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Meet the I Like Design Finalists

We proudly introduce the winner and runners-up in our second annual design competition for students—all eight of whom demonstrate that the future of design looks bright indeed.

By Adam Moore, Erika Templeton

We proudly introduce the winner and runners-up in our second annual design competition for students—all eight of whom demonstrate that the future of design looks bright indeed.

Our I Like Design competition was founded last year with a fairly simple goal: teaching design students the growing importance of leveraging social media in the professional world. Working in conjunction with Nashville-based firm Gresham, Smith and Partners (GS&P), we developed a basic design challenge and invited entrants to solicit votes for their submissions through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The results were promising, with our eventual winner, Cassie Welch, garnering more than 10,000 votes for her project, a spacious health and wellness center in the heart of Nashville. But the question remained—are students making the most of the limitless networking and marketing opportunities provided by these free platforms?

After counting up the results from our second I Like Design challenge, the answer is an unqualified yes. Attracting more than 153,000 votes, our finalists demonstrated the power that social media (and great design) has to connect and move people to action.

This year’s challenge added branding to the mix, as entrants were asked to design a workplace for 93 employees of a mid-size apparel company with a strong retail presence throughout the United States. The space needed to support the company’s desire to enhance creativity and collaboration, while also serving as an example of the client’s commitment to sustainability and fiscal responsibility.

The eight finalists chosen by Interiors & Sources and GS&P had their projects posted online, and followers and readers alike were asked to vote for their favorite design; at the end of each week, two finalists were eliminated from the competition. We were eventually left with one woman standing, who then walked away with a summer internship with GS&P and paid housing in Birmingham.

the winner: mary claire fuqua
Pulling in more than 73,000 votes alone, Mary Claire Fuqua, a senior at Samford University in Homewood, Ala., won the competition with her energetic design for Urban Edge, a women’s apparel company that aims to express urban culture through fashion.

Full of expressive colors, bold graffiti art and a grid-inspired floorplan, Fuqua’s design for Urban Edge captures the feeling of life in the city while also supporting employees with a range of multi-purpose collaborative spaces. Concrete floors echo sidewalks, exposed brick mirrors the urban fabric, and glass offices imitate the window displays seen while walking down the street.

We sat down with Fuqua to discuss her thoughts on design, and get an inside look at what’s in store for the Alabama native as she prepares for her summer internship at Gresham, Smith and Partners.

I&S: How did you find out about the I Like Design contest?
Mary Claire Fuqua: My professor at Samford University found the competition online and then assigned it to my class. When we got the project I was really excited about it. My thought process through the whole thing was focused on making sure that I tried my hardest to win, so I wouldn’t miss out on this incredible opportunity. I never wanted to feel like “Oh, I could have done that better” or “I wish I had tried harder.” I’m always doing my best to at least try and win, and it turned out great for me, so I’m excited about that.

I&S: Have you had any other internships or other real-world experience?
MCF: Yes, my dad is an architect and he has his own firm in my hometown. I did an internship there over the summer and over Christmas break. I’ve also worked for another interior designer that does more residential stuff in Birmingham, so I’ve gotten to see the different sides of the industry and get a good mix of experience that way.

I&S: What’s your favorite kind of project?
MCF: Probably something that’s in an exotic location, something more commercial—and no budget would be great! Right now I’m working on my senior project and that’s been really fun. I’m taking the Detroit Superior Bridge in Cleveland, Ohio, which has awesome architectural elements like arches and really cool steel features, and I’m turning it into a hotel.

I&S: How did you come to your design decisions for Urban Edge?
MCF: When I started coming up with the concept for Urban Edge, I researched a bunch of clothing stores and ended up doing a mixture of two of my favorite stores that I thought would be really fun to brand—Urban Outfitters and Edge of Urge. That’s where I found my inspiration, putting together all the patterns, the colors, the brand canvas, and kind of creating my own company that way.

A lot of my concept has to do with the downtown urban area of the city, where I found inspiration from the materials used like exposed brick, concrete and natural wood. My graphic concept came from looking at graffiti.

