Why Staying Connected to the Design Community is More Important Than Ever

As design educators and students begin to navigate a challenging fall semester, becoming and staying involved with the design profession and community remains a top priority.

Students at the 2019 IIDA Student Design Charette at NeoCon.
Photo: Students at the 2019 IIDA Student Design Charette at NeoCon. Credit: Jeremy Witteveen

Before the pandemic halted in-person gatherings, IIDA convened two groups of designers and students in Dallas and Seattle in the fall of 2019 to examine the interconnectedness and diverse landscape of the design profession.

The resulting conversations have been collected in the 2020 IIDA Student Roundtable Report, sponsored by OFS, to serve as a guide for students on becoming active, staying involved and why it takes a village to bring meaningful design to life. (The full report will be available on iida.org in early fall).

The program explored a variety of topics, ranging from a thorough examination of the design process in the real world to practical tips when working with your first client—and though many things have changed since, the importance of staying connected to fellow design professionals hasn’t.

[Related: How Will Education Design Change in a Post-Pandemic Environment?]

“When I was just starting out, I wish that I had a forum like this so that I could hear how people went from degree to design, and to hear them describe the dynamics of their roles and relationships on the job,” says Timothy B. Jackson, PMO director of Cushman and Wakefield, describing the intended effect of these conversations.

Finding your role in design, especially now, can feel daunting for emerging professionals and recent design graduates. With the pandemic limiting in-person events and meetings, creativity and persistence can still help design professionals explore the industry and learn the range of jobs that make up the profession. Using professional networks like IIDA, students can seek out mentors and thought leaders in their area to answer questions and connect virtually to better understand where they may fit as they begin and progress through their design careers.

Being adaptive and responsive has always been critical, but may now be more important than ever. “Your inspiration or your goals may change as your career changes,” says Kaitlin Snow, Ind. IIDA, design sales manager at OFS. “You have to be prepared for that, and for potentially adapting your skills to fit new roles.” Doing the work of creating an expansive network has many benefits for students and young designers, and the report offers suggestions on how best to find those peers to lean on for support, guidance and expertise as they move through their journey as an interior designer.

This includes taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you. Tyler Hatton, the 2020 IIDA Student of the Year recipient, describes that time and time again, showing up to events—whether in-person or virtual—has had a positive impact on his career as a design professional. “Whenever I attend an IIDA event, I feel connected to my profession, empowered as a designer and an overwhelming sense of community of positive people who wish to make a difference in the world.”

The resiliency, flexibility and positivity inherent in design are the same traits emerging professionals can lean on to thrive through the remainder of the pandemic. “We are a group of competent, compassionate people, who love to work together to create positive change and great experiences in the world.” Hatton says, “We share a unique perspective and diverse tools to tackle challenges and cultivate community.”

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Design is rarely completed in isolation. It is done with and for others, with each designer pulling daily from an emotional reservoir of empathy and understanding. This was true yesterday and will be true again tomorrow. It takes a village to bring a design to life, and it takes each of us showing up with our whole hearts to create and sustain that village.

To learn more about IIDA student membership and the programs and initiatives IIDA has created for educators and students, please contact Ryan Ben, IIDA student engagement and advancement manager at rben@iida.org.

Read Next: Create Community in Interior Design Education


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