The Education Community Responds to Change: The Conversation Continued

On April 9, IIDA hosted Design Online: The Education Community Responds to Change, the third episode in our Collective (D)esign webinar series of interactive community discussions. This conversation, hosted by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, and moderated by Ryan Ben, IIDA’s student engagement and advancement manager, featured a panel of educators and students centering on the changing education and employment landscape.

Panelists fielded questions from our audience covering everything from internships and altering educational programs to balancing an increased need for mental and physical health and contributing to community aid. This webinar was attended by close to 1,000 members of the international interior design community who submitted dozens of questions, many of which could not be addressed due to time constraints.

In an effort to expand the conversation, we’ve compiled answers to additional questions, alongside highlights from this discussion from panelists Tyler Hatton, Student IIDA, The Ohio State University campus center co-leader, Ohio/Kentucky Chapter; Rebekah Matheny, IIDA, assistant professor of interior design, Department of Design, The Ohio State University; Jon Otis, IIDA, founder and principal, Object Agency (OlA), professor, Pratt Institute; and Meghan Webster, AIA, principal and global education practice area leader, Gensler. 

What can firms do right now to help engage students?

Jon Otis, IIDA, founder and principal,Object Agency (OlA), professor, Pratt Institute

Jon Otis: Firms must try and consider how to engage graduates or interns and allow them to do something—paid or unpaid. Provide them an experience of some type so that they learn and grow and will be better prepared for eventual employment. Perhaps there is a new model,which refers to the past ‘atelier’ concept; or a new ‘virtual’ model of engagement.

Tyler Hatton: Take the time to view the senior showcase work from schools in your region, reach out to the students and ask questions if you are curious, or maybe offer opportunities for insight and critique. Many schools will probably switch to digital exhibitions as The Ohio State Department of Design has, but the students are not getting the professional connections and feedback as they normally would from the experience. 

You can set up virtual coffee chats with students so they can build interview and communication skills, as well as build their firm and industry professional networks, to prepare for opportunities that may arise in the future.

How do we maintain community at our schools and campus centers?

Tyler Hatton: Through social media channels or other virtual platforms, offer a summer design competition after the semesters’ work is finished that would be either open to all students or be specific in nature to recent graduates. You can also host a virtual book club related to design or put on mini design skill challenges like hand sketching or rendering.

Tyler Hatton, Student IIDA, The Ohio State University campus center co-leader

How do I find a job or internship?

Rebekah Matheny: I would first start by reaching out to your undergraduate advisor, they are often the main point person for companies interested in an internship. Our advisor posts all inquiries to our Slack channel. I would then email your professor mentor, who often have professional contacts that they can reach out to for a more targeted search. I also think your local manufacturer’s reps are a great resource, they know all the design firms and often have a pulse on who’s searching. Also check your IIDA chapter’s website, most sites have an internship or job search section. 

What skills do I need as a graduating interior designer for this virtual world?

Rebekah Matheny: Communication is key! Both verbal and visual. As professionals, we often send presentation decks to clients before walking them through the information over a conference call. Making sure that you have clear graphic communication that uses a combination of the written word, drawings, diagrams, or tags explaining the conceptual ideas or design strategy is important. Think of this as storytelling and the more you can visually narrate in a clear sequence the easier it is to digest and comprehend. Through telecommuting, you will be able to connect with people all over the world who are in different time zones and speak different languages, so you should allow people to see and even translate the information prior to the verbal presentation over the call becomes more important. 

Working to develop your visual storytelling and communication is a much-needed skill and can be demonstrated through your portfolio as well as your studio project presentations. With that, verbal communication is also critical. So practice your speaking ability as you want to come across as comfortable, confident, and knowledgeable. Presenting virtually is a bit different since you are unable to “read the room” as you typically would, make sure to leave time to pause to let people catch up and also check in with them to make sure they don’t have any questions throughout the conversation. 

What educational experiences should I seek out to supplement my education?

