is creating an identity to design for, also known as a point of view (POV). As the HCD is geared around designing for the user, the POV informs every element of the design. Our POV was crafted from one specific interview.
We felt that as our POV student was making a physical return to campus, she needed a moment of engagement in a physical space – a place where she could feel comfortable and connect with fellow students. This space must encourage student connectivity, inform students about the water crisis, and present them with opportunities to connect over the universal need for water. From our interviews, students articulated the desire to connect over common interests just as an oasis unites all beings around one thing we all need to live and thrive, water. And so, after hundreds of ideas, our final result was a space called “The Oasis.” Inspired by an Oasis found in nature where various animals come together around water, this space would be a spot for different types of students to gather and connect, all centered around the power of water.
Our goal is for The Oasis to be a pop-up event where students find lasting connections to the Claremont community, catalyze action towards sustainability, and genuinely feel excited. The photo above is our original prototype from the EA 185 class that features recycled pallet seating, a community art wall, a refill station, and educational signage throughout the area to spark conversation. Each element is designed with the intention to drive student to student connection through discussion and education about the water crisis. This space was also placed in an open area, with signage welcoming all people in. The palette seating is painted with facts and conversation starters to encourage seated students to strike up a conversation. The nest-like shape was intended to create a comfortable, protected feeling.
The Refill Station offers water and beverages to students with reusable bottles. Didomi bottles are available to generate a direct impact on the water crisis through profits that fund water projects. The community art wall is designed to encourage sharing stories and connection over the crucial role water plays in all of our lives.
When we began the fellowship this iteration was our starting point. Therefore, we were ready to begin testing and putting our prototype in real life. This opportunity presented itself at New Mexico’s Juneteenth festival – an event celebrating Black culture, excellence, and success in Albuquerque. The Oasis became the official water provider of the festival. Didomi founders Brian, Anaa and Lamah attended and ran the event, working hard to bring the vision into reality. Both Anaa and Lamah experienced and lived through the water crisis. They were able to share their story and inform hundreds of people about the reality of the water crisis.
The seating design was implemented and Didomi water bottles were sold to provide funding for clean water access. In collaboration with local artists, an engaging version of the community art wall was designed and used by many to discuss the community and the power of water. Below you can see the prompts and instructions we designed for this event.
Though the festival setting was different from our original college campus design, we received useful feedback, insights and even found commonalities between our POV and many festival goers at the Oasis. For many, this was the first large social gathering since the pandemic began. The recurring theme amongst festival goers was community – reconnecting within their community after months of feeling isolated and celebrating the feeling of togetherness. This mirrored the need of our POV and solidified our goal to create a feeling of unity.
The community art wall was the greatest success at the space. The prompts were specific to the Juneteenth event, and seeing how people reacted to the questions we decided to incorporate a community improvement question to our next iteration of the Oasis. We also found that a more organized approach would help users to understand the layout and build off existing ideas so we segmented the wall into two pieces for the two questions we chose. We also included a suggestion to leave contact information so if someone read a response that they resonated with, they could find a way to connect with that person. In line with the theme of water, we renamed the art wall – calling it the “Community Drop In.”
Many users felt the seating could be more comfortable. So, for the next version of the Oasis, we changed the seating to floor cushion clusters, blankets, and central tables to achieve the same goal of comfort and conversation. We incorporated the idea of creating aesthetically interesting conversation cards at each table to encourage discussion and facilitate connection. People at the Juneteenth Oasis also expressed an interest in learning about the water crisis, however with many other activities and musical performances happening at the same time, the environment did not prove ideal for education. This solidified our desire to create the Oasis as a stand alone event.
In collaboration with the Hive, we plan to implement the next iterations of the Oasis with the finalized design above, incorporating the many rounds of feedback we received. As the Hive space is open to all 5C students, we felt this would be an inclusive space to access. We plan to do short pop-ups for a single day and will continue to gather feedback. Ideas of incorporating music, speakers and community organizations are also in mind as we think about the potential that the Oasis has. We strongly believe that long lasting connections can be made in a setting like the Oasis where comfort, conversation and inclusivity are priorities. Through this space, our hope is that students find community, a sense of purpose and an inspiration to make an impact on the water crisis.