Q&A: Emerging Talent

In today’s cloudy economic market, there is a silver lining. In the midst of the downturn, a remarkably bright and capable crop of new design talent has emerged. These young designers have proven to be willing and able to assume the responsibilities handed to them by senior designers. As a result, the young guns are deeply involved in a broad range of design projects and they are learning to work effectively with management, clients, and each other. In my opinion, they are years ahead of where their predecessors were when they started their careers.

As a case in point, I’d like to share here with you an interview I did with Lynette Klein and Liz Potokar of Perkins+Will: Eva Maddox Branded Environments. Their sense of confidence, initiative, leadership, and commitment to their work as well as to clients are impressive. I took the two to lunch, to learn more about them and their ideas for the design industry.

Georgy Olivieri: What are your current titles and responsibilities?

Liz Potokar: I was hired as a Designer 1 after graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 2008, with my Bachelor of Science in Interior Design. In this position I assist in the preparation of presentation materials and digital models for clients, help with the preparation of plans, sections, and elevations, as well as furniture, color, finish, and material research, specifications, and selection.

Lynette Klein: I also started as a Designer 1, when I was hired after graduating from the University of Nebraska, in 2006, with a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design. Two years ago, I was promoted to a Designer 2, which includes similar responsibilities to a Designer 1, but now I actively participate in the preparation of client presentations, documentation, details, and schedules.

GO: What prepared you to assume the responsibility that comes along with being a professional designer?

LK: Our college educations at the University of Nebraska and University of Cincinnati were collaborative design programs. We worked with architects, graphic artists, and landscape architects in the same classes.

LP: At UC, we also had corporate-sponsored design projects, which included designing the American Eagle concept stores, in conjunction with fashion design students who were creating a new product line for the retailer. It was a very collaborative process.

LK: On the job, we have great role models in Eva Maddox and Eileen Jones. They’ve taught us to take a strategic approach to our projects and now this is second nature to us.

GO: How did senior leadership empower your work?

LK: Most important was the sense of trust to get the job done right and on time. That made for a less authoritative environment, in which we didn’t fear being wrong.

LP: Because of our strategic approach, we agreed on a set direction. We knew we would have a limited amount of time with senior leadership, so we did our homework and researched answers to potential questions before our meetings. That made our review sessions more efficient. They were comfortable handing out the work, letting us learn on our own, and supervising the process in an unassuming manner.

GO: When you work together, how do you establish your roles and responsibilities?

LP: We have worked together on several projects and witnessed similarities in our design work styles. In fact, recently we took work-style assessments and found that we had the same approach with only a few differences.

LK: We feel comfortable passing off tasks between each other.

GO: What makes your efforts successful?

LP: We trust each other. We also challenge each other, which increases our confidence.

LK: Eva’s and Eileen’s good intuition, knowledge base, and mentorship have also made a big difference.

GO: What would your advice be to students and other young designers?

LK: Be diversified. Learn as many things as you can, and take the initiative by studying design programs, such as SketchUp, on your own. Keep up with what is new in the market — it gives you an edge. Get your peers and professors to review your portfolio objectively, and find ways to get involved in mentoring, or reach out to professionals for mentorship.

LP: Go on as many interviews as possible, learn from each experience, research and know your audience. It is good to get your name out there, to meet as many people as possible, and receive honest feedback.

Georgy Olivieri, MBA, LEED AP, is director of Architecture and Design for Kimball Office and can be reached at Georgy.Olivieri@kimball.com.

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