I&S: As a designer with your own unique voice, how do you balance your own style and the style of your customers?
MCF: You know, it’s something that you have to pay attention to and make sure that you recognize, but you also have to be able to express something new and exciting and unique in it. It’s finding that balance between your style and your customers’, but also not being afraid to explore ideas and make it interesting—that’s the important thing.

I&S: How would you describe your style?
MCF: I always try to do something that’s very clean-lined. I have a very strong focus on structure and simplicity, but then I always like to add the unique factor, whether it’s bright, bold colors or some cool graphics, or just the use of materials in a different way. It’s about adding that surprise element or fun into it, as well.

I&S: Have you met the people you’ll be working with at Gresham, Smith and Partners?
MCF: Actually, after speaking with GS&P, I’ve decided that I’m going to work from their office in Birmingham. Some of the interior designers there volunteer with Samford University, so I’m excited to get to continue working with them. I know that it’s a wonderful department and has a great reputation as well, so I’m happy I’ll be able to learn from them and pick their brains, and hopefully become a better designer from that.

I&S: What are your goals for the future?
MCF: I do think that one day I would like to have my own firm or go in with my dad, but right now I want to explore, see all that I can learn, and get great experience so I’ll be able to do that well in the future.

The Finalists

This year’s I Like Design competition was narrowed down to eight worthy students when the online voting process began. As a nod to the seven other finalists, here’s a brief glimpse into their thought-provoking concepts for this design challenge. Look for more inspiring work from these student designers and from next year’s entrants!

Bethany Saltzman
Kent State University
design statement: During the process of designing Hypnotic Attraction, many inspirational elements came from the idea of magnetism [which] emanates within the floor plan layout, furniture layout, ceiling plan and finish selections. Magnetism is a strong force—a force that pulls your eye to specific elements of the design, invokes creative, happy employees, and draws the attention of the guests who yearn to come back time and time again.
Kathryn Nuwayhid
Samford University
design statement: This space, a corporate headquarters for fashion label Tropez, is inspired by women who blend the beauty and value of Old World aristocratic style with their individual free spirits to create a fresh and current look. This space channels the spirit of the clothing brand through the use of clean lines and honest, natural materials. A central corridor reflective of the feminine, yet structured nature of the human form creates primary circulation terminated by an LED screen projecting images of the brand’s runway shows.
Leigh Barker
University of Memphis
design statement: Bonobos is the first men’s apparel company to successfully establish and market their wares solely online ... best known for their perfectly fitted chinos that come in every color imaginable. With this in mind, the new office design will feature vibrant pops of color taken from their very own apparel line. Bonobos employees have fun working together and a workplace layout organized to facilitate collaboration is a must.
Alyssa Prem
Kent State University
design statement: The concept of Suit Up apparel is a juxtaposition of a formal office space layout that allows workers to feel comfortable and close together. Collaboration areas are spread out among the floor plan to be able to meet anywhere within the work place. The simple color scheme allows a creative and inspiring atmosphere to work in.
Kristin Lewis
Samford University
design statement: Inspired by its target market of college-age individuals and young professionals, Avant-Threads’ brand embraces the technologically adept, educated, socially oriented and sustainably minded individual. Their apparel offerings seek to blur the line between work and social environments, indicative of the concept of collaboration and connectivity and inspired by a technologically driven generation. These concepts are also re-imagined structurally and aesthetically, using textiles to characterize a blurring of the line between the unfinished and the refined construction.
Alexandra Stephens
University of Memphis
design statement: The overall concept is to help improve and increase productivity. I tried to achieve that in several different ways. In my design, I have all the workspaces close together and in the open, just like it is now at the Bonobos headquarters. Research is also increasingly showing that having an outside view of daylight will help increase production.

Soomin Kim
Samford University
design statement: The concept of the space that I went for is open plan, with comfortable environments for all the workers to be interactive with each other. The idea of this space definition came from one of the inspiration images, and I provided a comfortable environment with sofas and bean bags. The break room café is very open and narrow for people to come gather and enjoy their refreshments and meals.