From Interior Design Student to Interior Design Professional: 5 Tips to Keep in Mind

You graduated from your interior design program – congratulations! Now it’s time to tackle the next challenge: preparing for your career as a professional designer. This June, IIDA brought together four design industry experts to answer the questions students and recent graduates want answered. Thank you to Stacey Harloe, Ind. IIDA, of OFS Brands, Amy Leigh Hufford, Student IIDA, of NELSON, Hunter Charles Kaiser, IIDA, NCIDQ, of hk+c, and Rebekah L. Matheny, IIDA, of The Ohio State University for sharing their wealth of knowledge, insight, and advice at this year’s Career Bootcamp Panel sponsored by OFS Brands. From what makes a standout portfolio to how to network with the pros, here’s what they had to offer about succeeding in a career in interior design.

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Adopting a “humanistic” approach to solving a problem doesn’t just live in the area of medicine; it’s a significant part of your practice as a designer. Fulfilling a design concept for a client requires as much empathy as it does efficiency. “When the clients talk, they’re telling us the solution,” said Hunter. “We need to extrapolate it.” Be prepared to ask questions like, “What do you want to be able to accomplish in your space?” and “How does the space make you feel?” Use words that your client can understand, not design jargon. Talk less, listen more. Establishing rapport and trust with your client are crucial to maintaining a happy and healthy working relationship.

Tell Me Your Story

Rebekah starts the design process with her clients by asking them their story. “Sometimes, it’s not the client you’re designing for, it’s their customers, it’s their users of the space. How do you communicate the unfolding story in the space?” Understanding your client’s story will guide your design and dig deeper into the underlying goals and objectives. Added Amy, “We’re not designing for now, we’re designing for the future. At NELSON, we ask them, ‘How can we make you start your future now?’ ‘How can we institute change management for your company to make you perform better?’”

Process, Personality, Confidence

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A unique, creative, and diverse portfolio along with a strong skillset show you’re a talented and capable designer. Your personality and ability to describe your process eloquently are what sell you. “You’re going to have to articulate your vision to your clients, so there’s a selling acumen that starts very early for you, and that’s in the interview,” said Stacey. Build your confidence; practice articulating your portfolio as you prepare for job interviews. Come armed with questions, be inquisitive, and have a positive attitude. “Skills can be taught. It’s the thought process that’s most important because you’re bringing your mind set — the way you see and experience the world around you,” said Rebekah.

Share Your Work

Social media has become a natural part of our day. It’s as easy to post pictures of our vacation as it is pictures of our work. For some designers, sharing images of their work has been a real concern – what if someone copies my idea? Stacey embraces that. “When someone copies your idea, that is pretty rewarding. That’s gratification that you did something good, and that idea will become parent to later ideas.” We live in a world of sharing. If you’re doing something that’s well-done and you’re proud of, let people see it and learn from it. Conversely, added Hunter, share your mistakes so we could learn from those too.

Have a Dialogue

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It can be intimidating to approach designers when you want to catch them for a couple of minutes at a networking event or at the end of a talk. Rest assured, many of them know that. “Every designer started at one point too,” said Hunter. To help you break the ice, do a little bit of homework and research the designer before attending the event. What was the last project they worked on that you liked and why? Where did they get their start? Knowing these answers will inform what questions you ask and maybe find some common ground with them. And, quite honestly, sometimes starting the conversation is as simple as a compliment. “Find a way to flatter them,” said Amy.

But dialogue is a two-way street. “It’s also our responsibility [as professional designers] to say hi,” said Rebekah. “We need to make that human connection with you. Let’s shift to a collaborative process. Let’s co-design.”


Check out the IIDA Career Bootcamp page for information about the the Career Bootcamp Panel, interviewing, and networking. We also encourage you to reach out to your local Campus Center leaders for resources and suggestions that meet your needs as an IIDA Student Member. 

 

Up Close with the Kent State University Campus Center

IIDA Campus Center: Kent State University

IIDA Chapter: Ohio Kentucky Chapter

Where: Kent, Ohio

Number of Student Members: 40

IIDA Campus Centers are the first point of contact interior design students have to IIDA. Each one is unique in design, programming, and initiatives, which makes for a varied student experience across chapters. We want to highlight the diversity of IIDA Student Member experiences by introducing you to a handful of campus centers. From how they run their group to what activities garner the most student interest, here is what we learned after sitting down with the IIDA Kent State University Campus Center.