Rebekah Matheny, IIDA, assistant professor of interior design

Rebekah Matheny: Competitions—look at competitions, current or past, as these will help expand your portfolio and give you a chance to keep your mind and skills sharp. IIDA, IDEC, Steelcase, RDI, PAVE—there are many options to choose from. You can also use this time to work on your portfolio, either in creating it or expanding it. You can go back and add to or improve past projects. Or you can give yourself a weekly challenge, like doing one new rendering a week. This not only helps improve and expand your skills, but could become a feature in your portfolio. There are a lot of YouTube skill tutorial videos that you could use to help with this. You could also create your own project assignment, maybe fill the gap of an area you’ve not worked on. For example, maybe you’ve not done a restaurant or a hospitality project, but are interested in doing that professionally. You can create your own prompt and give yourself a time frame to complete it. 

What educational experiences should I seek out to supplement my education?

Rebekah Matheny: Seek out continuing education as well.  Many manufacturers are offering CEU’s, which is a great way to extend your education beyond the classroom, learning the same information as many professionals. I know the IIDA Ohio/Kentucky Chapter is also doing a series of benefactor CEU’s, this is a great way to get connected to your local professions and manufacturers while also extending your education.

I also recommend reading, this situation affords you the opportunity to read books that you might not otherwise have the time for. For example, if you want to expand your understanding of sustainability you might like Cradle to Cradle by McDonough and Braungart, Biomimicry by Benyus, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance also by McDonough, or Fashion and Sustainability by Fletcher and Grose. You could also look and see what classes are offered at your university this summer. 

What resources are available to students and educators from associations, firms, vendors, manufacturers, etc.?

Meghan Webster: Rebekah’s point that the global situation has amplified the disparity across the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of students was spot-on and seemed to resonate deeply with the audience. The Learning from Home component of our Education Engagement Index Survey that we’ve developed is based on this research around diverse learning styles and contexts, underscoring that if we design for all learners (instead of a mythical average), we design for everyone in between. 

The conversation posed some salient questions around what we can apply to future design for learning and working environments based on this abrupt transition to the virtual world. In the wake of the global pandemic, we released this piece that examined this topic as we’re currently experiencing it, and this piece poses a similar question as we look at the much longer term. The immediate situation is forcing us to learn tools and new forms of behavior quickly, and the more we all can gain literacy in this arena, the faster we will be ready for what comes next.

Meghan Webster, AIA, principal and global education practice area leader, Gensler

What is the best advice for new graduates looking for employment with incredible uncertainty?

Rebekah Matheny: First, know that this is temporary, this too shall pass, and we will bounce back. Secondly, know that every experience contributes towards your career development and your personal development. You may have an ideal career path that you had charted out, and right now you may have to take a detour, take a position in an area of practice that wasn’t your first choice, but that experience can be a great stepping stone, add to your skill and knowledge set, and it will lead you back to where you wanted to head. Or maybe it will reveal something new about yourself and set you on a new, and possibly better trajectory. As designers, experiences are cumulative, and every experience is valuable—even if it’s not a “designer” experience — after all, we are designers for and with people.

So let’s say you find a temporary job at a grocery store since that’s in high demand during this pandemic. This will allow you to understand what it’s like to be a worker in that environment, and could lead you to be a more empathetic retail designer in the future. It’s all about how you look at the experiences you are gaining.

Should students still look for fall internships, or wait until the pandemic clears?

Rebekah Matheny: It never hurts to inquire, so I would certainly be reaching out to firms that you are interested in. It’s a great opportunity to establish a connection and to keep the line of communication going. You can express your concern for how the pandemic is impacting the industry and the world, and use this as an opportunity to ask specific questions about how it is impacting their work, their area of practice, and how designers are tackling this issue.

How do you deal with the multiple hand drawn iterations of ideas when learning online?

Jon Otis: My graduate design studio has been more challenging, and no matter what we resolve, it is unlikely to change my belief that working on paper—marking-up, designing, sketching, pin-ups and seeing design at a larger scale off-screen—is better. Then of course there are maquettes, models, materials, textiles and those tactile elements that exponentially enhance the design learning process. That is a vitally missing part of what we do.

Do you think universities will be open starting in the fall?

