Sydney Peña, Associate IIDA, the 2019 IIDA Student of the Year, and interior designer at Axis Architecture + Interiors recalls her first month on the job and shares her journey from graduation to the professional world.
I recently completed three enormous life moments in a matter of a few months—receiving my college diploma, marrying my best friend, and starting my first full-time job—things have been very exciting for me! So exciting, that I wanted to share with future designers a little bit about my journey from graduation, finding my first job, and my first month as a professional designer.
Know what you want, and build a community that can help you get there
I had participated in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program during my last semester at school, and my mentor helped guide me through the different phases of my job search. I decided to look at smaller to mid-sized firms in hopes that a boutique firm would provide different experiences and opportunities than the larger companies I had interned with. I wanted to work on many different kinds of projects and to feel more connected to my community and coworkers. Also very important to me was finding a firm with a culture that felt familial and collaborative and would provide opportunities to grow as a designer.
I found my job through a mutual connection in the industry. Although I didn’t know anyone at the time who worked at Axis Architecture + Interiors, my current firm, a designer I knew in the community did and introduced us. It’s crazy how your network really can open up opportunities.
Today, I am an interior designer at Axis Architecture + Interiors, located in downtown Indianapolis. Axis is a mid-sized commercial architectural design firm that serves civic, corporate, healthcare, housing, industrial, and retail clients.
Stepping into professional life is all about learning and goal-setting
I am on a team of four designers, three of whom are architects. I report to my mentor, who is a senior interior designer, daily, and every week I report to my project manager who is an architect. Since my firm is made up of a few dozen employees, the studio is organized into two large teams made up of different roles, that then break out into different smaller teams based on the needs of a project. Getting to work with people who have different backgrounds than me has been a wonderful learning opportunity.
My first week was all about feeling out the company, the structure, the people, and its leadership. I spent time getting acquainted with the way the firm operates and started familiarizing myself with the scope of the work. I was pulled on a couple of projects, met a ton of people, and had my first client meeting. I attended quite a few lunch-and-learns and set up a time with my manager to go over my short-term and long-term career goals.
During my second week, I dove a bit deeper into everything. With the first two projects I worked on, I got to work directly with the partners of the firm. Getting to collaborate frequently with leadership is a unique opportunity to have as a young designer and makes you feel more comfortable with collaborating, talking, and presenting in front of others—especially with people who are in senior roles.
Detail, specify, notate, and repeat
In my third week, I dove even deeper into the projects I was assigned, utilizing Revit quite a bit. I attended an on-site Revit training session and learned new tricks from my mentor to “work smarter, not harder,” which I enjoyed. For the most part, I felt like school had prepared me for the “real world,” but of course real-world projects are more comprehensive than school projects. I realized that school projects left room for things to get swept under the rug, but especially working for an architecture firm, I’ve learned you can’t leave things up for interpretation. Detail, specify, notate, and repeat!
By my fourth week, I felt that I was getting the hang of things, even though I still felt very new. I began to understand what my role was, and what everybody else’s was too. During this first month, I used a lot of trash paper; sketched concepts; took on a lot of “redlines”; pulled finishes; called on reps; created many renderings utilizing Revit, Enscape, and Photoshop; and created presentations to help communicate my design to clients.
IIDA student programs provide growth opportunities during and after school
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “drinking out of a fire hydrant,” that’s essentially what my first month was like. My advice to future designers is to spend your first month absorbing all that you can—be a sponge. Ask a lot of questions, listen, be patient with yourself, and find a person you can confide in as you navigate this new terrain whether it’s a friend, co-worker, or mentor. Write down your goals and keep them visible so you can refer to them as a reminder of where you want to be, and what steps you are taking to get there.
Involve yourself with IIDA while in school (and after!), because it provides you with community and opportunity once you’re out of school. Join this year’s IIDA Student Mentoring Program! You could gain a mentor that can help guide you through landing your first job and act as a valuable connection to the professional design community.
Onisha Walker, Assoc. IIDA, shares her experiences as both a mentee and a mentor with the IIDA Student Mentoring program.
I participated in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program as both a mentor and a mentee. I was a mentee during my undergraduate and graduate student years, and I’ve been a mentor for the past two years. Being a mentee in the program really helped to inform my education, and I saw it as a valuable part of my overall curriculum. I mentored under a few designers as an undergraduate and with an industry rep during my graduate program. It was an opportunity to get out of the classroom and get experience interacting with real-world professionals and being involved in their day-to-day.
I feel that both designers and design professionals across many different roles can benefit from mentorship. Networking is a huge part of our industry, and mentoring is an easy way to meet up-and-coming designers—and potentially, the people you’re going to work with someday. It can be just as important to connect with students as it is with principals at major design firms.
