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Interactive & Inclusive Spatial Experiences

Since 2012, an ongoing series of virtual cross-cultural classroom collaborations designed by Stamps School faculty Kelly Murdoch-Kitt and Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar faculty Denielle Emans has involved nearly 200 students in 12 courses at 5 institutions on two separate continents.

In Winter 2018, Kelly brought this collaboration to Stamps for the first time, engaging students enrolled in Interaction Design courses in Ann Arbor and Doha to develop a project together across 7,000 miles and 8 time zones.

The six-week remote collaboration invited intercultural teams to reimagine existing spaces in order to foster dialogue, encourage play between strangers, promote cultural awareness, or celebrate cultural diversity. In addition to engaging in research, process, critique, and ongoing dialogue, teams produced video sketches illustrating their final concepts.

After the project, Stamps senior Sara Ciaramella said, “The final concept was not something I would have imagined in the beginning, nor was it something I was likely to do on my own. The collaboration expanded the possibilities for the project.” Below, Sara’s classmates and some of their VCUQ partners share their thoughts on this intercultural experience.

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt (U-M faculty): How did the intercultural collaboration shape the direction of your project, your ideas about interaction design, and/or influence the final outcomes?

Rachel Krasnick (U-M, ‘18): My favorite part of the experience was understanding what my team members valued. Our collaboration really showed us how to [...] design something that could not only connect cultures, but transcend boundaries so that the experience could be applicable to anyone.

Sarah Elawad (VCUQ ‘19): Our outcome was very different and more developed than what we started off with. The feedback from the other culture had an effect on the overall outcome and was different to the feedback we would have received from our peers in class.

Denielle Emans (VCUQ Faculty): What do you think is the main benefit of working with someone from another culture?

Andrew Hwang (U-M, ‘18): A huge benefit about working with someone from another culture is being able to add a different perspective into the collaboration.

Maha S. Alsulaiti (VCUQ ‘19): We learned to be more understanding and open about different types of people and different parts of the world. It’s interesting to work with someone who carries different ideas in their mind because of their environment.

Heidi Liu (U-M, ‘18): I learned to be more sensitive and cautious of the language, values, and customs in Doha. My partners and I also included Arabic and English in our posters. From my team, I learned a few words in Arabic, including "innovation" and "thank you."

Noor Al-Emadi (VCUQ ‘19): I can say that [Heidi] enjoyed and is really interested in the Arabic language. We taught her some basic words and phrases, like “hi,” “how are you?” and of course “Yalla.” She once said, “Oh is it right to say ‘ma3a ilsalama’ as ‘bye bye’?.” The idea of crossing cultures is really nice and interesting.

Andrew Lopes (U-M, ‘18): I’d argue that education is a reflection of culture. I’d like to think that experiencing the difference between that of VCUQ and UM was a nuanced and enriching experience in itself.

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt (U-M Faculty): What was one of the main challenges you faced in working across cultures? What did you learn from this experience?

Maryam Al-Mudahka (VCUQ ‘19): It was a struggle and took a lot of energy to just communicate and get on the same page. But I understand now that, to fully be a team, we have to compromise a lot in order to have successful teamwork.

Minjee Kim (U-M, ‘19): I think successful communication is more important than individual contributions – in order to create an interaction design, the team needs to have high interaction, too.

Samia Al Derbesti (VCUQ ‘19): Working as a team will always be challenging, but if you have patience you will get through it and you will have better results.

Denielle Emans (VCUQ Faculty): After completing this project, what do you now understand about team dynamics?

Shwetha Rajaram (U-M, ‘19): I learned that team dynamics can be affected by how team members present themselves in the first few meetings. Being upfront about your work ethic and having a formal discussion about your workload/other commitments could motivate your teammates to change their work ethic, to respect your other time commitments.

Carlotta Bernardi (VCUQ ‘19): I felt I was kind of in the middle of [my two teammates], since I am a ‘westerner’ but I have lived in Qatar for almost 6 years. My partner in Qatar was more of a ‘go with the flow’ kind of designer, whereas my US partner needed to have everything planned in advance in order to be organised with her work.

Maddi Lelli (U-M, ‘19): For the video sketch I helped out a lot, I made [my partners] a tutorial on rotoscoping so that way they wouldn’t have to struggle finding a tutorial on their own, and we split the video editing work up evenly so that no one was doing most of the work.

Check out the teams’ projects below:

Luminous Connection

Luminous Connection’s mission is to promote awareness and connectivity between the people of Ann Arbor and Doha through projections of light and color. Our site-specific installations will explore aspects of our audience’s essence and existence— both of which comprise a people’s identity.

UM: Rachel Krasnick, Andrew Lopes; VCUQ: Aaquifa Altaf, Sarah Al-Afifi, Hind Al-Kuwari, Sarah Elawad

The Co-Lab


The Co-Lab uses live video as a bridge to connect design students on two continents through projection and interactive drawing, serving as an in-between space for people to visually communicate. During a time where mainstream media prompts people in the U.S and Middle East to view each other in a negative light, it’s particularly important to build connections and forge new friendships.

UM: Maddi Lelli; VCUQ: Carlotta (Charlie) Bernardi, Noor Bahzad


Bioluminescence gives stressed-out students a playful and accessible place to unwind. The proposed interactive environments will also link Qatar Foundation with University of Michigan via technological activities that promote enjoyable experiences for both groups of students, such as interactive silhouettes and an integrated responsive sound feature.

UM: Minjee Kim; VCUQ: Maryam Al-Mudahka, Hissa Albaker, Wadha Alhassan

Wishing Upon A Star

Wishing Upon A Star is a multilingual platform that highlights similarities between two people from completely different walks of life. We hope to make people take a moment to think about their personal aspirations and to share them with the universe while being inspired by the thoughts and dreams of others.

UM: Andrew Hwang; VCUQ: Maha Al-Sulaiti, Sarah Aweida, Kamla Al-Sulaiti, Latifa Alkuwari, Bothaina Al-Qaisi

Creative Union

Creative Union aims to bridge gaps between Christianity and Islam through an installation incorporating Arabic and English religious verses and poetry within Qatar Foundation’s Ceremonial Court. While this place is beautiful, it looks hard and doesn’t encourage visitors to sit and enjoy it. This space should encourage people to interact, spend time there, and bridge cultures.

UM: Sara Ciaramella; VCUQ: Maha Al-Naemi, Alanoud Al-Khater



Playwrite introduces physical and digital message-writing installations to Al-Thumama Park in Doha, Qatar and the EECS Atrium at the University of Michigan (designed to look like an indoor park), in order to encourage cultural discussions between individuals. Both environments are culturally diverse, as both Doha and Ann Arbor are home to people who originate from all over the world.

UM: Shwetha Rajaram; VCUQ: Almaha Al-Sulaiti, Samia Al Derbesti

Light the Way

Light the Way intends to initiate human interactions with a game installation in a corridor of Katara, a cultural village within the city of Doha, Qatar. Katara’s purpose and vision is to be a space for people from a variety of backgrounds to come together, interact, and embrace differences. Users will fulfill Katara’s cultural goals by helping each other cross the hallway.

UM: Heidi Liu; VCUQ: Noor AL-Emadi, Amal Al Kuwari