Carving a Career in Design: Lessons Learned from IIDA SHIFT

Thanks to the IIDA Foundation’s Designing for the Future Campaign, five IIDA Student Members from across the U.S. attended IIDA SHIFT, the IIDA Texas Oklahoma Chapter’s Student Conference held in Dallas. This annual student conference brings together an array of top students, educators, and design industry professionals for a multi-day professional enrichment experience that includes project and firm tours, mock interviews, and a variety of other networking opportunities. More than a recap of the event, we wanted to know what parts of the experience made an impact on these students as emerging designers: from how to conduct themselves in a portfolio review and in a professional setting with their peers, to finding the motivation to begin a career in design.

Standing Up for Myself

I give credit to the SHIFT Conference for essentially reinforcing and reassuring me of the education path I have chosen. Over the past years, I have constantly been interrogated by my architecture peers, questioning why I had chosen to study interior architecture in addition to architecture. Admittedly, the questions had made me even start to doubt my education path and myself. However, all my concerns and uncertainty dissolved after hearing the keynote by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA. I felt as though Cheryl was talking directly to me and promoting me to make my own decisions and not to second guess myself.

While at the conference, I also attended the campus center roundtable, which was particularly beneficial to me as I am the current co-president of the Lawrence Tech University Campus Center. I was able to hear about what is working and not working for other campus centers and gain valuable insight from different perspectives. After hearing about other campus center leaders’ struggles and successes, I felt inspired and poised to return to my campus center and make further improvements to my campus center!

Curtis Bac, Student IIDA, Lawrence Tech University, Michigan Chapter

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IIDA Students kicked off the conference at the SHIFT Pep Rally in Steelcase’s Dallas showroom. Photo: Guillermo Antonio

Looking Through the Lens of a Hiring Manager

Michael Horton and Harry Vicci from CallisonRTKL went through their interview process at their office and how to best prepare for interviews. They gave so many tips on how to present yourself and what kinds of questions to ask the company. It helped me to realize that I just need to be myself and find the perfect fit for me and the company. After going through the mock interview process, I now have an idea of how to conduct myself during a professional interview and what questions to ask as an incoming entry-level designer—once again teaching me how to be calm and confident and let my personality show through. The feedback I was given from my portfolio review helped me to view my projects through the lens of someone in a hiring position.

Jessica Payne, Student IIDA, Belmont University, Tennessee Chapter         

Finding My Community

I’m in the final phase of my interior design and architecture program through UC Berkeley’s extension program and SHIFT was exactly what I needed at this point in my education. School is a safe bubble and as the transition into the “real world” looms before me, it honestly feels a bit daunting. Having the opportunity to meet such a huge range of my peers at SHIFT was truly motivating.

I really enjoyed the firm and showroom tours but my favorite aspect of the day was getting to know the other students. . Learning about their programs, chatting about what aspects of design resonated with us the most, and how each of us came to be on the same path was fun and settling somehow–as though I was finding my community of like-minded individuals. I also enjoyed hearing the work histories of our guides; being able to visualize transitioning from student to the beginning stages of working in the interior design industry was becoming more and more tangible.

Tessa Poppe, Student IIDA, UC Berkeley Extension, Northern California Chapter

Expanding My Network

In the Northeast, with the concentration of a number of major cities, we can become immersed in our own little realm. As a student, I have taken as many opportunities as were made available to me to involve myself in the design community. From a mixture of networking opportunities provided by Jefferson University, IIDA, and my various internships, I have grown familiar with the network in my region. However, I understand that as an emerging design professional, my work and experiences will not be limited to the Northeast as they have been in the past.

The IIDA SHIFT Conference provided me with the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences with other students and professionals from across the county—and a much welcome break from the snow in the North! In traveling by myself, I was put in a position where I had to represent myself and my university in a respectful manner without relying on the company of my classmates. I was given the chance to meet with representatives from firms and manufacturers that do not have a Philadelphia office, such as Cannon Design and Perkins+Will. The connections I have made, I hope, will last further into my design career.

Deanna Hagman, Student IIDA, Thomas Jefferson University, Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware Chapter

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SHIFT Pep Rally. Photo: Guillermo Antonio

Connecting with Firms that Inspire

My favorite part of IIDA SHIFT was the design Expo. Here, I was able to network with designers who work at the firms I’ve looked up to for years. It was incredible to hear about their experiences working in the industry and make those connections. The expo has actually led to three interior design interviews!

The last day of the conference, I participated in portfolio reviews, mock interviews, learned about negotiating a salary and experiential graphics. Each workshop left me even more inspired, motivated, and excited to graduate and join this wonderful industry. To finish off the day, we heard from IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA. By the end of her talk, I was on cloud nine. I was so uplifted and proud to be a part of such a wonderful industry and organization.

Marissa Keller, Student IIDA, Savannah College of Art & Design – Savannah, Georgia Chapter


To learn more about IIDA student membership, including professional development and leadership opportunities, visit iida.org.

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