One Interior Design Student’s Success Story: A Timeline

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

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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

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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

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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.

-Samantha

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.

Diversity in Architecture: A Promise for the Future

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). 

What’s New at Greenbuild 2018

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. 

IIDA Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware Chapter: Why We Advocate

In July, the IIDA Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware Chapter hosted “Why We Advocate,” a roundtable series where attendees engaged in a moderated panel discussion about what it means to be an interior design advocate, what issues the profession faces, and where members could learn more about IIDA’s advocacy efforts. The roundtable featured five panelists with a wide range of expertise in the architecture, interior design, and legislative professions. We chatted with Jessie Santini, IIDA, vice president of advocacy of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware Chapter to learn about what sparked the idea to start this series.

IIDA: What motivated the chapter to plan advocacy panels throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey?

Jessie Santini: Pennsylvania has active legislation in need of support and New Jersey has title regulation that is vulnerable to deregulation efforts. In seeking support for this legislation, the chapter board realized a lot of our members have a limited knowledge of interior design regulation and what it means to be an advocate. We determined that grassroots advocacy is critical for making headway with future legislative effort, and so we planned a three-city advocacy roundtable with the intent of educating and activating members throughout our chapter.

IIDA: How and why did you choose the panelists and questions you did?

JS: The goal for the “Why We Advocate” roundtable series was to have a diverse group of professionals that represent all aspects of commercial interior design. Panelists included NCIDQ-certified interior designers, including those who are business owners, firm leaders, educators, and coalition leaders, as well as individuals with government relations and lobbying backgrounds.

Emily Kluczynski, director of advocacy, legislative affairs, and public policy at IIDA Headquarters, was present for all roundtables and was able to provide insight into the bigger picture of what’s happening legislatively around the country, while Carrie Hillman of Milliron Goodman was able to speak to the legislative climate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We were even fortunate enough to be joined by an accomplished Philadelphia-based architect whose thoughts and perspectives were a welcome addition to the panel’s robust discourse.

As we developed the list of panel questions, we looked at this as being an “Advocacy 101” course for many attendees. The first several questions touched on the basic concepts of advocacy and interior design regulation, and as the list progresses, the questions delved into more complex issues that specific panelists could speak to. We had the same list of questions for all three events to serve as a foundation for the dialogue, yet each event had its own unique and vibrant conversations.

IIDA: Do you feel as though attendees walked away having learned something about advocacy?

JS: Most definitely! Whether new to advocacy or long-time supporters, we feel that attendees walked away feeling energized, enlightened, and ready to advocate for commercial interior design! Stay tuned for videos in which attendees share their takeaways. We hope these videos, once complete, will help to keep the advocacy energy high throughout the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware Chapter!


To learn more about the outstanding advocacy campaigns the IIDA Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware Chapter is doing, visit iida-panjde.org/advocacy.

2018 IIDA Advocacy Symposium Speakers Challenge Interior Design Licensing Opponents from Another Angle

Professional and occupational regulation has been a hot topic of conversation in Washington, D.C., and across state houses, but are we looking at the full picture? Opponents of occupational regulation argue that it hurts workers when in fact, research has shown that the opposite is true.

This year, we’re proud to bring inspiring and motivating speakers who can talk more on that perspective, and arm interior designers across the nation with updated knowledge and tools to advocate for themselves and the profession at the fourth annual IIDA Advocacy Symposium.

Representative Ray Dehn of the Minnesota State Legislature graduated with a master’s degree in architecture at age 39. Rarely, do we get an opportunity to hear from a legislator with a strong professional understanding of the built environment. So, it comes as no surprise that we’re excited to welcome Rep. Dehn as this year’s keynote. Rep. Dehn will offer insight on organizing, advocating, and staying engaged.

In her series of papers entitled New Closed Shop: Inequality, Diversity, and the Rise of Occupational Licensure, Dr. Beth Redbird, assistant professor of sociology at Northwestern University, looks at the impact of regulation and formal procedures, particularly for women and racial minorities. Dr. Redbird brings a fresh outlook to occupational regulation that will help advocates understand that there are always multiple sides of the same issue. Dr. Redbird’s research focuses on occupations, social class, and inequality, particularly within Native American communities.

Since late 2017, the #MeToo movement has become a very visible, impactful movement that has made waves in some of the most powerful institutions today – and the state house is no different. Multiple states have had elected officials resign or removed from office for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and retaliation. Four IIDA lobbyists from three states — Haley Blood of A&A Advocates, Melanie Layton and Zoey Wolfe of Colorado Legislative Services, and Christina Marcellus of Capital Advisors — will share the advantages and challenges of being a female lobbyist in the #MeToo era. Additionally, they will discuss how to approach interior design as a gender issue, new ideas and tactics on how to advocate, and what they’ve learned from lobbying.


Registration to the 2018 IIDA Advocacy Symposium is open until Sept. 7. Learn more about this year’s program and reserve your spot at iida.org.

Peer to Peer: Practical Advice on Jumpstarting Your Interior Design Career from 4 IIDA Students of the Year

Whether you’re a recent graduate or career shifter, embarking on a new design career can be a daunting task. Polishing your resume and portfolio, asking meaningful questions during the interview, tackling the job search at multiple angles – we all know it’s hard work that takes time, patience, and confidence. But what exactly does that look like? We reached out to this year’s IIDA Career Bootcamp panelists — four IIDA Student of the Year recipients, including the 2018 Student of the Year — for their practical advice on what has helped them navigate their careers so far. Read on for part one of our interview.