Rebekah Matheny: I am hopeful that they will! But with all things, I like to hope for the best but plan for the contingency. I, and I’m sure many professors, will be using the summer to develop a plan for teaching on-ground and on-line. It’s a possibility that we may start the semester and then have to shift to virtual later if a second wave of the pandemic hits before there is a vaccine. No matter what, I will be evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved from this past experience and looking for ways to bring the best of the experience into my on-ground instruction and seeing innovative ways to bring on-ground experiences into the virtual world.

What do I do about anxiety?

Rebekah Matheny: Mental health is an important issue we are all facing right now. This situation is causing a lot of new stressors we didn’t face before. The stress from the pandemic itself is compounded for many students by the stress of displacement, new working environments, loss of income, removal from their support system of peers and professors, etc. I would begin by looking into what resources your university offers. They may have online tools to help manage stress and anxiety, hotlines that you can call, and/or virtual workshops to help guide students through this. Personally, I would establish a routine that balances your workload with your mental health. This might mean carving out time for yoga or on-line workout classes, taking a nature walk, meditation and breathing exercises, or even just ensuring you get up from your desk every hour or two to stretch and briefly get a change of scenery. Working these actions into your day will also help with the mental and physical toll that being at your desk and in front of your computer all day causes. Having these moments at a dedicated time each day will help you have a rhythm, give you something to look forward to, and also make your mental and physical health a priority.

You can watch the full conversation, and the rest of our Collective D(esign) series here.

If you are a design student currently struggling or preparing for your next steps as you graduate in an uncertain time, reach out to IIDA for support. We’ve compiled a list of resources for students and educators here.

Collective D(esign): Design Online; The Education Community Responds to Change

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the third webinar in the series today. 

IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, and Ryan Ben, IIDA’s student engagement and advancement manager hosted a panel of educators and students for this important community discussion focused on design education and career planning during a time of transition. The conversation focused on how have personal priorities shifted, how are educators and professionals identifying the best ways to support students and soon-to-be graduates, and how are students adjusting to the drastically changing educational and employment landscape.

Hear panelists discuss ways to continue personal and professional development as we shelter in place; what internships will look like; how to maintain community; and how to ask for help or offer it.

This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn how to earn your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.

Key takeaways include:

  • Taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health can be your top priority—you’ll be better prepared to care for others and design.
  • Lean into community. Show up to virtual events, programs, webinars, and virtual socializing and continue to develop and maintain meaningful relationships.
  • Leverage virtual tools and programs in the classroom so they can be used at any time. You may have to re-think your curriculum as an educator, and use a variety of apps to communicate and share new ideas in an inclusive way.
  • Meet students where they are at to connect them with the information that they need. Firms and professionals should continue to work with students and educators, offering opportunities for enrichment and mentoring.
  • Professionals and students alike can continue to learn and develop their careers by studying for the NCIDQ and WELL exams.
  • Now is the time for service—think beyond design, connect the dots to the current need, and explore ways you can best contribute.

Watch all the webinars in the series here.

Moderators:

Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA
IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO
IIDA

Ryan Ben
Student Engagement and Advancement Manager
IIDA

Panelists:

Tyler Hatton, Student IIDA
The Ohio State University
Campus Center Co-Leader
Ohio/Kentucky Chapter

Rebekah Matheny, IIDA
Assistant Professor of Interior Design, Department of Design
The Ohio State University

Jon Otis, IIDA
Founder and Principal, Object Agency (OlA)
Professor, Pratt Institute

Meghan Webster, AIA
Principal and Global Education Practice Area Leader
Gensler

The next webinar in the series, Human Resources: The New Normal and Opportunity will take place on April 16, 2020, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Central. Register today.

Join IIDA for a discussion on the pandemic’s short and long-term effects on talent and the impact on human resources within the design industry.

Empowering Design: A Report from the 2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable

This post was contributed by Krista Sykes, a writer and editor with a background in architecture and design. She has worked with many practitioners, institutions, and publications in the industry, including Contract magazine. 


The following is a condensed version of the 2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable. An in-depth report on this roundtable event will be available on iida.org in June.

