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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jon Otis Gets Real About the Future of Interior Design Education

Many of us can name the first teacher who made us feel truly heard or inspired us to pursue a longtime passion. We don’t always get the opportunity to thank these teachers the way we want to, but sometimes we do: In 2017 Jon Otis, IIDA, tenured professor at Pratt Institute and founder and principal of Object Agency (O|A), was recognized as the IIDA Educator of the Year.

Jon’s clients are varied, from the Sundance Channel to the National Basketball Players Association, and his credentials impressive (he is both a Fulbright and Lusk Fellowship recipient). He has had a distinguished teaching career with over 20 years at Pratt and a 2009 Most Admired Educator award from Design Intelligence.

We checked in with Jon to get his thoughts on what drives him as a design educator, how the IIDA award has helped him start his new diversity in design foundation, and his hopes for the future of interior design education.

IIDA: What do you see as your primary purpose as a design educator?

Jon Otis: Our primary purpose as design educators is to connect and to inspire. To install a passion for learning, to prepare our students as best we possibly can for a career in design, and to encourage them to think, to be discerning, to be critical and even, perhaps, to be humble.

Digital technology has been the most radical change since I started teaching in the late 1990’s. That has been the most critical innovation, and for the most part it has facilitated many things, but it has also impacted education in many negative ways. With that being said, it means that I’ve got to try and fill the gaps that technology has created, while staying abreast of the things that I can’t control so that my teaching remains relevant and interesting to my students.

IIDA: Can you tell us what it meant to you to be named the recipient of last year’s Educator of the Year Award?

JO: It was an amazing feelingan acknowledgement that is largely overlooked in our culture. Educators are most often the forgotten heroes. I say that not because of how I view my own abilities, but because of how my teachers have been the most important people in my life and how they have shaped it more than anyone, other than my parents. To be part of that heritage and to be honored for it is a dream come true.

IIDA: Has being named an IIDA Educator of the Year influenced your career? 

JO: Something that I’ve learnedand it has taken many years to do sois that a lot of teaching is about accepting humility. You must let go of the ego if you really want to reach your students. [Since winning the IIDA award] I’ve continued along this path feeling good about the acknowledgment and the honor. It’s perhaps instilled more self-confidence that I’m doing something right.

IIDA: You mentioned in your acceptance speech that you intend to dedicate part of your award to a diversity in design education initiative. Can you tell us more about that?

JO: We’ve been moving forward with the diversity in design initiative, dubbing it “dxdf” for “Diversity by Design Foundation.” The purpose of dxdf is to foster more diverse and inclusive environments in the field of design. dxdf will ultimately focus its efforts on targeting the pipeline from early education to practice, funding initiatives that encourage people of all backgrounds to see a career in design as a viable path for their lives. We recently incorporated as a nonprofit and are awaiting our tax ID for fundraising purposes. For now, we are working to raise awareness.

IIDA: If you had to choose the next Educator of the Year, what qualities would you look for in a candidate?

JO: I would want that person to be aware of, and interested in, helping our field to be more diverse. Whether that happens in the community or in the university, I do believe that it should be on any candidate’s agenda.

In terms of teaching interior design, I’d look for someone who is truly committed to the field, passionate about how critical it is to improve peoples’ lives, and having a diverse pedagogical approach.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how design curricula needs to evolve and how we must devise new curricula because, from a design education perspective, we’re teaching the same way since I was in school (aside from the use of new technologies, materials, etc.). A young Hispanic interior design student expressed frustration that nothing discussed in her classes is geared towards her culture or her economic strata. Another student from India indicated how Eurocentric the “canon” of design is, as if no design exists outside of Europe and the United States. I believe that design curricula need to broaden and consider other cultures that have quite a lot to contribute to a more comprehensive view of design.

My former mentor, Ettore Sottsass, was deeply engaged in exploring different cultures. He spent a lot of time in India and Africa, traveled around the world, and brought back what influenced him, which is what shaped his work. He lived life fully, and in living life that way, he expressed a global view of design rather than a “studied” one. We should all be asking: What’s happening in India? Vietnam? Ghana? Chile? What are they doing that’s a response to their culture, or a response to global culture and re-informed by their local cultures? The new paradigm ought to be a reevaluation of how we teach design and what we emphasize.


Learn more about Jon and his work by visiting the O|A website

Up Close with the IIDA Madison Area Technical College Campus Center

IIDA Campus Center: Madison Area Technical College

IIDA Chapter: Wisconsin Chapter

Where: Madison, Wisconsin

Number of Student Members: 36

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’s what we learned from the IIDA Madison Area Technical College Campus Center.

Give us a snapshot of your IIDA Campus Center.

