Carving a Career in Design: Lessons Learned from IIDA SHIFT

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

Standing Up for Myself

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

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

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

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

Looking Through the Lens of a Hiring Manager

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

Jessica Payne, Student IIDA, Belmont University, Tennessee Chapter         

Finding My Community

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

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

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

Expanding My Network

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

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

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

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SHIFT Pep Rally. Photo: Guillermo Antonio

Connecting with Firms that Inspire

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

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

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


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

Collaboration and Communication: Key Takeaways from the 2019 Industry Roundtable

The 2019 IIDA Industry Roundtable, held in January in Chicago, culminated in a lively, facilitated discussion with designers and industry representatives on the topic of communication best practices. Drawing on a few of the hot topics from the broader Industry Roundtable conversation, including learnability, flexibility, and artificial intelligence, the following are key takeaways and excerpts of the discussion.

Of-the-Moment Versus Enduring

With the transference of “fast fashion” consumer expectations into our own industry, clients are questioning why furniture needs to last 20 years. While designers work hard to educate clients about responsible product specification and the advantages of well-made, warrantied furniture designed specifically for the workplace, this wisdom can sometimes fall on deaf ears. Designers are navigating this challenge by specifying a balance of timeless and timely product in interiors—but often feel conflicted in so doing. Here are some key thoughts from designers on the topic:

“The ‘fast-fashion’ product model doesn’t stand up, but there is a market for it, unfortunately. It’s more of a startup mentality: How long is something going to last relative to things needing to change?”

“We are responsible for considering the embodied energy of the products we are huge consumers of. A very finite life span isn’t helping the world. Products that are flexible, reconfigurable, and that offer multiple solutions will become more important.”

“In Scandinavia, companies make furniture with parts that disconnect and can be sent back for reupholstery. In fact, the government mandates buying furniture that can be updated. Will our country one day move in that direction?”

“In the environments we are creating, we treat some furniture elements as more permanent and infrastructural, and specify others that can be changed out in response to needs or trends.”

The 2019 IIDA Industry Roundtable brought together a multi-disciplinary roster of designers, manufacturers, and marketing executives to look at the future of work through the lenses of people, place, and practice.

Teach, Don’t Preach

Look beyond box lunches, 15-minute cookie breaks, and PowerPoint presentations when creating CEUs and education materials targeted at younger designers. Or any-age designer, for that matter:

“Ditch the PowerPoint and create video stories that seduce and inspire emotions—stories that showcase the beauty, simplicity, and sustainability of your design in simple ways.”

“It’s a myth that millennials only want two- to three-minute sound bites. If the information is pertinent and I’m engaged, I can sit rapt for an hour.”

“Consider restructuring how you’re putting together and synthesizing information. Tech rewired out brains: Once I get a point, I don’t want to hear it for 10 more minutes; I got it!

“I read recently that brands are not telling their stories in a linear manner because of their customers’ experience on the internet. The example given outlined that people don’t just watch one video or read one blog post but jump to various channels when exploring a brand or product.”

Feel-good Furniture

As technology automates the design process and frees up time for more conceptual thinking, practitioners are recasting themselves as “creators of emotional experience.” Manufacturers can support this phenomenon by promoting their product’ experiential side:

“Our premise is about elevating the human experience; we lead with that in every presentation and external communication vehicle. A client talk starts with a discussion about the ability of space to elevate the human experience—and to do the opposite if it’s not carefully calibrated and catered to the intended end user. Space is not a resource or a consumable or an overhead expense; it’s a strategic tool that can influence how we feel.”

“The workplace has done a 180-degree turn, customized to the DNA of the company. It doesn’t matter what we as designers think; it’s about how we are crafting an experience for this client specifically. That’s a shift in our critical thinking.”

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Who will populate the world of work in 2030, and what will matter most? We tackled that and more at this year’s Roundtable.

Corporate Culture Trumps Cool Café

Millennials are more interested in a transparent, communicative, and egalitarian office culture than they are in gimmicky furniture or amenities:

“I don’t need beanbag chairs; I want to work at a place with a leadership team that is reflective of the industry and the broader populace.”