Meet the Panelists

Tara Headley, Associate IIDA, is the 2015 IIDA Student of the Year and recipient of the inaugural award. She is an interior designer at Hendrick, Inc., currently specializing in corporate workplace environments. Tara was born and raised in Barbados and proudly represents her Caribbean heritage through her cooking skills and love of bright colors in her fashion choices. For Tara, designing is a privilege and a means to change the way we see the world.

Amy Leigh Hufford, Associate IIDA, is the 2016 IIDA Student of the Year and is a corporate workplace interior designer at NELSON’s Philadelphia office. When she isn’t working, she’s an active member of the IIDA Philadelphia City Center and PhilaU’s First Five alumni association.

Lindzey Duval, Student IIDA, is the 2017 IIDA Student of the Year and is working as an interior design coordinator at HDR in Chicago where she currently focuses on corporate and healthcare environments. Lindzey moved to Chicago in July of 2017 after completing her bachelor’s degree at Texas State University. She is a passionate designer who is dedicated to creating memorable, human-centered designs that have a positive and lasting impact.

Allison Brown, Student IIDA, is the 2018 IIDA Student of the Year and graduate of Utah State University. Allison’s dedication and eagerness to learn have helped her to graduate magna cum laude and become LEED Green Associate. She starts her career as a professional designer at the New York office of Perkins + Will in September.

Approaching the Interview

Tara: The most important thing to me is to be genuinely interested in the job. I know sometimes we need to take positions that aren’t our top picks, but if that’s the case, find something about the position or firm that you can get behind. If you can’t find anything, chances are you wouldn’t thrive there anyway and should maybe look elsewhere.

That said, if you can go into the interview with a sense of the company, it’s values and what they expect of you for your position, you are at an advantage to further the conversation beyond a typical interview. Definitely use this information to tailor your responses. One surefire way to show them that you’re the right candidate is to relate your portfolio/skills to how you can help the firm. For example, if you find out that the firm does renderings by hand and you have that skill, be sure to highlight that and mention how you can be an asset in that regard.

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Lindzey: Research information about the firm in advance of the interview. I’m not just talking about looking on their “About Us” page on their website. You can tell a lot about a firm from their graphics and how they showcase their work and themselves online. Find something that connects with your interests and have it in your back pocket to discuss during your interview. People can talk about themselves all day long in an interview, but a successful interview is when it turns into more of a conversation.

Amy: I’ve always felt that a good approach here is by tailoring your questions, conversation topics, and personal information (resume, portfolio, cover sheet) to that particular position at that company. That way you’ll be prepared before you arrive – there’s no need to only show an employer at a hospitality firm only hospitality-based projects, you can show them a breadth of work that you feel can drive a conversation about your varied skills that would make you an asset to that employer, doing that type of work.

Networking When You’re An Introvert

Allison: I think going with a friend or coworker or student can really alleviate the stress and nervousness of attending a networking event. Then, you know someone there and you can branch out little by little and network with other people at the event. I would agree that it’s scary, but you’ve just got to do it because it’s so important for your future! 

Amy: I personally feel like introversion and shyness are two different things, and you can tackle them both in specific ways. I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy. I feel that introverts are typically people who, by choice, spend a lot of time alone and don’t reveal a lot about themselves to others. Shy individuals are often uncertain of how to start conversations and sometimes keep them going once they’ve begun out of nervousness! For both, I’d suggest starting out by attending more “intimate” events. For example, in Philadelphia, we have events that draw crowds of nearly 300 and events with only 10 people. I think starting small helps to make connections and relationships, so at larger events you already know some people to talk to. General advice for introverts might be to come up with some talking points before attending events, so if the conversation begins to run out, you have a follow-up. “Have you read any good books lately?” is just an example and people often run with it.

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Lindzey: I have come to realize that many people in our industry are more introverted like myself, which may seem surprising because it is a very social industry. I found it easy to just start with a few people. Find people that have similar interests and that you enjoy being around. Then start branching out to meet more people to expand your network. There is no rush to know everyone. Developing your network connections is just as important has growing it.

Tara: As an introvert, I relate to this on a personal level. Introversion is only a setback if you let it be. I get mentally drained by being in social settings, meeting people, etc., which is true for most introverts. But what you need to tell yourself is that networking is for the betterment of your career. I started out by forcing myself to attend as many events as possible. I found that once I got over that initial hurdle, it became easier as time went on. The more you go, the more connections you make. And the industry is one where you can make friends and acquaintances easily. By the fourth or fifth time, you will walk into a room and know at least one other person you’ve met before. Volunteering at organizations like IIDA is also a great way to give back as well as meet people in a more casual way.

Cultivating Your Brand

Lindzey: Branding yourself on paper is a challenge! Our resumes and portfolios are the most important tangible items that we have to showcase ourselves and our work. Something I like to keep in the back of my head is less is more. Over branding yourself from a visualization perspective can be distracting to someone who is looking at your work. It is okay to have a little fun and embed your personality, though! Just be careful not to overdo it.

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Amy: I recently had a conversation with some professionals with 15+ years of experience that are also in a position to hire. They were saying they feel that students straight out of school brand themselves too much, which I thought was fascinating! A simple resume with a small touch of personality, as well as a matching portfolio and cover letter, are plenty. Photos on resumes and cover letters were discouraged, as well as a large amount of color and script fonts.

Tara: I feel like good graphic design goes hand in hand with what we do as interior designers. Understanding placement, alignment, and hierarchy is important in any presentation, and this is what I look for in a good portfolio package. A common element that ties the portfolio, resume, cover letter, and business card together is key, but what is also of equal importance is to not get carried away with creating a cool design that ends up taking away from your actual work. Keeping things simple is always good. Allow your work to take center stage instead of any bold graphics.


Stay tuned for part two of our interview coming soon. For more resources on starting your interior design career, visit the IIDA Career Bootcamp page.