Cultivate your personal brand. Flex your storytelling skills during the interview. Introduce yourself to one new person at a networking event. While the list of career advice interior design students hear regularly sounds fairly straightforward, in practice, it can be difficult to execute. That’s why we’re excited to share IIDA Member Samantha Wurzbacher’s story, an example of how one designer navigated her way through oft heard insights as a design student and catapulted herself to success early on in her career.
Samantha’s path to interior designer at The Verve Partnership began as an IIDA Student Member attending the IIDA Career Bootcamp Panel at NeoCon East in 2016. The program introduces students, recent graduates, and career shifters to a panel of design industry experts where they share their advice, insight, and expertise on how best to set yourself up for success in the design industry.
While there, Samantha met and connected with students and design professionals whose views aligned with her own. “It was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to the benefits of IIDA,” she said. One of the people she introduced herself to that day was bootcamp panelist Kelly Ennis, an IIDA Member who joined the association as a third-year design student at Maryland Institute College of Art in 1990. Today, Kelly is founding principal of The Verve Partnership, a design and strategy firm based in Baltimore, Maryland.
November 2016: IIDA Career Bootcamp Panel at NeoCon East
IIDA: Samantha, what was your big takeaway from the event?
Samantha Wurzbacher: I remember [Kelly] being surrounded by three or four students that were all trying to make an impression and I knew I wouldn’t have much time to do the same. I waited for a break in the conversation, immediately introduced myself, mentioned that I was looking for a position in the Baltimore area, and handed her a business card. The next day I looked up Kelly on LinkedIn and sent a message to connect.
IIDA: Kelly, did Samantha make an impression on you during the event?
Kelly Ennis: Sam was impressive because she marched right up to the stage, had a good presence, and gave me a business card. I kept it on my desk as a reminder that – when our then existing intern, Shelby, left – Sam would be the first person I reach out to.
March 2017: The Internship
We create human centered design for the built environment. We study people, place and are driven to design space to maximize impact and experience with and for unique cultures, imbued with brand.
-The Verve Partnership mission statement
IIDA: What drew you to The Verve Partnership?
SW: Two months after my LinkedIn message, Kelly responded with an invitation to apply for an internship position at The Verve. I loved the projects the firm was working on, but what really sold me was the mission statement. It instantly resonated and cemented my desire to work for the company. The position was 30 minutes further away from my house and a small pay decrease, but with it came the opportunity to work in the corporate design field and mentor under Kelly. It was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made.
IIDA: Did you do anything to enhance your personal brand prior to interviewing?
SW: While I was a student, I placed a small order for business cards from an online company. They were square, said “Hello” on the back, and made from recycled cotton t-shirts. Thanks to their irregular size, my cards stood out from the rest and became a conversation starter. In addition, following up with a connection is also important. After interviewing for the internship position, I hand wrote Kelly a note thanking her for the opportunity. I was so excited and hopeful that I took a picture to remember it!
October 2017: The Job Offer and the First Few Weeks
Once I started working on drawings, I understood how much more I had to learn about construction documents. Kelly suggested I look at past projects in my spare time to become familiar with the level of detail required to meet The Verve’s standards.
IIDA: Samantha, what made you successful early on at Verve?
SW: Right around the time I was hired as a part-time designer, the firm decided to switch from AutoCAD to Revit. I had always wanted to learn the program, but the course wasn’t offered at my school, so it was a little intimidating. I signed up for a Lynda account and spent every day learning all I could about Revit. Afterhours training was later offered at work and I participated in that as well.
IIDA: Kelly, what made Samantha someone you had to keep at Verve?
KE: Sam took control of our library, researched an online platform, executed and really helped us understand our needs. There was never a thought not to keep her.
IIDA: What other qualities helped Samantha stand out?
KE: I really believe that younger designers should be exposed to as much as possible and as quickly as possible. Sam joined both me and one of our senior design principals at a design presentation. While waiting, we were small talking around the table and one of my consultants mentioned this 1984 MK1 Red VW Rabbit restoration at a car show in Vegas. I have a VW Rabbit and am a VW brand crazy person, however Sam’s husband was actually part of the restoration and the conversation continued from there.
The takeaways from witnessing this conversation:
- Sam was able to carry on an independent conversation in front of a client with a consultant she had never met. This would intimidate most but she jumped right in.
- This effort built trust with me pretty quickly because from there I knew I could send her to a networking event and she’d be able to hold her own.