“It’s very important for me to be a mentor because design students need to see designers of color with varying backgrounds in the industry—representation is important!”
As a mentor, I love learning about the new classes that design students are taking, and what their goals are for when they graduate. It’s a great way to start a dialogue about the realities of life after college, and the “what now” scenarios that almost everyone goes through at some point. I also believe it’s important for me to be a mentor because design students need to see designers of color with varying backgrounds in the industry—representation is important!
I have worked in multiple sectors in New York and North Carolina at A&D firms, and I am now at a furniture dealer and have completed graduate school on top of all of that, which is not something you hear very often when learning about the industry. When I was a student, I did not know of or see any designers that looked like me or took that path that I wanted to take. I decided to use all of my experiences to encourage students as much as I can to make their own path, especially because this industry thrives on new, fresh, and innovative perspectives and ideas.
On a typical day of mentorship, I like to start the day by introducing my students to my colleagues and helping to make them feel welcome. I then usually sit down them down for an informal chat to get to know the students and give them a chance to ask me questions related to design, my job, or anything else they are curious about.
Then I will bring them in on a project that I am working on and talk them through my process. At this point, the questions start to flow and we get a great dialogue going. Input is important, and it matters to make the mentee feel like they are truly living a “day in the life of a designer.”
One of my last mentees was a student that was an IIDA Campus Center President and a part of our local IIDA chapter. We really got to know each other and had some great discussions. She remained a part of the chapter, serving on the board of directors, and is now part of the Communications team of which I currently serve as VP. We work together all the time! It came around full circle, which was really nice to see and reinforced to me just how important nurturing students is to our industry.
Registration for the IIDA Student Mentoring Program is open through January 31, 2020. Learn more about participating.
See what’s in store at this year’s annual symposium of interior design advocates from across the country.
This year’s IIDA Advocacy Symposium is jam-packed with sessions that will not only help you develop your advocacy skills but will give you the tools you need to make your chapter better at advocating.
Attendees will enjoy programs, lunches, and networking receptions, and get to meet fellow interior design advocates to discuss advocacy issues, successes, and questions.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20
We are excited to be hosting Symposium participants at the Massachusetts State House, where we will focus on legislators, legislative strategies, and the importance of civic engagement.
The day will begin with a tour of the State House, designed by Charles Bulfinch, a National Historic Landmark considered a masterpiece of Federal architecture. Keynote speaker Arline Isaacson will then discuss the importance of civic engagement across all interests and groups.
IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, will then have a fireside chat with local Massachusetts legislators to give us a unique perspective on who legislators are, what they do, and what they want to hear from us.
We’ll follow that up with an informative session and Q&A with several IIDA lobbyists from across the United States about what they’ve seen work and how we can improve as an industry. After a full day of information, we’re thrilled that IdeaPaint will be hosting an opening reception at Boston’s District Hall from 5:30-7 p.m.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21
We are elated that Allsteel will be hosting us at their beautiful Boston showroom where we’ll learn about strategies and best practices for implementing advocacy of all kinds at the chapter level.
In the morning, several chapters and states will be giving us updates on their advocacy activities over the past year and their plans for the future. Tracey Thomas, IIDA’s Director of Strategic Sales, will then teach us strategies to better communicate our ideas to the right audience through a comprehensive presentation. IIDA Headquarters will debut and give updates to our collateral and CIDQ will update us on what’s new in their world. Headquarters will also provide updates on the opposition landscape and how to fund and afford advocacy in your chapter.
We’ll end our day with panels featuring interior design advocates on how to communicate effectively and how to talk advocacy at firms. Allsteel has graciously agreed to then host a short closing reception, allowing us the opportunity to decompress and discuss all we’ve learned.
We can’t wait to see you all at this year’s Symposium!
Registration to the 2019 IIDA Advocacy Symposium is open until September 6. Learn more about this year’s program and reserve your spot at www.iida.org/advocacy-symposium.
This post was contributed by Whitney Dooley, Assoc. IIDA, Vice President of Advocacy, IIDA Oregon Chapter.
In order to correctly represent and advocate for the interests of commercial interior designers, the IIDA Oregon Chapter conducted a comprehensive advocacy survey last spring.
At the end of 2017, Oregon’s Interior Design Coalition, IDC-Oregon, dissolved and the IIDA Oregon Chapter took on the immense responsibility of leading future advocacy efforts in the state. As we embarked on this journey, we realized that there wasn’t an empirical understanding of the needs and desires of commercial interior designers in Oregon as it pertains to registration and regulation.