Give us a snapshot of your Campus Center.

Kent State University’s Campus Center is an umbrella organization for interior design students that aims to unite IIDA and ASID. We have about 40 student members within our organization. A majority of these members are aspiring interior designers from the interior design program but the organization is open to all students on campus.

Recently there has been a large push to incorporate architecture students into the group to encourage cross collaboration. We aspire to evolve the organization and remain cutting edge and align with the goals of our school’s architecture college, which focuses heavily on integration and collaboration between programs.

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Do you work with other organizations or design clubs?

We work with other organizations like Alpha Rho Chi (APX), an architecture-based business fraternity on campus, graphic design students, and the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) to create the Design Arts Ball. We have an open relationship with APX and AIAS and join them for meetings, firm crawls, and workshops.

 What kind events and activities do you host at your Campus Center?

We all agree that events that would allow for more collaboration and inclusion for all would best benefit the group. Events and activities include but are not limited to: lunch and learns with professionals, firm tours, software workshops, social networking events, along with volunteer opportunities like Relay for Life, AIA/IIDA Design Awards, and one of our favorites, Zerolandfill.

kent-1-finalWhat are your favorite or most successful events and activities that you host?

Our favorite — and successful event — would have to be Relay for Life. This activity allows students to connect with different organizations around campus, as well as support a great cause. Another successful activity for us is volunteering at Zerolandfill. Our members are a large face of the event in both Akron and Cleveland. We love to help recycle old materials, and [the activity] also allows students to connect with professionals in the area in a less intimidating way. We like to get younger members involved to help ease them into the community.

How do you collaborate with your local chapter?

We are lucky in that our IIDA community is more than willing to engage us in their activities! Our Campus Center presidents are invited to attend monthly meetings with the Akron/Cleveland City Center. They also create fun events for us to interact with other design schools nearby and other professionals — it really brings the whole community together, something for which we feel very grateful for.

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How do you get people engaged with your Campus Center and local chapter?

We have found the key to engagement at the Campus Center level is frequency and variability. Our board has surveyed the group and worked on putting together events that our members ask for. Through our great professionals we are able to remain very connected to the local IIDA Chapter. Our members are able to engage with professionals through volunteer opportunities, local conferences, design charrettes, and networking events. Our board has been extremely happy with what the group has become!

What is the biggest benefit of being an IIDA Member?

We recently had this conversation just before our graduation. As a freshman, you feel so lost and overwhelmed. Joining IIDA early helps you use your time in school to prepare for “the real world.” Our students have the opportunity to create relationships with people in different sides of the industry, giving them the skills and confidence to succeed on their career paths. We believe it is important to have an active IIDA Campus Center not only to educate and inform our students and the general public of the importance of interior design, but to prepare students to be the best, well-rounded designers they can be.


Learn more about IIDA Campus Centers at iida.org

My Top Five: The Best of NeoCon by the 2017 IIDA Student of the Year

Hi, I’m Lindzey Duval, 2017 IIDA Student of the Year, and here are my top five favorite moments at NeoCon! Although every moment was special, there were a handful that were unforgettable.

ACCEPTING THE IIDA STUDENT OF THE YEAR AWARD

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On stage at Annual Meeting with Cheryl Durst, IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO. (Photography by Elaine Miller Photography)

At the IIDA Annual Meeting, I had the unique opportunity to share my story and experiences on stage when I accepted the Student of the Year Award. It may have been one of the most nerve-racking things I have ever done, but it was also one of the most amazing and unforgettable moments in my life so far. I never expected to feel so much love and support from my family, friends, Texas State University, and the design industry. Accepting the award at the Annual Meeting takes the cake of favorite moments during my experience at NeoCon!

STUDENT DESIGN CHARETTE

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This was the third design charette that I have participated in and this one was by far my favorite of the three. As someone who loves working with others, I enjoyed collaborating with students from across the nation from many different universities. Everyone who was part of my team brought their own unique background and thought process to the table and it was great to see our charette project unfold. And taking second place was pretty cool, too!