Madison College is a two-year program. Students graduate with an associate degree in applied arts in interior design. We have been associated with other professional organizations in the past, but this is our first year as an IIDA Campus Center and it has been a busy and successful one!

How does your campus center handle the transition when current leaders graduate?

We promote leadership opportunities in the spring semester by visiting classrooms and speaking with students to encourage them to be involved. Interested students apply for the positions and the advisor and current board members review the applications to place members into positions. The incoming board members help plan our end of the year celebratory banquet as a way to transition them into leadership in a fun way. We also start planning for the next school year during the summer months so we can hit the ground running in fall.

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

Throughout the year we host numerous “Lunch and Learns” where we bring in interior design professionals who represent a broad spectrum of interior design career paths. We also hold site visits, which provide insightful learning moments. There are also events to advocate for positive interaction and camaraderie within the interior design program itself, including hosting homework nights, finals week treats, and other optional offsite social activities as well as a program-wide end of the year banquet.

What are your favorite or most successful events and activities that you host?

A highlight of our on-campus events this year was our CEU and fundraiser, “Leveraging the Power of Social Media,” that brought in over 75 interior design professionals and students to learn about social media best practices. At this highly successful event, we also held a raffle with items donated from local businesses, helping us raise money for our campus center. Our IIDA Wisconsin Chapter Madison City Center helped us increase our professional attendance through their website and e-news blasts.

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How do you collaborate with your local chapter?

We are very connected and collaborative with our local chapter. We’re fortunate to have one of our student leaders serving as the student representative to the IIDA Wisconsin professional chapter board of directors this year. Our advisor also keeps in close communication with the local vice president of student affairs about local and national IIDA opportunities for our members. The chapter is very supportive of our campus center, and we really appreciate their help!

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

We have gotten our students engaged by hosting and encouraging participation in a large array of events. Our kick off meeting in fall of 2017 had over 50 students in attendance to hear about the benefits of membership from both our student leaders and chapter professional leaders. We think starting each semester off with a fun and informative kick-off is a great way to get people engaged. In addition, we communicate with students through Blackboard posts, the Remind app, emails, video announcements, classroom announcements, and event flyers to keep them fully informed.

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How has being an active and engaged IIDA volunteer helped you as an emerging design professional?

As board members planning our campus center activities, we feel that this experience has given us real-world opportunities to put into practice many of the skills we have learned about in school. It has been great to gain more experience in areas such as budgeting, event planning, and working in teams. We also have honed our communication skills, speaking in front of groups at various events and developing written communications as well as marketing materials for our events. As individuals, our involvement in IIDA has helped us become more comfortable with networking with professionals and we have made great connections that we tap into for advice and support.

Why is it critical to participate in the design community through a membership organization like IIDA?

We know that lifelong learning and professional connections are incredibly important – our faculty members here have drilled that into us!  Like anything, you will get out of it what you put in and being an active participant in professional organizations opens many doors to those that get involved!


To learn more about IIDA Campus Centers, visit iida.org.

 

 

 

IDEC 2016 Annual Conference: 3 IIDA Members Share Their Experiences

Since its official formation in 1963, IDEC, the Interior Design Educators Council, has been dedicated to advancing interior design education, scholarship, and service. One of the big ways the council contributes to the practice and profession has been through its annual conference. This year’s “Interior Design Matters” themed conference took place on March 9-12 in Portland, Oregon. We spoke with two educators and one student to get their takes on what the conference meant to them and a glimpse into what interior design education looks like now – and in the future.

IDEC 2016 Attendees:

Jean Edwards, IIDA, Professor of Interior Design, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Greta Buehrle, IIDA, Senior Lecturer, University of North Texas

Sally (Braine) Merriman, Student IIDA, Interior Design Student, Oklahoma State University

What about the 2016 IDEC Conference excited you the most?

Jean: I was excited to attend and participate in the pre-conference Teaching Symposium. Since teaching is what I do every day, it was gratifying to share those experiences with others and to learn alternative strategies for dealing with student issues that seem to come up for all of us. It is a challenge to actually know that students are learning and what are the best ways to help that happen.

Greta: I always come to IDEC excited about the old and new connections I will make. IDEC is such a family, and it’s fun to see and be inspired by educators from across North America and other parts of the world. This year, I was particularly excited to attend the inaugural IDEC Academy Teaching Symposium called Teach 2 Reach. It was a one-day symposium that focused on student learning and engagement. As educators, no matter our experience level, we still need to continually hone and shape our teaching skills and methods.

Sally: I think hearing the conference numbers growing from last year was really exciting. It shows how much interior design education and research is becoming a part of the conversation in our everyday careers. Continue reading