New Interior Designers Speak

I have occasion to meet and know many fledgling interior designers and I’m convinced that the talent and drive they bring to the profession will raise the bar for the practice of design as well as the design business. Seeing so much promise and opportunity, I’m curious to know what the profession is doing to nurture this new talent. How are we working to recruit the best and the brightest, and once they’re on-board, what are we doing to keep them challenged?

To find out what it’s like for young interior designers working today, and to get their personal perspectives, a colleague and I sat down with a group whose work experience ranged from one to five years. Of the 10 designers we talked to, all are working in a variety of small, medium and large firms in the Midwest; all are graduates from the same interior design program.

When asked why they became interior designers, they agreed that they like being creative, are challenged by the work of creating environments, and enjoy the flexibility and options interior design provides.

Although some design firms discuss mentorship programs as an incentive for potential new employees, few employers actually offer formal mentoring. Yet young people coming into the profession say mentoring would help them. While they often aspire to launch quickly into major design responsibilities, these young designers don’t want to make mistakes. One designer, now her firm’s human resources manager, proudly told us, “We offer mentorships as an incentive for new designers to join us. We want to teach them our ways from the start, and believe that mentoring makes a difference in the success of our internal collaboration and quality of client work.”

But today, it is not unusual for mentoring to go both ways. As the new designers reminded us, they bring unique value to firms that hire them. Like no other generation before them, they have expertise in current design tools such as Revit, BIM modeling, CAD, and Mediascape. These technologies enhance designers’ speed and accuracy at a time when design time and billable hours are shrinking, making their technical expertise a highly valued skill. As one designer put it, “I thought I would have to be in the profession for 10 years to do what I am doing now in only five. My knowledge of new technologies has given me an edge.”

In some cases, academia is ahead of the profession in using the newest software programs. Due to this, top-level designers are often not as skilled in using these tools as those just entering the profession. The group expressed concern for senior members of their firms. Though their superiors have greater in-field knowledge, in the eyes of the new generation the seasoned designers are at a disadvantage due to their lack of experience with technology. Many, in fact, said that they would be willing to up-mentor the tenured designers to help them learn the latest technologies. But it doesn’t appear that there are any formalized programs in place for this to happen. Yet, when I think of combining this reverse mentoring with a traditional mentoring program, I realize it would lead to the generations understanding one another better, as well as benefit the work being done, the client, and the user.

Today’s young designers are sensitive to the fact that the economy dictates market conditions and that they will need to adjust to volatile conditions throughout their careers. They realize the need to be flexible considering the changing market realities of the interior design profession. They also recognize the need for lifelong learning and building experience within various client markets such as healthcare, higher education, and corporate.

As a member of the senior generation, I feel it’s important to guide new designers and help them recognize and learn from the wealth of the interior design experience possessed by their seniors, including deep understanding of clients’ markets, client relationships, and proven design success. But I also recognize the technical skills and willing spirit of the new generation. After all, design is about people and creating environments for the complex creatures that we are. There’s room for growth from both generations and mutual mentoring is key to everyone’s future success.

Georgy Olivieri, MBA, LEED AP, is eastern director of A+D and sustainability strategies for Kimball Office.

See other Metropolis POV pieces by Georgy here.

Categories: Healthcare Architecture, Uncategorized