DesignLab supports students’ work in digital, new media

November 7, 2012

Students seeking help with digital or new media assignments have a new service available to them this year. Located on the second floor of College Library, DesignLab is in the heart of where many students already spend their time researching, drafting, and revising class assignments.

At first glance, DesignLab doesn’t look vastly different from the library space around it. The renovated area on the second floor boasts beautiful lake views, rows of iMac computers, and two highly flexible Media Studio classrooms with projectors and tables for collaborative work. Nestled just in front of the Media Studio are six cubicles, each with chairs clustered around iMacs. A colorful sign alerts visitors that they’ve just entered DesignLab.

DesignLab: a new service for students

DesignLab Associate Director Rosemary Bodolay and College Library Director Carrie Kruse describe it as a service similar to the campus Writing Center, but for digital or new media projects instead of essays or research papers. Students can sign up for thirty-minute consultations with DesignLab Teaching Assistants and talk about project management goals, media project ideas, and to discuss assignment drafts.

“It’s not software training,” Bodolay clarifies. “You don’t go to the Writing Center to learn how to use Word.”

There are other places on campus, like DoIT’s Software Training for Students (STS), that host software workshops for students, and DesignLab does not duplicate these efforts. DesignLab’s website spells it out: “Through one-on-one and small group consultations, our design consultants help students hone the conceptual, aesthetic, and technical skills they need to work effectively in digital media.” This is a complementary service to the Writing Center and DoIT’s STS workshops.

DesignLab Teaching Assistants themselves, while given an overview of the different software during their training, are not necessarily expert software users. Instead, the service aims to fill a support need as digital and new media assignments start to be assigned with greater frequency, particularly in undergraduate classes.

DesignLab in College Library

DesignLab is one of several projects that came out of the Digital Humanities Initiative (others include Digital Studies certificate program, the Media Studios learning spaces, and the Digital Salon exhibition).  DesignLab is funded by the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, which supports efforts to improve undergraduate education. The service is available to all UW-Madison students, regardless of major or “home” school or department; including graduate students.

“[Project developers like Digital Humanities Coordinator Jon McKenzie] wanted the service to be in neutral territory,” Bodolay says, rather than confined to a certain school or department.

College Library ended up being the ideal setting for the service. DesignLab integrates well not just from a spatial standpoint, but a service and resource standpoint as well. In the same area of the library there is the InfoLab, a traditional computer lab with 85 machines; a service desk where students can get help with technical questions, and where they can check out equipment and use the high-quality poster printer; and shelves of technical manuals so that they can beef up their knowledge of Photoshop or iMovie.

Also close by are the Media Studios – two classrooms that support courses that integrate collaborative work and digital media projects into the curriculum.

With the Media Studios and a software training classroom used by STS in the same space, their adjacency offers a variety of ways students can learn about and get assistance with digital media projects.

“DesignLab fits nicely into College’s operational structure,” library director Carrie Kruse says. “We can build on the technical support provided by the library’s Computer & Media Center, plus take advantage of other library supports, such as 24-hour staffing and security.”

Kruse notes that DesignLab suits the library’s access philosophy, too. “We continue to make sure that as much as possible, our equipment and space is able to be used by students 24 hours a day.” Much like College’s student services area on the ground floor, the DesignLab cubicles and machines are open for walk-in use during times they are unscheduled for DesignLab consultations.

Use DesignLab

Students who are interested in making an appointment or checking out DesignLab during drop-in hours should see the DesignLab Consults page for more information.

DesignLab is intended to be not only a service for students, but also (much like the Writing Center) a place for instructors to get support and ideas for ways to integrate new media assignments into their courses – and how to evaluate those projects once they’ve been incorporated into the curriculum.

Instructors who are interested in learning more about how to utilize DesignLab in course planning should see the DesignLab’s Instructor Support page for more information.

The service is administered through the General Library System, while faculty members and staff from nine different campus departments serve on a rotating advisory board. The Teaching Assistants who staff DesignLab represent each of the advising/partner departments, making the service truly interdisciplinary and cooperative.

DesignLab is part of an exciting shift in the way that academic libraries operate, as skill sharing, idea development, and project management become more formally integrated into the services that libraries can offer students.

For more information, visit DesignLab online, or send an email to