MEETING NEW FRIENDS + MAKING CONNECTIONS

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Accepting 2nd place at the 2017 IIDA Student Design Charette from judges Joseph White, IIDA, NCIDQ, IDEX, LEED AP, director of workplace strategy, design, and management at Herman Miller, and Primo Orpilla, FIIDA, president and co-founder of Studio O+A.

NeoCon brings together people from across the world — I met students and industry professionals I may have never had the chance to meet if I wasn’t there. From Philadelphia and D.C., to California, Illinois, Indiana, and New York, I was fortunate to learn from the unique experiences and backgrounds of each person I met and what is currently happening in the design field where they live.

IIDA COOL GALA

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Opening reception at COOL with Doug Shapiro, Ind. IIDA, vice president of the IIDA International Board of Directors.

If you happen to be unfamiliar with the COOL Gala,think of it as the design Oscars. Sounds fancy, huh? It is! Everyone was head-to-toe glam celebrating design excellence and some pretty amazing projects from this year’s Interior Design Competition and Will Ching Design Competition. I enjoyed chatting with everyone and dancing the night away. Shout out to OFS Brands for inviting me and for sponsoring my award. They are total rock stars!

THE SHOWROOMS AT THE MART

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This was my first year at NeoCon and it is safe to say that I was blown away by the creativity and thought put into each showroom this year. It made standing in those long elevator lines worth it! If you’ve been to NeoCon, you know what I am talking about. Seeing everyone’s hard work and research come to life was so rewarding. Plus, get ready for some great new products coming our way this year. I cannot express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to attend because of IIDA! Thank you to everyone who made my experience so great.


Lindzey Duval is a member of the IIDA Texas/Oklahoma Chapter. You can view the rest of her – along with other IIDA Members – NeoCon experience on Instagram by following #IIDAtakeover.

Up Close with the Puget Sound Campus Center

IIDA Campus Center: Puget Sound

IIDA Chapter: IIDA Northern Pacific Chapter

Where: Greater Puget Sound Region, Washington

Number of Student Members: 126 

IIDA Campus Centers are the first point of contact interior design students have to IIDA. Each one is unique in design, programming, and initiatives, which makes for a varied student experience across chapters. We want to highlight the diversity of IIDA Student Member experiences by introducing you to a handful of campus centers. From how they run their group to what activities garner the most student interest, here is what we learned after sitting down with the IIDA Puget Sound Campus Center.

IIDA HQ: Give us a snapshot of your Campus Center.

IIDA Puget Sound Campus Center: The Puget Sound Campus Center (PSCC) is unusual because it consists of students from multiple schools, including Bellevue College, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle Pacific University, The Art Institute of Seattle, and Sanford-Brown College. The PSCC Council, the Campus Center’s governing board, is made up of three professionals and 12 students. The professionals on the council are there to assist the students with planning the events. The rest of the council is comprised of students from all levels of study. The student president oversees the entire council, which is made up of chairs for events, membership, social media, and community outreach, plus a treasurer, secretary, and a liaison for each school. Each chair has a coordinator to help with the division of work. We choose student board members first by merit and then by seniority.

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IIDA HQ: What kind of events and activities do you host as a Campus Center?

PSCC: Our Campus Center has seven events throughout the year. The Portfolio Workshop is where students have their portfolios critiqued and Marked Up gives students the opportunity to have a single project critiqued by a panel of judges for a chance to win an academic award. Both of these events are hosted by the professionals on our council.

Students plan and host all other events from a built environment tour to professional/student mixers. Part of the requirement for being on the PSCC Council is that each student must help plan at least one event. This year, our programming includes a built environment tour of a trio of Tom Douglas Restaurants; speed mentoring; and our End of Year Party to celebrate the accomplishments of the group and announce the upcoming council. New this year is the Product Showcase, a small tradeshow, to introduce students to local representatives and educate them about different products and materials. We try to have a wide range of programming so students can see as many aspects of the profession as possible. We also have mentorship moments at each event to give students insight about certain aspects of the profession.

IIDA HQ: How do you collaborate with your local chapter?

PSCC: This year, our community outreach project is in collaboration with the IIDA Northern Pacific Chapter Advocacy Committee. We work together to design and furnish a space for a deserving charity. Students are invited to volunteer or attend certain chapter events to help them engage with the local design community.

