First Impressions

by Robert Nieminen

When it comes down to it, design is in many ways about first impressions. Forget about all the programming details that went into the space that perhaps aren’t obvious to a client or end-user; if they aren’t imbued with a sense of appreciation for your work from the get-go, you’re probably not going to impress them by explaining your thought process or what it is you really do, anyway. In most cases, you’ve already lost.

That’s not to say design is all about surface appeal. However, all too often, interior design is relegated to just that: decoration. And designers know it all too well. But how, then, do you explain to a client (or someone who just watches too much HGTV) the true value that you bring to a project?

Thanks to a group of students from Radford University, we finally have a compelling answer. As the winners of the 2011 Interior Design Education Video Competition produced by IDEC, this team of creative students succeeded at answering the question of how design practitioners can positively impact local and global economies in a well-researched and creative video that is viewable on IDEC’s website.

What these students have managed to accomplish in a three-minute video clip, most designers are still struggling to communicate to a wider audience: that the work they do really matters. As explained in the winning video, people return to businesses because a well-designed retail store, restaurant, office or university draws people. They want to linger longer, or perhaps collaborate with a co-worker because of the environment around them.

In the case of higher education, students now base their decision on where to spend their money and the next several years of their lives based on the feelings they get when stepping onto a campus for the first time. Colleges and universities seeking to recruit the best and brightest are keenly aware of this, and are now focusing on building welcome centers for prospective students and their families, as reported in our Focus column, “Welcome Home,” by Senior Editor AnnMarie Martin. Martin spoke with a few firms who have the inside scoop on how to create welcome centers that send the right message to potential students, and help make the tough decision about where to call home for the next four years a little easier.

Speaking of new homes, the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) recently opened the doors to a new graduate center in Manhattan, and it has already made an indelible mark on the students and working professionals who have the privilege of studying in the cutting-edge studio. As David Sprouls, executive vice president and acting president at NYSID puts it, “As a design school, the fact that the space can be used as a teaching tool is fantastic. Students are not only learning how to design cutting edge interiors—they are in one.”

The key to the site selection process for NYSID’s new campus hinged directly on the first impression the client and design team had when they walked into the existing space. According to Maddy Burke-Vigeland, principal and studio director at Gensler, the quality and amount of daylight that met them as they stepped off the elevator truly wowed the whole project team, and ultimately became a focal point of the design.

While we’re on the subject, I should also mention how impressed we truly were with the winner and finalists of our inaugural I Like Design Student Internship contest. Competing for a summer internship with Nashville-based Gresham, Smith and Partners, our three finalists set out to design a community health and wellness center, and then promoted their completed designs on their social media pages to earn votes and remain in the competition. If their work is any indication of the quality of students graduating from design schools across the country, firms should have no problem finding new talent to hire.

As with any other opportunity in business, attracting and recruiting talent follows the same rule: you may not get a second chance, so make your first impression a lasting one.