“At my firm, we don’t have amenity spaces—but we do have an open door policy. I’d rather have a good office environment and easy access to leadership than a fancy cafeteria.”

Emotions are the New Ergonomics

Yesterday, it was all about height-adjustability; today, designers and their clients want products that promote mindfulness and support emotional well-being. Furniture that’s responsive, context-aware, and environment-adaptive will play a starring role in the future:

“Could our furniture be collecting different kinds of data than just occupancy and movement? For instance, information about a user’s state of mind?”

“The psychology of space and neurological considerations will become more primary to how we design interiors. Systems will be able to ‘read’ who we are—and what our needs are—based on smarter architectural infrastructures.”

“Several emerging technologies in the smart building arena—including smart materials, displays, and surfaces—have the potential to fundamentally alter our approach to the design of workspaces.”

Words to Live and Work By

In what was a very buzzword-heavy conversation, the following terms were mentioned repeatedly in reference to the design of furniture and product; take them to heart:

  • Acoustics
  • Adaptability
  • Choice
  • Comfort
  • Connectivity
  • Control
  • Convenience
  • Community
  • Cozy
  • Distraction
  • Flexibility
  • Focus
  • Head’s down
  • Mindfulness
  • Modularity
  • Privacy
  • Residential blur
  • Transparency
  • User-centrism
  • Variety
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Humans are hard-wired for social connection; community is as essential to our survival as food and shelter, and designers are ultimately “in the business of creating community.” -Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, IIDA Executive Vice President/CEO

2019 IIDA Roundtable Participants included:

INDUSTRY EXPERTS AND SPONSORS

Jennifer Ruckel, 3Form

Mark Shannon, Ind. IIDA, Crossville Inc.

Julia Ryan, ESI

Michelle Boolton, Assoc. IIDA, Gunlocke

Anjell Karibian, Haworth

Alan Almasy, Ind. IIDA, Herman Miller

Meg Bruce Conway, Humanscale

John Newland, Ind. IIDA, ICF

Roby Isaac, Mannington Commercial

Jackie Dettmar, Ind. IIDA, Mohawk Group

John Stephens, Ind. IIDA, Shaw Contract

Catherine Minervini, Ind. IIDA, Sunbrella / Glen Raven

Jennifer Busch, Hon. IIDA, Teknion

Adrian Parra, Ind. IIDA, Vitra

Teresa Humphrey, Ind. IIDA, Wilsonart

FROM IIDA

Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA

John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA

DESIGN EXPERTS AND IIDA INTERNATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS

President

Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA Principal, Perkins+Will

President-Elect

Susana Covarrubias, IIDA, Gensler

Vice Presidents

Edwin Beltran, IIDA, NBBJ

Annie Chu, IIDA, FAIA, Chu + Gooding Architects

Jeff Fenwick, Ind. IIDA, Tarkett

James Kerrigan, IIDA, Jacobs

Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, FXCollaborative

Marlene M. Liriano, FIIDA, IA Interior Architects

Jon Otis, IIDA, O|A Object Agency

Doug Shapiro, Ind. IIDA, OFS

Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, AIA, Huntsman Architectural Group

Members at Large

Christine Dumich, Gensler

Mike Johnson II, IIDA, AIA, Perkins+Will

Kelie Mayfield, IIDA, MaRS

Patricia Rotondo, IIDA, Antunovich Associates

Smita Sahoo, IIDA, bKL Architecture LLC

Neil Schneider, Assoc. IIDA, IA Interior Architects


Learn more about the IIDA Industry Roundtable, an invaluable “brain trust” session for manufacturers and a quality opportunity for designers to exchange dialogue on issues addressing the built environment.

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? 

IIDA Headquarters to Host Designers and Architects Talk

I am excited to welcome the design and architecture community of Chicago to the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) headquarters this spring for a superb series of talks.

