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What Young Designers Want @ Work

Susan Wade - Mar 2019

What do young designers want at work? That was the topic tackled at the 2019 Design Connections conference, where a panel of recent graduates discussed how they see their careers and what structures and supports could help them thrive in the design work. Panelists included Wenz Tuttle, Tradewell Fellow, EYP Architecture & Engineering; Afshin Homayoomehr, Interior Designer, Berkshire Hathaway Home Service; Allison Brown, Corporate Interior Designer, Perkins+Will, and Tyson Baker, Interior Designer, PGAV Destinations.

Mentors have a vital role to play.

All the designers said that having a mentor is beneficial—both in school and in the workforce. They also stressed that design firms should implement engaging mentoring programs, if they don’t already, to attract and retain good young designers.

The designers said that while in school their mentors helped them both direct their focus and forge networking relationships that led to jobs. Ironically, however, none of the panelists had been assigned a mentor nor had they asked anyone at their university to mentor them. Instead, each of them informally found people willing to answer questions and provide guidance —primarily though internships and design competitions, and by networking at local IIDA and ASID meetings.

In the workforce, some said they were paired up with a more senior person in their firm who is providing career guidance and helping them with their professional development goals. Others found the path to mentorship by applying for fellowships in their firms. Those fellowships, they said, opened up opportunities to learn about diverse projects, travel to work sites, and attend conferences (which, in turn, broadened their informal network of potential mentors).

The best firms offer less hierarchy and more collaboration.

The panelists stressed that firms should quickly engage new hires on a project and treat them equally. They said they want the opportunity to learn, to ask questions, and to be engaged throughout all phases of a project. Although they may not have the design experience of more seasoned team members, they pointed out that they can bring fresh perspectives to the table. One designer noted, for example, that he had another career before going back to school to become an interior designer. That experience, he said, adds value to the projects he works on.

Panelists were quick to point out that they’re not looking to start at the top—they just want to understand how their tasks are part of the larger project. They stressed that they want to know that their work has meaning and that they are contributing to a bigger whole. Indeed, their thirst for learning was evident in how they talked about their work and their interactions with senior designers and with clients.

Investing in personal development benefits design firms and their clients.

All the designers agreed that investing in personal development is a win-win-win: benefiting them, their firms, and their firms’ clients.

The designers found a lot of value in being given opportunities to travel and participate in Design Connections and other conferences. These designers might have grown up with technology, but they like face-to-face interactions with team members and the broader design community. They said they enjoy discovering new ideas and learning about new product innovations. Finally, they stressed that all employees, including new hires, should be given these opportunities as they help to infuse new thinking and new ways to solve design challenges.