- Applying knowledge of running a business in her “past life” and understanding the intricacies of how an interior of a car can be reupholstered and redesigned has put Samantha in a special place in all of our hearts here at The Verve Partnership.
- Also, having a woman in the office who knows more about cars than most men is pretty cool.
IIDA student membership provides opportunities to network and connect with other design students and successful professionals in the interior design community. See the other benefits of being an IIDA Student Member.
Long before the popularity of TED Talks, IIDA Leaders Breakfast, an international, early-morning event series across 8 cities in the U.S. and Canada, has hosted top speakers, entertained thousands of guests, and honored individuals making significant contributions to the world of design for the last 29 years.
With the support of international benefactors Herman Miller and Interior Design magazine, committees in chosen host cities, and additional companies within the design community that sponsor these events, Leaders Breakfasts are consistently raising the bar by encouraging collaboration and engaging new ideas.
Here is everything you missed, and then some, from this year’s successful series:
1. We went to Wakanda
We know Los Angeles sees its fair share of celebrities, but this September, members of the Southern California Chapter got the opportunity to have breakfast with one. Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter took to the stage to discuss her most recent work as the lead costumer on Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and Reginald Hudlin’s Marshall. Carter’s presentation mapped out her process of extensive research and how she aims to tell authentic stories with her designs.
2. We saw the World’s Largest Connect the Dots
After developing a hand tremor and being diagnosed with nerve damage as an art student, multimedia artist Phil Hansen decided to embrace his limitations and develop new approaches to art making. “Become limited to the limitless,” Hansen told the Dallas Leaders Breakfast audience. Recently, Hansen made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by creating the world’s largest Connect the Dots, of which a handful of audience members took a print home.
3. We heard this 17-minute acceptance speech
While accepting the Leadership Award of Excellence in Chicago, Fred Schmidt, FIIDA, managing principal of Perkins+Will, not only acknowledged the people who have been a large part of his journey, but described their leadership lessons. Schmidt named the numerous principals, designers, and even members of the younger generation, who were instrumental in his success and urged the audience to “reject the notion that leadership is based on your DNA.”
4. We saw a famous hat
The Los Angeles audience was introduced to the word “craftivism” after Jayna Zweiman, co-founder of the Pussyhat Project, took to the stage. Her now-famous design became a worldwide phenomenon at the 2017 Women’s Marches as one of the largest crowd-sourced art advocacy projects ever. What began as a simple conversation in a California knit shop has turned into an iconic symbol of the modern-day women’s movement.
5. We watched a tech entrepreneur jump rope in heels
Not only does Jessica O. Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, know how to inspire a crowd of almost 600, she also knows how to put on a show. At the Chicago Leaders Breakfast, Matthews demonstrated her invention of a jump rope that uses kinetic energy to generate electricity. This small example comes nowhere close to the scale of Matthews’ larger projects, which use harnessed energy to power facilities and underprivileged communities. Her patents and designs are used globally, and she recently announced an undisclosed deal with Disney’s power grid system.
6. We made New Yorkers happier
“770 New Yorkers can use a little happiness,” joked Carol Cisco, publisher of Interior Design magazine, as she introduced Nataly Kogan, “happiness expert” and founder of wellness app Happier to the largest New York audience to date. Happier promotes Kogan’s values of “mindful awareness” in order to improve happiness and reduce stress, and reminds us of the big and small things in life we can be grateful for.
7. We met the designer of the Microsoft Windows key
While limited in his physical mobility (a hospital mistake left him confined to a wheelchair), there is nothing that August de los Reyes has not been able to accomplish within the UEX tech world, having worked for huge names like Microsoft, X-Box, Pinterest, and now Google. The San Francisco audience was taken on a visual journey of de los Reyes’s presentation about designing for well-being and the importance of inclusive design. With the utmost generosity, de los Reyes donated his entire speaking honorarium to Project Color Corps, an organization he proudly supports.
8. We learned that building exteriors aren’t always brick or stone
Socio-ecological architect and designer Mitchell Joachim visualized a new kind of building: a large-scale, double-skinned structure equipped with open plantings of milkweed and nectar flowers, serving as a breeding ground and sanctuary for the monarch butterfly, a threatened species. This project, shown to the Houston audience, is one of hundreds that Joachim’s design group Terreform ONE, a non-profit that promotes smart design and environmental planning, develops.
