Designing in the real world

College classes often have a tough time modeling everyday work situations. No matter how detailed, students still know only instructors or their peers will see their work.

That wasn’t the case this semester for two Interior Design (ID) classes in the School of Design and Construction. Both classes featured semester-long projects that involved mentors from internationally known firms headquartered in Seattle and real-world presentations at each company’s offices.

Student presentation at Interior Architects
An ID 333 student presents her project to her mentor and group at IA Interior Architects in Seattle.

The companies, IA Interior Architects and Callison, mentored students in the two classes, ID 333 and ID 426, respectively. On April 30, students from both classes got on a bus at 5:30 a.m. and headed west to present their final projects to mentors and clients of their firms.

“A few were nervous, but they did a great job of channeling that nervous energy into solid presentations,” said Matthew Melcher, an associate professor and program head in Interior Design.

Both classes divided into smaller groups, and each student presented his or her project to three or four people, who then offered critiques and advice.

“It’s a great experience for students to stand up and have to defend their choices to a group of people who work on these issues every day,” Melcher said.

Uris Giron, who graduated in May with an interior design degree, took the higher-level class as part of his senior capstone project. He said the mentors at Callison provided great support.

“They helped show us a strong way of communicating ideas,” said Giron, who is already working on a master’s degree in interior design. “Their critiques helped hone our skills. The transition from student to professional is tough and they helped polish us up for that.”

Student presentation at Callison
Students and mentors watch a presentation at Callison.

Giron and his classmates designed three retail spaces over the course of the semester, with the culmination being a flagship store for a retail company.

Giron said the class was basically the tip of a pyramid, with every other class he’s taken in the program forming a foundation.

“All the classes I’ve taken built up to this,” he said. “And Callison helped develop that educational experience and understand the reality of how design can be implemented.”

For the lower-level class, the process also involved novice public speakers in a professional atmosphere.

“It was awesome, but nerve-racking, too,” said WSU junior Candie Wilcken.

She was part of ID 333, which worked with IA. The class divided into groups of five, with each group having to design a workspace for a company in a different country. Her project was to design an office space in London.

“It was a lot of work, but the research was the best part,” she said. “Our mentor didn’t give us all the answers if we had questions, but pointed us in the right direction. And he was so helpful, answering emails quickly and giving us great feedback.”

Melcher said the program is already looking for other professional partners, in addition to IA and Callison, to work with on future projects like these.

“When students know they’ll be working with people outside the university, they want to impress and learn from leaders in the field,” he said. “We know they’ll work hard to create the best solution they can. And you can’t simulate that in a normal classroom.”