IIDA, together with AIA Chicago in a first-ever collaboration, will present a series of Wednesday evening talks called “Designers and Architects Talk: A Series About Design and its Impact on Client Success,” that will address commercial interior architecture and design. Both architects and commercial interior designers will learn from the provocative discussions about projects, firm leadership, and design strategy.

March 20 – McDonald’s Headquarters: Impact on a Company, a City, and a Neighborhood

Speakers are Tish Kruse, principal, IA Interior Architects; Primo Orpilla, FIIDA, principal, Studio O+A; Scott Phillips, director of workplace management, McDonald’s; Neil Schneider, Assoc. IIDA, principal IA Interior Architects; and Grant Uhlir, FAIA, co-regional managing principal, Gensler. I will be moderating.

April 17 – New, Bold, and Entrepreneurial: Design Firms Changing the Face of Chicago

Speakers are Jason Hall, principal, Charlie Greene Studio; Ami Kahalekulu, partner, Twofold Studio; Sarah Kuchar, IIDA, creative director, Sarah Kuchar Studio; and Deon Lucas, AIA, NOMA, director, Beehyyve, E.G. Woode. The moderator is Chicago-based architect and AIA national board member Peter Exley, FAIA.

May 22 – Women Leading Hospitality Design in Chicago

Karen Herold, principal, Studio K; Jackie Koo, AIA, IIDA, principal, KOO; Laurie Miller, AIA, principal, Anderson/Miller; Meg Prendergast, principal, Gettys Group; and Patricia Rotondo, Assoc. AIA, IIDA, senior principal, Antunovich Associates. IIDA EVP/CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, will be the moderator.

Ticket sales have begun for all sessions, and advance purchase is necessary to reserve a seat. Members of IIDA or AIA have a special ticket price of $10/session or $25 for a seat to all three sessions. The public is welcome at $20 per session. Student members of IIDA, AIAS, or AIA Chicago are free.

Sessions allow for 1 IDCEC-approved CEU for interior designers and 1 AIA-approved LU for architects.

Order your tickets now.

Thank you to Host Sponsor Corporate Concepts, Inc., and Champion Sponsors: Bernhardt Design, Mohawk Group, Mortarr, Patcraft, Shaw Contract, Steelcase, Tarkett, and Wilkhahn.

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.

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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.

IIDA Southwest: Building a Grassroots Advocacy Campaign

This post was contributed by Nicki Jensen, Assoc. IIDA, vice president of advocacy for the IIDA Southwest Chapter.

In the spring of 2018, HB 2532 was introduced to the Arizona state legislature. This bill would have stopped any municipality from imposing any licensing requirements or occupational fees on a variety of occupations that didn’t require much education or training, including interior design. Arizona’s current legislative temperature is anti-occupational licensure/registration, even for those professions already holding licenses. This can make it incredibly challenging when newer professions are wanting to achieve registration.

When the IIDA advocacy team made us aware of the bill, our local IIDA and ASID chapters had just begun a partnership. The bill had already passed state House and was on its way to the Senate. With the help of a lobbyist and dedicated members from IIDA and ASID, we were able to change the course it was set to take and educate our legislators. The bill effectively jump started our grassroots campaign.

In collaboration with our local ASID chapter, we immediately began planning for a joint fall event called STRIDES 2018 Advocacy Fall Breakfast. Abigail Rathbun, advocacy and public policy manager at IIDA Headquarters, updated our members on the recent events with the bill and spoke about being an advocate. Jason Schupbach, director of the design school at Arizona State University and former director of design for the National Endowment for the Arts, served as keynote speaker. He gave a rousing presentation about the design industry and where it’s headed. After four months in the making, the event was a hit.

And our sights didn’t stop there. This year, we’ve been awarded financial support from the IIDA Catalyst Grant to host another speaker event — this time even bigger and better! In the long-term, we want to achieve legislation to become Registered Interior Designers, which will require us to keep a close relationship with ASID, NKBA, and other aligned organizations. With the Catalyst and Advocacy grants, we’re able to continue hosting events while making strides in educating the public about what we do and how to become the best advocates for the profession.


Get access to tools and resources to help you become an advocate for interior design. Visit advocacy.iida.org.