Educating the Future Design Professional with Enhanced Focus on Culture, People, and Research

To empower the design profession, educators and practitioners must embrace increasing diversity, expand established modes of thought, and champion education and research as invaluable, interlinked components. That was the primary outcome of an invigorating dialogue between educators, practitioners, and students from across the country at the 2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable. Presented by IIDA and hosted by Milliken at its Roger Milliken Campus in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the two-day event in March 2019 engaged participants in a series of lively, in-depth discussions on how best to equip the next generation of designers for success.

What knowledge and tools do emerging designers need to excel and enrich the profession as a whole? Over the course of the roundtable, moderated by IIDA Deputy Director and Senior Vice President John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, 10 educators/practitioners, four practitioners, and three students shared experiences and brainstormed ideas for how all members of the design community can collaboratively support today’s students. Their insights hinged on a critical factor: the next generation of designers will be increasingly diverse. “In a global context, as travel, communication, and the means of conducting business have become easier internationally, the education of the future design professional has to accommodate a broader scope and context,” said Czarnecki.

IMG_4126.JPG

John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA

Depending on their school and location, many Roundtable educators noted high numbers of international, first-generation, and non-traditional students. For interior design programs, there is no longer a “standard” student type, and to advance the profession in line with changing student demographics, schools and educators must rethink the way they support students of myriad backgrounds. Drawing from their own classroom- and studio-based experiences, Roundtable participants united around this topic, highlighting critical aspects of the educational experience that can empower emerging designers, those who educate them, and the profession as a whole.

Big Conversations

At all levels, from the institution to the department to the classroom, a lack of adequate and clear communication is a major issue that the educators noted. Schools need to initiate conversations across and within departments about demographic shifts and the resulting impacts, for both the students and the institutions themselves.

“Educators have to completely change the way they teach,” said Liset Robinson, IIDA, associate chair of interior design at Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta. “Educators have to review fundamentals, terminology, and methodology for students who have received their education from other countries. This allows them to work off of the same page and then fly.” While Robinson refers to international students, her comment applies to all students.

IMG_4115.JPG

Jane Hughes, IDEC, Assistant Professor, Interior Design, Western Carolina University (foreground) and Ana Pinto-Alexander, IIDA, Principal, HKS (background)

Emotional Intelligence

Professionalism encompasses a combination of hard skills and specialized knowledge, educators noted, as well as soft skills such as self-regulation and competence. Soft skills may be hard to measure, but they are nonetheless vital for an emerging designer’s success. As director of strategic projects at Gensler, Darris James, IIDA, a senior associate at the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, spearheads initiatives to strengthen the skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities of the firm’s employees worldwide. James says soft skills—namely emotional intelligence—are highly important for new hires. “Emotional intelligence is absolutely critical,” said James. “The ability to cultivate relationships with people, have some level of self-awareness and social awareness, and be able to manage emotions and relationships are fundamental skills designers must learn before they go into the workforce.”

Design Research

As evidence-based design expands beyond the realm of healthcare to inform all project types, from workplaces and schools to hotels and restaurants, designers and educational institutions are increasingly prioritizing design research. many firms increasingly focus on research-based practices, they will seek out designers who are well-versed in design research—who think like researchers, can undertake research projects, and translate their findings into actionable results.

IMG_4121

Amy Campos, IIDA, Founder and Principal, ACA, Tenured Associate Professor, Chair of Interior Design, California College of the Arts

Tomorrow’s Educators

In response to demographic shifts, top educators are evolving their teaching approaches to empower today’s emerging designers. Yet, the profession depends not only on its emerging designers, but on the next cohort of educators.

A worsening shortage of well-qualified interior design educators may be an issue in coming years, participants noted. To counter this pending educator shortage, students must be exposed to design education as a viable career path. Current educators can consciously mentor and encourage students who show an aptitude for teaching.

Coupled with the need for more educators overall, the composition of interior design faculty at many schools is not nearly as diverse as the student populations that they teach. A concentrated effort must be made across interior design programs to hire ethnically and culturally diverse educators, especially those that mirror institutions’ student demographics.

Educators and practitioners must work together to champion diversity, strengthen connections between education and practice, prioritize design research, and promote greater public appreciation for interior design.