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IIDA HQ: How do you get people engaged with your Campus Center and local chapter?

PSCC: We have monthly council meetings open to any student. This way our council can check in with each other on a regular basis, and interested students can come see what we’re all about. We also have liaisons for each school to engage with peers in classrooms and hand out materials. We have one person dedicated to social media to attract attention to our events.

IIDA HQ: What is the biggest benefit of having an active Campus Center?

PSCC: The biggest benefit of an active Campus Center is that it allows for students to create meaningful events, give back to the community, and network among peers and professionals. It helps students start their career with a support system in their designer toolbox.


Follow the IIDA Puget Sound Campus Center on Facebook and Instagram. To learn more about IIDA Campus Centers, visit iida.org

The Power of Mentorship: 3 IIDA Student Members Share Their Experiences

Research shows that mentoring can help ensure the academic and professional success of students and protégés. Mentorship is especially crucial now as employers recognize the need to engage and retain millennials. Every year, IIDA pairs thousands of students and mentors for a day of job shadowing through the annual IIDA Student Mentoring Program. Networking opportunities and career insights are expected, but bridging the gap between generations has become an added and significant benefit of the program. After last year’s Student Mentoring Program, we caught up with three students to get their take on how the program impacted them and what lessons they’ll be taking as they embark on their professional design careers.

Mentoring Motivated Me to Build My Professional Network

Student: Krista Neerdaels, interior architecture student, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mentor: Jamie Carley, Flad Architects, Madison, Wisconsin

There were three of us who attended the mentoring day together. [Our mentor Jamie] spent time showing us the types of projects she was working on, walked us through the programs they use, and gave us insight on what a typical day is like for her.  We then went out for lunch, and afterwards she set up a few meetings with people who work in different departments at Flad. Later, we discussed specifics on how to move into the professional world—advice on resumes, interview etiquette, and portfolios.

An important aspect about Flad that I appreciated was that the designers, architects, and engineers all work in the same space, so all departments are involved when a project begins. I believe it is very important to have integration of design and architecture as soon as possible for the benefit of the final product. The mentorship experience also motivated me to continue building my professional network to gain even more confidence about my future. It was an inspiring day that encouraged me to find a company that is the perfect fit for me.

Mentoring Intensified My Passion for Design

Student: Heba Toulan Pennington, interior design student, Houston Community College

Mentor: Catrina Wyrick, Abel Design Group, Houston, Texas

I signed up for the [Student Mentoring Program] to gather a full understanding of how interior design/architecture functions on a daily basis. My mentor and I spent time discussing what a typical work day is. Then, we went to a construction site to see how the contractor works with the architect. My favorite part of the day was the session where we covered building codes in elevations and plans.

The program intensified my passion for design. I came away inspired and intrigued by the process of designing.

Mentoring Solidified My Career Path as a Designer

Student: Jonathan Butler-Knutson, interior design student, University of Minnesota

Mentor: Maren Idso, NELSON Upper Midwest, Minneapolis, Minnesota

My favorite part of the [Student Mentoring Program] was being able to see what it is like to visit a site and let the space help inform design solutions. After receiving a quick overview of her project work, Maren and I, along with her coworker Matt, walked to Gaviidae, a five-story geometric art deco style structure that is part of the Minneapolis downtown skyways system. Upon arrival, we noted that there was very little foot traffic on the first floor. The second floor, bustling with traffic, drew its occupants from the skyway system to the retail and restaurants that are present in the space. There was a complete lack of business presence on the third and fourth floor, and only about 25 percent occupancy on the fifth floor.

After recognizing some of the issues that had been amplifying the issue of low tenant occupancy, the three of us sat down and worked through a plan of a potential tenant space. The best part of the experience was how willing Maren was to let me assist her. After arriving back at the office, she let me sit down and rework the plan in Revit based on my suggestions.

My mentorship experience solidified my belief that design is the field for me and sparked excitement about the work I will get to do.


The 2017 IIDA Student Mentoring Program is currently underway. If you are a student participating in this year’s program, apply for the Wilsonart Essay Competition for a chance to $1,000 and a trip to Chicago during NeoCon 2017. Search #IIDAsmp on Facebook and Instagram to see the Student Mentoring Program in action. 

