By Jennan Al-Hamdouni
Last week's Student Design Day took the Decoration and Design Building by storm with the help of co-sponsors ASID and Editor at Large. The keynote, 'How to Succeed in the Design Business,' featured top designers who shared their post-design school experiences, including trials and tribulations of getting started, landing their first job, and recognizing their big break.
Moderating the panel was designer and author Susanna Salk, joined by designers Amanda Nisbet, Malcolm James Kutner, David Scott and Campion Platt (featured above from left to right).
Salk began the discussion by asking the panelists to describe when they each realized that interior design was the career path for them.
"I realized it when I simply wasn't getting any callbacks for my acting career!" said Nisbet. "Once I had my ah-ha moment, I plunged right into the industry and never worked for anyone but myself. My apartment became my office and my ongoing experiment, but I jumped in not knowing whether I had a parachute or not. Luckily, it all worked out!"
Scott described his ah-hah moment happening well into his career in the hotel and real-estate industry. "I had been working with Jason Spector who was the designer on these hotel to condominiums we were converting. I worked with him for some time on the projects and after all the design and floor spaces were finished, Jay looked at me and asked why on earth I wasn't an interior designer. He insisted I go back to school for interior design, and that's what I did!"
Platt explained that architecture was his first calling and interior design soon followed, but with caution. "I worked on my own projects in small scale and small spaces and eventually realized that I didn't know my voice in interior design," he said. "I decided to take some to off to find a client who would allow me to do both architecture and design, but it took almost two years to find that. That time off was important for me because finding a voice in your work is essentially to being successful in your field. I was lucky to find a client who would let me practice both of my trades and use my own voice, but using caution with the venture was necessary for my personal confidence."
This brought the panel to the ever-important topic of the interior designer's style and voice, which Salk addressed by asking if the designer's voice is most easily found through schooling or by experience in the real world.
"Finding a voice in your work is the single most important thing you need to have as a designer," said Kutner. "Without it, you're no different than the client who hires you expecting to have your guidance and skill. For me, today is the same as the day I started and while I don't know what tomorrow will bring, my voice is always present in my work and continues to evolve and mature. Knowing your strengths and loves and knowing your weaknesses and dislikes is the only way to begin that development of voice, which is exactly how I found it.”
Scott's point of view offered the perspective of tastes and how 'good' and 'bad' doesn't necessarily exist, but rather, what is 'you' [or your client] and what isn't 'you.' "Everyone is different and interior design may be one of the easiest examples to see that," he said . "If the traditional route of going to school for interior design is best to you, do it. If that means working for someone else for a few years before going off on your own, do it! But if diving right in and getting your hands dirty without looking to work under someone else first, then do it. No matter what it is, make your decision and your voice will surface slowly but surely, and it'll feel great to find it."
Nisbet admitted that aside from finding her voice, she also found fuel to pursue the industry in both her supporters as well as a few negative side comments that came her way.
"I hate to say it but we all hear the negative side to our work, and without mentioning names, I heard that negativity from one of the most important people in my life!" Amanda said. "Someone very close to me said that I would be awful in this industry and instead of totally killing my drive, it became my fuel. I think about her and what she said every day and it remains one of my greatest motivations!"
Before the discussion ended, Platt made note of enormous amount of benefits that can come with coming out of school and working for someone else before branching off for yourself, leaving the students with the confidence to pursue their own paths but the tips on how to get the most out of working for others. "I found it important to work for others when I started off, both from a design standpoint as well as from a business standpoint," he said. "From the standpoint of someone who know hires new designers for a few years before they move on, I've also learned a lot. My best advice that I can give to any starting designer is to do everything that you possibly can once you've started working for someone. Do everything, ask about everything and learn about all that you can because your employers and coworkers know a lot and they've had both enormous success and also made lots of mistakes—all of these are worth understanding from them. They will make you all the wiser and all the more ready to be exactly the kind of designer you hope to be.”
A reception at the Holland & Sherry showroom immediately followed the keynote where students got the chance to spend time with the panelists and continue the discussion.
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