2019 Student Conference Recap

September 30, 2019

Posted on: December 9, 2019

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IIDA NC Student Conference at the Bentley Reserve 

IIDA NC’s inaugural Student Conference on September 30 was a hit. More than 100 design students had the opportunity to interact with experienced professionals, explore both working studios and finished client projects, and discover a few of the realities of real world commercial design, how it’s produced, and what it looks like. The term “eye-opener” came up a number of times through all the activities.

The Student Conference exemplifies IIDA NC’s mission to move the profession forward—in this case, by exposing promising students to some of the considerations, challenges, and unexpected opportunities they’ll face when they join a design firm. Commercial interior design always requires a canny balance of deep knowledge, technical skill, and creative flare, but very few designers get any chance to see beyond the theory of their profession while they’re studying. With this program, IIDA NC instantly added depth to these students’ training—a rare opportunity which will serve both them and their eventual clients well.

The day began with a panel discussion on the future of design. Doug Wittnebel (Gensler), Danielle Benz (Google), Adam Winig (Arcsine), Helene Gregoire (BCJ), and Virginia San Fratello (Emerging Objects) participated, led by moderator Rachel Maloney (IDEO). They shared what they’re seeing in the market from both the designer and client perspectives; the discussion ranged from straightforward changes in the industry, like remote work and a growing focus on sustainability, to more esoteric topics the students need to be prepared for, like how to make their designs competitive and what they might be expected to deliver beyond the strict limits of design scope.

After the panel discussion, the students split up to tour a variety of projects. Sites included Instagram’s SF headquarters, Swissnex, Slack, and Salesforce (exemplifying end user spaces), the offices of Gensler, Huntsman, HOK, and Revel (design offices), and Tarquet, Herman Miller, Haworth, and the Steelcase popup currently in Maiden Lane (showrooms). Each student had the chance to tour one space from each category, and the organizers were careful to split up students from the same school so that they’d have different experiences and be able to compare notes and benefit from each other’s stories later.

To round out the day, the students had a chance to “Meet the Professionals”—14 established designers held brief one-on-one meetings with students to share their insights and answer questions. Repetitions of “wow” and “I didn’t know that!” illustrated how different this kind of input was for most of the students from their regular studies.

This initial Student Conference booked up quickly and had a waiting list, demonstrating how rare and valuable this kind of experience can be. Both the students who attended and the professionals who volunteered their time came away feeling that they’d shared important moments and enriched their design experience. As IIDA NC continues its mission, the 2019 Student Conference stands as a sterling example of moving the profession forward.

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