9. We met the CEO of Waffle House, y’all
At the Atlanta Leaders Breakfast, Walt Ehmer, president and CEO of Waffle House, Inc. treated the audience with true Southern hospitality. Standing on stage in a Waffle House uniform, his everyday attire, the leader of the Southern staple discussed how maintaining company culture is key to keeping a business that is open 365 days a year running consistently and successfully for 63 years.
10. We caught a glimpse of Art Gensler in the audience
“Thank you, Art Gensler, for being so awesome so I can retire,” crowd favorite Bill Van Erp, a now-retired resource director and senior associate at Gensler, stated during his Leadership Award of Excellence speech. Van Erp’s humorous and meaningful speech had the sold-out San Francisco audience of 500 cheering and laughing, but he got serious when thanking all of the reps and designers for giving depth to his profession and allowing him to work with the best of the best.
Leaders Breakfasts will begin again in May 2019 and continue throughout the year in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto. For more information, please contact Anastasia Gedman, director of outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the fall season of trade shows and industry events well underway, I was pleased to be among a contingent of IIDA headquarters leadership and select international board members last week at Orgatec in Cologne, Germany.
Below, I offer Orgatec highlights, as well as a few images from the nearby independent exhibition Design Post. For American designers that are accustomed to NeoCon and other U.S. trade shows, the distinction at Orgatec is the broad international scope, including many companies that we rarely see stateside. With a theme of New Visions of Work, the biennial European trade show attracted more than 63,000 visitors from 142 countries for a week dedicated to commercial interior design. In total, Orgatec reports that 753 companies from 39 countries exhibited, three quarters of which were from outside of Germany.
While difficult to summarize the range of furnishings shown at Orgatec, we did see an attention to materiality and tactile qualities. One could describe it as a “softening” of the hard edges and surfaces associated with office interiors. While this was a trade show focused on workplace design, the number of desks and desking solutions were far outnumbered by soft seating, whether it is a lounge chair, bench, or sofa.
Designers are more aware of the need for privacy options in workplace interiors, and Orgatec exhibitors showcased a range of privacy solutions—some more savvy, elegant, and cognizant of scale than others. Privacy alternatives included fully enclosed booths, high-backed seating, and the integration of soft materials, such as fabrics and felt, as an acoustical buffer.
The desire for a more relaxed, flexible, adaptable, and hospitable workplace was evident throughout Orgatec. Here’s a glimpse of the show:
John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, is the deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA. He is the former editor in chief of Contract magazine.
It is 2018 and only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. But those numbers are changing. With the benefits and necessities of diversity in the workplace undeniable, firms big and small are setting new goals for themselves and having active, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about diversifying the field.
But what does “workplace diversity” really mean when the leaders of these discussions are often not the ones who directly face discrimination? The 46th Annual NOMA Conference attempted to pose, answer, and challenge the questions around diversity from the personal perspectives of people of color. Through a series of events, lectures, and panels, “NOMA UNBOUNDED – The Convergence of a Legacy” was a weekend devoted to celebrating and defining diversity within the architecture and design fields.
IIDA hosted NOMA participants and members at IIDA Headquarters on Saturday, October 20, for the panel discussion “Because…Design,” sponsored by Mohawk and moderated by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO, Cheryl S. Durst, FIIDA and IIDA International Board President Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA. The panelists present were George Bandy, vice president of sustainability and commercial marketing at Mohawk Group; and Dina Griffin, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, owner of Interactive Design Architects (IDEA).
The event positioned itself as less a formal discussion and more an intimate exchange among four people on racism, equity, culture, and loving their jobs. “We’re not going to have images, you’re not going to look at a PowerPoint,” Durst announced to the audience members. “We’re just going to have a conversation. The power of conversation is underrated and we need it now more than ever.”
Bandy began the discussion with how he perceived a growing importance of sustainability and well-being going hand-in-hand with a push for diversity within design, architecture, and manufacturing. Communities of color often bare the brunt of unsustainable, cost-cutting development practices, and now the conversations around helping those communities are being led by a diverse crowd. “There has been an influx of people being able to express themselves more freely as it relates to the importance of design,” Bandy said.
Bullock echoed the notion that diversifying the workplace is critical for bettering the lives of diverse communities. “I wanted to become an architect because I wanted to improve how people live,” she said.
Architects are thinking about the environment on a personal, micro level, and in turn, discovering how important a diverse workplace is for generating and maintaining sustainable practices. It seems that the A&D industry is actively rediscovering the workplace as a microcosm for society, and as Durst noted, “You can’t design for the world if you are not of the world.”