How To Be a Better Mentee

Every year, IIDA pairs two students with an interior designer for a one-day crash course on a day in the life of a designer. Student Mentoring Week, one of IIDA’s most dynamic program offerings, is the catalyst for many IIDA student members who wish to begin a mentoring relationship with a professional interior designer. By the time this column is published, nearly 500 IIDA student members will have made meaningful connections with the best in the interior design industry. The goal is for the students and their mentors to continue buildings connections like these after the
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There is no doubt that a strong mentoring relationship can play a huge role in a student’s academic and professional success. Numerous studies support the positive effects of mentoring relationships. Many companies like Boeing and Deloitte implement professional mentoring programs to develop and retain younger employees. But if you think mentoring is simply weekly Starbucks dates with a senior-level professional or a quick way to score professional success—including a job—think again.

The reality is that mentoring relationships require a serious investment of time, patience, and effort for both the mentor and mentee. While a mentor’s role is to guide, a mentee’s role holds just as much weight, if not more. Ultimately, you—the mentee—have primary say in your mentoring relationship. You initiate the mentoring relationship, you are responsible for nurturing it, and you can end it. Here are some tips to help you in your quest to find a mentor and be the mentee that mentors want.

Define the Relationship
Mentorship is a word that conjures many notions and expectations.

Some students come into a mentoring relationship expecting their mentor to offer them a job or provide them lifelong coaching without first determining if the partnership is a good one. Have a strong definition of what mentorship means to you and use that when seeking teachers, designers, peers, and work colleagues you admire and pursue. If you’re having trouble identifying what you want from your relationship, ask yourself:

  • Do I want to emulate my mentor’s career or am I looking for someone who will act like a trusted friend?
  • Do I want someone who will help me search for educational and life opportunities in addition to career opportunities?
  • How long do I want my mentor in my life? Do I want someone who knows me enough to write a sufficient letter of reference or do I want someone who will be a guiding figure throughout my entire career?

Be proactive in your search for a mentor, considering goals for the relationship and how long it will last. Understand why you need mentorship and how it can help you succeed professionally.

Gain Agreement
Once you have your mentorship goals in mind, communicate them clearly to your potential mentor and ask what expectations the mentor has. Discuss and decide upon the relationship you want to build together in advance. The most successful mentoring relationships are those founded on clear goals and ground rules. Be upfront—your mentor will thank you.

Seek Multiple Mentors
Traditionally, mentoring relationships are characterized by a two-person model with a senior person discussing a student’s goals, needs, weaknesses, and accomplishments. In a perfect world, one person is enough to help you tackle all your concerns. But can you really have just one mentor? You will most likely need multiple mentors of various ages, skills, and traits to guide you with each of your needs.

Research on mentoring relationships and programs shows that mentoring is most effective when the mentee has a diverse constellation of mentors, from a traditional primary mentor to peer and short-term ones as well. Do you aspire to be an interior designer with your own firm? Consider reaching out to both an interior designer and a business owner. Each person brings different perspectives and wisdom. Take your search further—explore outside your boundaries and tap into the networks of your friends and colleagues.

Do Your Homework and Invest
Prepare for each meeting with your mentor as if it’s a task for your job. Dress professionally. Show up on time with a notebook and pen, ready to listen and take notes. Research your mentor’s interests, ask questions, and talk about the why behind the answers. Share your portfolio.

Mentoring is a two-way street. Go beyond “checking in” and give your mentor opportunities to offer insight and advice. As you get to know your mentor, think of ways you can add value to the relationship. Bring up a recent news story or study that you think would be of interest or provide your mentor a new networking connection.

Be Open
Your mentor will challenge you. Giving you honest feedback is his or her job. Come into the relationship appreciating that there is a chance you will reexamine your goals and consider new ideas. While setting clear goals and objectives at the beginning of the relationship is crucial, also realize that these goals and objectives may change as the relationship progresses.

Be Honest
Do you get along with your mentor? If the fit doesn’t feel right, bow out. Mentoring should be established as no-fault relationship where either you or your mentor can end it for good reason at any time without risk of harm to your respective careers.

When done right, mentoring is a powerful tool that can change careers and lives. So be fearless in what you want and humble when someone agrees to be your mentor. You’ll be surprised by how much people want to help you if you just ask for it.


This post was originally published in Interiors & Sources.