2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable Participants included:

MODERATOR, FROM IIDA

John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA

FROM IIDA

Ryan Ben, Student Engagement and Advancement Manager

Aisha Williams, Senior Director of Industry Relations and Special Events

REPORT AUTHOR

Krista Sykes, Ph.D.

FROM MILLIKEN

Michael Eckert, Director of Marketing and Strategy

Robin Olsen, Customer Experience Concierge

Leslie Roberts, Product Launch and Customer Experience Manager

Mark Strohmaier, Vice President of Marketing

PRACTITIONERS

Allison Brown, Assoc. IIDA, Interior Designer, Perkins+Will

Darris James, IIDA, Senior Associate, Director of Strategic Projects, Gensler

Ana Pinto-Alexander, IIDA, Principal, HKS

Felice Silverman, FIIDA, Principal, Silverman Trykowski Associates, Inc.

EDUCATORS/PRACTITIONERS

Katherine S. Ankerson, IIDA, AIA, Dean, College of Architecture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Amy Campos, IIDA, Founder and Principal, ACA, Tenured Associate Professor, Chair of Interior Design, California College of the Arts

Pamela K. Evans, Ph.D., IIDA, Director, Interior Design, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, Kent State University

Amanda Gale, Ph.D., IIDA, Assistant Professor, Interior Architecture, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Jane Hughes, IDEC, Assistant Professor, Interior Design, Western Carolina University

Jon Otis, IIDA, Founder and Principal, Object Agency (OlA), Professor, Pratt Institute

Michelle Pearson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Texas Tech University

Liset Robinson, IIDA, Associate Chair, Interior Design, Savannah College of Art and Design

Virginia San Fratello, Associate Professor of Design, San Jose State University

Hepi Wachter, Professor and Chair, University of North Texas, College of Visual Arts and Design

STUDENTS

Ying (Crystal) Cheng, California College of the Arts

Shelly Gregg, Western Carolina University

Xinchun Hu, Pratt Institute


Learn more about the IIDA Educators Roundtable and read the previous roundtable report.

The Design Portfolio as a Visual Storyteller

After a recent opportunity to sit in on an undergraduate design critique, Susan Fireside, art director at IIDA, recounts the lessons to be learned from student design portfolios.

There’s something about design students. They’re at that point in the road where they’ve been in school for long enough and are now truly ready and willing to start their professional careers. Feedback and constructive criticism are still welcome because they’re hungry for the real world.

And hungry is what I saw when I recently had the opportunity to be a guest at a Portfolio for Interior Architecture class at Columbia College Chicago. Taught by Tom Marquardt, IIDA, president and founder of marquardt+, the class combines curating a substantial body of work with learning about professionalism and the business side of the industry.

Marquardt is their instructor as he was mine in a branded environments class I took when I was getting my master’s. While I’m not an interior designer, I am an art director, so branding, visual storytelling, and finding ways to express a design story is what I do. I was happy to offer my guidance to this group as they put together a physical book to show potential employers.

Here are some key takeaways from that critique session:

  • Carry your visual story through everything. The cover should connect with the inside, which should connect with your website, social media channels, and resume.
  • Digital and print are two different mediums. If you’re doing anything for print, be sure to print out your work at 100% while you are in each phase of the project. From your initial concept to your work in progress layout, what looks small on a screen can look oversized when printed.
  • Be consistent and streamline. Watch how many typefaces and font you use. Type and color tell a story as much as graphics and copy.
  • Use images purposefully. When building your portfolio, think carefully about what you show and if it’s reflective of the kind of work you want to do.
  • Edit. Curate. And then do it again. Your portfolio is an ever-evolving work in progress. Even if it’s your first, it will not be your last.
  • Research. Look at which companies you want to work for and see how they showcase their work. What are they including? What are they leaving out?
  • Technology is your friend. In today’s world, there are many different ways to showcase your work. Don’t be afraid to market yourself and show off what you are capable of.
  • Make sure it can stand on its own. Will someone understand what they’re looking at when you’re not there to talk about it? 

