What advice do you have for students or those entering the A&D field?

In anticipation of the 30th Annual Interiors Awards Breakfast THIS FRIDAY(!) (get last-minute tickets here), Contract asked past Designers of the Year (or, as we affectionately dub them, our DOYs) for their thoughts on a selection of industry-related questions. Each Thursday leading up to the Interiors Awards, check back in for their thoughts on the latest topic and give us your thoughts on the question of the week.

In the past two weeks we asked about the most exhilarating and disturbing trends in design. For this week's question, we look forward and ask: What advice do you have for students or those just entering the A&D field?

Carol Groh
Carol A. Groh Design; Greenwich, Conn.; DOY 1987

It is critical that all
students MUST be educated in the business practices of design. All schools
should include programs and practices of business in their curriculum, as this
is ESSENTIAL for being successful in the fields of design.


Karen Daroff
Daroff Design Inc., Philadelphia; DOY 1990

A recessionary period is a both a good time and a difficult time to be entering the profession, so the challenge for a graduating student is how to distinguish themselves from the flood of job applicants. It is a good time, because firms are looking for opportunities to reduce overhead. The addition of talented (lower salary) recent graduates might a creative way for a firm to lower its average cost per billable employee.
Recent graduating students should keep in mind that a positive first impression is essential. Candidates should wear business attire, be well groomed and have a well-designed, graphically refined portfolio, illustrating a cross section of their professional capabilities.A positive attitude, flexibility and a wide range of computer skills such as Photoshop, AutoCAD and competence in 3-D visualization programs such as Sketch-up, in addition to good space planning, a keen eye for colors and finishes and a working knowledge of sources and codes is highly desirable. Candidates should be willing to embrace the internship process or take entry-level positions and salaries just to get their feet in the door. Once hired, interns have the opportunity to distinguish themselves by thinking ahead, being flexible and demonstrating motivation to pitch-in whenever possible. 
A designer’s education is on-going, so I would also encourage students to read design magazines, attend office “lunch and learns’ and embrace every opportunity they have to broaden their knowledge base. Additionally, I believe, that to get ahead, it is essential to be a good communicator. My own interior design college academic course work did not adequately prepare me for the rigors of writing proposals and contracts, the critical reading comprehension skills needed to understand the client's goals and objectives and the codes and ordinances governing interior design projects.  My college education also did not adequately prepare me for the presentation skills I quickly learned were needed for me to successfully lead a marketing presentation.

Debra Lehman Smith
Founding Partner, Lehman Smith McLeish; Washington, DC; DOY 1995

More than ever, we are
practicing in a global, multi-dimensional environment where interior
architecture is fully integrated with associated fields.
  I’d encourage young professionals to
get a variety of different work experiences, including planning, development,
landscape or industrial design, art and graphics, broadening their perspective
of the profession.
outside of the traditional work setting, through volunteer or professional
organizations, can be equally valuable.


Neville Lewis, FIIDA
Consultant/educator; New York; DOY 1997

study, observe and listen.

David Rockwell
Founder and CEO, Rockwell Group; New York, 
with satellite offices in Madrid and Dubai; DOY 1998

In order to be innovative,
experimental, and to really push boundaries, you have to be willing to fail
sometimes. So, the rules I stand by are to always make sure I am taking on new
challenges, strive to make sure projects stand out; find unique design
opportunities; and continually keep ideas fresh and relevant.


William McDonough
Principal, William McDonough + Partners and MBDC; Charlottesville, VA; 
DOY 1999

Travel widely as soon as
you can.


Shashi Caan
Principal, The Collective; New York City; DOY 2004

Our current economic concerns can be viewed as an
extraordinary opportunity for defining the deeper meaning and value of design.
This period is a moment in our history for mass human catharsis—a shedding of
our wasteful ways and a constant want for more—and a strive for a broad global
This next decade heralds a
new beginning and ushers a new era. It is a time for embracing and testing the
classic dictums such as “necessity is the mother of invention”…It is a
phenomenal time seeking great creativity, intelligence, learning, experimenting
and understanding. This is your day and a time to truly define the empathetic
and the innovative in design

Ken Wilson
Principal, Envision; Washington, DC; DOY 2005

You have to love the profession and be willing to work exceptionally hard.

Mark Harbick, AIA, IIDA 
Vice President / Director of Design, Huntsman Architectural Group; New York; 
DOY 2006

Diversify. Obtain
practical experience in all aspects of the profession and project types. Become
as well-rounded as possible.


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