SJ. Collins Enterprises Design Brief


Jeff Garrison, of S.J. Collins Enterprise came to Innovation Diploma wanting the members to design a pocket park in a Whole Foods development he and his team were building for a Spring 2017 opening. Spending time in the community interviewing users and gaining insights about the preferences and priorities of the intended users, the group ultimately ended up distilling their insights into 5 potential designs and pitching one concrete and clearly constructed Sketchup modeled design to both Jeff Garrison and his landscape architect, Eric Shade. Both were impressed and surprised by the level of detail and sophistication these students presented, and Jeff Garrison made comment that "there were moments when we could tell they treated this design brief like a school project – and it wasn’t until they realized this was not a school project that they hit their stride."

Maquie (1).jpg

Problem: Peachtree Station

By Maquie Weiss

Network and Relations Officer

Adults often underestimate youthful enthusiasm.  By concentrating on the inexperience and irresponsibility of teens, many adults tend to discount our abilities.

At Mount Vernon, while 21st century learning is taught throughout the school, there is a little program trying to break the norm of thinking that teenagers can’t do anything useful with our lives until we’re older.  It’s called Innovation Diploma. This program introduces real world problems and puts them in the hands of teenagers to find solutions by using design thinking tools and skills.  Being a part of Innovation Diploma has propelled me to defy the norms of what a teenager can accomplish.  

SJ Collins Enterprises, an Atlanta developing firm, wanted to add a park to their shopping center and asked Innovation Diploma students for help. Along with our imaginations, intelligence, and youthful enthusiasm, three classmates and I took on their challenge. Using the design thinking method, we applied steps to find a propitious solution, carefully moving through  discovery, empathizing, experimenting, and producing phases.  In the discovery phase, we took a deep dive into the history of SJ Collins and the city of Chamblee.  By knowing the backbone of what we were dealing with, my team could move into the most significant phase, empathy, where we learned about our users. We needed the opinions from the entire community spectrum to form and execute the perfect design, so we conducted over 70 in-person interviews with complete strangers.  Our focus never strayed from constructing a park for the people rather than the corporate sponsor or the design company.  We eventually discovered the two design drivers -- mantras for our work -- to push our project beyond the expectations of the people of Chamblee and SJ Collins:  How might we inspire play through natural beauty and How might we create a feeling of togetherness where stories, laughter, and joy can be shared?  These statements drove us through the experimentation phase and yielded a beautiful product.  There was no straight shot to a solution; our first presentation was terrible, our first design was completely impossible to produce, and there was one point we all thought none of us would get out of this alive.  

My team went through ups and downs; we worked through a few disagreements and the nervous anticipation of presenting to actual CEO’s and directors. In the end, these experiences made us stronger and more determined to prove ourselves. The opportunity to show our community that as teenagers we had value to add was something we could not waste.

When the day came, we presented our idea and design to SJ Collins Enterprises.  The adults’ mouths hit the floor! They were impressed with the presentation, the professional design, and how we represented the community.  Personally, one of the most significant moments of this 90 day project was when I had the idea to pay homage to the railroad history in Chamblee by naming the park “Peachtree Station” and using a train theme for the space.  My idea led the CEO to change the entire name of the center to Peachtree Station and have a train influence on the center as well!  In that moment, I knew that even as a teenager, my ideas had real value.  All I had to do was be informed and speak up.

In late August, my team attended the grand opening of the Chamblee Whole Foods and our park.  I will always remember the sound of children laughing as they climbed through the body of the train.  Never underestimate youthful enthusiasm; because, in this case, a typical high-schooler happened to design and name an 11-acre park and shopping center that families will use everyday.