Cultivating a More Diverse Design Profession

This post was contributed by Krista Sykes, a writer and editor with a background in architecture and design. She has worked with many practitioners, institutions, and publications in the industry, including Contract magazine. 


The 2018 IIDA Student Roundtable series looked to the future of design with a focus on diversity. Interior design students and key speakers, including some IIDA International Board Members, participated in conversations that took place in New York and Los Angeles. The following is a summary of those discussions. A full in-depth report about the series will be released by IIDA in March.

As the world becomes increasingly diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity, the interior design profession faces a distinct challenge: how can practitioners create environments that support and celebrate these rich differences? And how can the design profession better reflect a more diverse world? In fall 2018, IIDA presented the IIDA Future of Design Roundtable Series—two roundtable events in New York and Los Angeles—where a total of 35 interior design students and 11 educators and practitioners gathered to discuss this issue. What emerged in the series, sponsored by OFS, was an unqualified call for change. Specifically, to successfully design for diverse audiences, there must first be a push to cultivate diversity within the interior design profession. For this to happen, it is up to all, in every level of the profession, to take action.

Diversity itself is a complex issue, encompassing different expressions of race, religion, sexual preference, income level, cultural background, generational affiliation, and one’s stage in life as well as geographic location. As expected, the conversations in New York City and Los Angeles sounded quite different, as would those in any other city. Nevertheless, both roundtable discussions echoed common themes that offer broader lessons about diversity’s essential role in the future of the interior design profession.

Promoting Change

The many advantages of diversity in the workplace—including greater innovation, better decision making, and increased financial performance—have been well documented and, on the whole, widely embraced within the design community. Yet, many individuals and organizations remain unclear on how to cultivate and fully utilize diversity. Here, the presentations by renowned practitioners and educators proved invaluable.

At the Los Angeles discussion, Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, principal and director of Global Diversity at Perkins+Will, and 2018–2019 IIDA International Board President, highlighted Perkins+Will’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement program, an initiative she spearheaded and now directs across the firm’s 2,200 employees. Annie Chu, FIIDA, FAIA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President, principal at Chu-Gooding Architects, and professor at Woodbury University’s interior architecture program, emphasized the current need within the profession to making different voices heard and underscored each designer’s personal duty to position themselves as a leader.

In New York, Jon Otis, IIDA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President, Pratt Institute professor of interior design, and the founder and principal of multidisciplinary design studio Object Agency, discussed his recently launched Diversity By Design Foundation (dxdf), a nonprofit initiative dedicated to increasing awareness of design careers among people of all backgrounds.

The ensuing rich discussions with the roundtable participants generated concrete and manageable ideas to guide all students, educators, and practitioners on the crucial path toward achieving greater diversity within the profession. These practical next steps as well as additional insights regarding diversity in the interior design profession will be described in the detailed report about the discussions.

IIDA_151.jpg

Participants of the IIDA Student Roundtable in Los Angeles.

Moving Forward with an “Activist Mindset”

With rising frequency, design firm clients are younger, more diverse, and demanding design teams that echo the demographics of their own organizations. Likewise, firms are seeing more community-related projects, which require designers who reflect and understand these communities’ specific cultural and socioeconomic issues. Bullock notes that all practitioners have a role in cultivating these designers. Professionals have a duty to inspire individuals with different backgrounds to enter the profession, engage with global content and society’s shifting demographics, and to foster diverse workplaces where all contributions are valued.

The roundtable participants—students, educators, and practitioners—agreed that, while discussion is encouraging and must continue, action must happen now. “We are currently in an advocacy role. And it’s time now to shift into an activist mindset,” said Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President and principal and design director of interiors at FXCollaborative in New York. “Advocacy works within the established structure and rules, and we do everything possible to leverage the power we have. But when we adopt an activist attitude, we start to rewrite the rules. The work we do along established paths is important, but we also need to break out of the comfort zone and just do what’s right.”


The Student Roundtable series brings together interior design students and local practitioners to engage in informal discussions on both the current state of the profession and the future of design. Learn more about other topics discussed from the previous roundtable report.

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

blogillustrationsoriginals-04

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

blogillustrationsoriginals-01

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

blogillustrationsoriginals-03

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.