We decided that to properly represent our members’ interests, it was imperative to collect data about local attitudes towards governmental regulation, accepted benchmarking, and, above all, definition of the profession.
In February 2019, as part of the chapter’s annual keynote speaker event, NEXT, the advocacy team conducted a short Advocacy Survey. The goal was to determine how our members and other members of the design community feel about commercial interior design advocacy. The survey also contained questions that shed light on what our members already knew about advocacy, and where there were gaps that we could address with education.
In developing the survey, the advocacy team knew our questions had to be succinct and relevant, while still measuring meaningful data that would help us plan future advocacy efforts. We started with a brainstorming session and then edited the final survey down to six questions. We also determined that this would be a great avenue to recruit potential advocates and measure support from industry partners. See the final survey here.
The advocacy team distributed hard copies of the surveys to all event attendees at the door of the NEXT Breakfast. NEXT attracts a diversely affiliated crowd, giving us access to the feedback we may not otherwise see. We incentivized completion of the survey by entering all completed surveys into a drawing for a ticket to 2020 NEXT. The surveys were collected before the speakers began, and a collection box was placed at the exit.
Our response rate was 47% of all event attendees. 44% of respondents were currently employed as a commercial interior designer. In analyzing the results, we broke out some responses by IIDA members vs. non-members. Emily Wright, director of advocacy, used Piktochart to create a comprehensive graphic that summarized our results and contained more information about getting involved. We published the results on the IIDA Oregon Chapter website in April 2019.
Looking towards future survey efforts, we found success in tying the survey to an event. We plan to roll out these surveys at other chapter events, making sure that the event format allows for thoughtful responses. Incentivizing the survey completion seemed to have an impact on respondents, and we’d like to explore other methods of doing this. These surveys also complement our State of the Industry Report, which focuses on Oregon project types, revenue, and salaries.
In conclusion, the chapter and the profession benefit from bringing advocacy issues to the forefront wherever possible, and we look forward to continuing this survey effort. We hope to eventually pursue a data-driven approach to legislative efforts, proving to elected officials that voters care about the regulation of the commercial interior design profession in the Oregon State.
Stay up to date on all advocacy issues and alerts. Text “interior design” to 52886.
Over 20,000 attendees gathered at McCormick Place in Chicago on June 25-27 for RetailX. RetailX is the co-location of the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE), GlobalShop, and RFID Journal LIVE!
Doug Stephens, founder of The Retail Prophet, kicked off this year’s show with his keynote address, which focused on the future of retail, including the importance of data, augmented reality (AR), mixed reality, and artificial intelligence (AI). “Everything about where, why, and how we shop is changing,” said Stephens.
“Retail is changing” was a theme that echoed throughout the course of the three-day show. And it was certainly on full display in the 2019 IIDA GlobalShop Product Design Competition, which allowed for GlobalShop @ RetailX exhibitors to submit their new-to-market products that will help retailers power their business forward in a rapidly changing commercial landscape.
The Best of Competition Winner was a masterful example of this future retail experience. The Kinetic Retail Display Platform by Converge Retail brings the richness of online shopping in-store.
This laterally-sliding, interactive tablet enables customers to compare product specs, watch video tutorials, and read customer reviews. This ability to deeply research and compare products available both in-store and online keeps customers in the retailer’s ecosystem, whether they purchase off the shelf or make in-aisle choices from the online inventory.
Additionally, the GlobalShop Booth Design Competition’s Best of Show award went to Artitalia Group, a display and fixtures manufacturer based in Montreal. Artitalia Group’s meticulously-designed black and white booth was a work of art, inspired by 3D graffiti, that utilized vignettes to create different perspectives, providing a mind exercise to booth visitors.
On Thursday, June 26, IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, and Ray Tareghian, four-decade visual merchandising manager for Burberry, kicked off the day’s pop-up stage activities with a conversation about the future of retail. Ray is a firm believer that, though retail is rapidly changing, there will always be brick and mortar stores.
“There are certain things you can’t experience from behind your laptop that a physical store can offer.” People will still crave the interpersonal relationship that brick and mortars offer.
While GlobalShop @ RetailX was certainly a celebration of technology, innovation, and transformation, the importance of design, community, and improving the consumer experience was still at the core of the attendee experience.
GlobalShop @ RetailX 2020 will take place June 9-11, 2020, at McCormick Place in Chicago.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
Ryan Ben, Student Engagement and Advancement Manager
Aisha Williams, Senior Director of Industry Relations and Special Events
Krista Sykes, Ph.D.
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
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.
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
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.