“I’ve had clients that have given us work because we are diverse,” expressed Bullock, “and that’s been happening more and more.” Many Perkins+Will projects focus on communities; this necessitates diversifying those working on community projects and helping improve the quality of life for a broad range of people. Diversity is a “spoken strategy” in the Perkins+Will offices.
The panelists also described the ways in which their firms are taking the initiative to ensure diverse hires, which range from overhauling the hiring process to having ongoing dialogues about racism and inclusion.
“Because…Design” concluded with the question “Does architecture still excite you?” (an unequivocal ‘yes’), along with advice from the panelists: “Bring the voice of your culture and your ancestors to work with you every day, ” Bandy stressed. “Don’t leave your street sense at home; bring it to work with you. Bring your true self to the table.”
Visit NOMA Unbounded for more information about the conference.
*An earlier version of this post cited that only 36 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. It should be only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black (as of 2016).
This post was contributed by Greenbuild.
Greenbuild is enhancing the attendee experience and bringing you new ways to engage and learn.
- The mindful MATERIALS Pavilion. It’s a new area in the expo hall. We’re shining a light on materials transparency and product certification in an all-new pavilion in the expo hall. See the pavilion.
- Journey Maps. See this new way to explore the event. These attendee experiences will guide your three-day journey through Greenbuild on topics that are of specific interest to you. Journey Maps include education sessions, distinctive products, solutions and technology, and experiential learning opportunities. See them here.
- The latest education and a new track. Discover three days of sessions – strategically planned to educate, motivate, and inspire you. This year, we’ve added “The People’s Voice” – a new education track voted into Greenbuild by the public. Additional tracks include Smart & Sustainable Design, Wellness From Within, and Building a Green Economy.
Ready to register? Learn more about why you should attend, and then register for a four-day or three-day conference pass. Or, explore the floor, courtesy of IIDA! Use code 4DINCOMPE10 at registration to claim your complimentary expo hall pass.
IIDA is a sector partner for the event.
For interior designers and architects, designing a firm’s own workspace is a heady task. And when it is the flagship office for the largest firm in the country, with a practice in a city of limited commercial real estate inventory and increasing leasing costs, the assignment is even more arduous. But the Gensler design team in San Francisco took on the complicated challenge, and essentially reinvented its own office with a move to a new workplace. Earlier this month, I enjoyed a tour of the new Gensler San Francisco office with two of the firm’s design leaders, Collin Burry, FIIDA, and Kelly Dubisar, IIDA. An internal team of Gensler management, operations, and design leaders had input on the relocation process and the interior design, which was overseen by Dubisar.
For 15 years, Gensler was located at 2 Harrison Street, with views of San Francisco Bay. But as the city’s real estate market and demand for tech office space evolved—in particular, Google’s footprint increased within that address—Gensler needed to find a new San Francisco home. After an extensive search in a city where the amount of available large-scale office space has decreased, Gensler selected three floors within the 34-floor 45 Fremont Street tower downtown. Burry points out that this office is a short-term solution, likely no more than a few years, and the firm will then select a more permanent home.
With that in mind, the interior design is agile and adaptable, enabling the Gensler architects and designers to have a workplace that also reflects the changing nature of office design. In San Francisco specifically, where startups and established tech companies alike are flourishing, this workplace demonstrates how a large creative company with a half-century history can be nimble and dynamic. After all, Gensler is designing many of the tech company offices, so the firm orchestrated its own space to echo the way work is accomplished today across both tech and creative industries.
The majority of employees work on the upper and lower of the three floors. The workplace floors are conceived as design labs—workshop-like environments in which teams are seated at a variety of desks adjacent to meeting rooms. With a mix of programming on the middle floor, Dubisar aptly draws an analogy to an Oreo cookie when describing the office. Amenities on the middle floor (all photos shown here) include a well-equipped kitchen and a number of soft seating arrangements that allow for casual conversations.
The adaptable seating spaces serve double duty—designers can place new and different seating and tables here, essentially giving the furniture a test run before specifying in a design project. Near the seating areas, a number of large boards displaying design work and concepts can be hung on pegs. The boards are easily movable from a design studio to this display area for presentations, whether it be internal discussions or meetings with clients.
“The entire office could be considered a continuously running lab,” Dubisar says, “We love to try new things in order to better understand the challenges our clients face. We’re testing things that don’t exist in any other Gensler office, and it’s great to see the impact of our ideas.”
John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, is the deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA. He is the former editor in chief of Contract magazine.