Meet the I Like Design Finalists

We proudly introduce the winner and two runners-up of our inaugural design competition for students -- all three of which demonstrate that the future of design looks bright indeed.

by AnnMarie Martin

We hear it every single day from design firms, manufacturers, product designers and just about anyone else, for that matter, who is intimately involved in the design industry.

Everyone wants to know: How do I make social media work for me?

In our very humble opinion, the answer is two-fold:

  1. Spread the word (mainly by asking the right questions)
  2. Be patient

It takes time to build up a network of followers that can actually have an impact on your business; half the battle is having something original to say in an online world that seems to become more and more congested by the second. So how’s this for something unique to say:

Will you vote for me?

We felt we had a responsibility to help teach this lesson early, so we took it to the students of today/designers of tomorrow to show them just how important social media can be when used as a marketing tool. The I Like Design competition was born from this movement.

Together with Nashville, Tenn.-based Gresham, Smith and Partners (GS&P), we pitched a special design challenge to schools across the country: create a community health and wellness center that includes a clinic and community center, located on the first floor of an existing building at the intersection of Park View Place and 23rd Avenue North in Nashville. Of all the submissions we received, we narrowed the field down to the three young visionaries you are about to meet.

The finalists were asked to take a link to their designs, which were featured on, and promote them through their social networks. Followers and readers alike were asked to vote for their favorite design, and the entrant with the least amount of votes was eliminated from the competition at the end of two two-week periods. We were eventually left with one woman standing, who walked away with a summer internship with GS&P and paid housing in Nashville.

the winner: cassie welch
Garnering more than 10,000 votes for her entry, winner Cassie Welch—now a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas with a bachelor’s degree in interior design—had special insight into the design challenge from GS&P.

“I have always enjoyed doing creative things and wasn’t sure if I could gear that toward a career. Thinking that a creative job would be an unstable profession, I spent two summers of high school volunteering to try out the medical field route,” she says.

Ultimately, she realized it wasn’t for her. “After researching interior design-related jobs, I realized that with hard work and experience I could provide myself a stable profession and be happy doing it.”

Other than classroom projects, the I Like Design challenge was her first stab at designing such a large square footage facility. She says that it was a challenge to mesh a project list of required rooms and minimum square footage. “You have to be very mindful in the space planning process to make a cohesive design. I’ve learned that what you thought would work in an existing space may not always be what you end up with.”

Welch enjoys working with a neutral color palette and finishings, and pairing them with a pop of color or a unique feature, as is evident in many of her renderings for her community health and wellness center. It gives her design a timeless quality, as opposed to chasing the trend of the moment. The inspiration for her entry came from the unique exterior façade of the proposed building. She used it as a starting point and then tried to implement the same curves and angles where possible to provide a cohesive plan.

Cassie Welch's Designs
(click to view larger)

Left to Right: Auditorium, Cafe Seating, Fitness Center/Color Palette, Floor Plan


She’s excited to bring her talents to GS&P this summer, and can’t wait to learn from the experienced designers of such an established firm. She says firms today need to take a chance on students, so they can gain valuable experience early in their careers. She also says to keep in mind that the technology students learn today is not always what professionals are using. “Depending on the job or area, we may either be ahead of the technology being used, or have to learn something completely new.”

As far as her future goes, she looks forward to building a long career and dreams of designing high-end, luxurious resorts. “To be able to create a unique, welcoming and relaxing space that leaves a lasting impression on one’s mind would be definitely worthwhile.”

ricardo hernandez-perez
Ricardo Hernandez-Perez began his college career at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. as an art major, until he realized that he wanted his work to have a closer impact on people’s lives. “That desire led me to research the design of interior spaces, and I realized that by designing interior environments I could explore different ways to affect people’s moods and the manner of interaction between themselves and one another,” he says.

Hernandez-Perez is already well on his way. He received a grant last year to implement “parklets” in cities around Richmond County, an initiative which is starting to gain popularity with local residents. These outdoor spaces, located over parallel parking spots, aim to enhance quality of life by providing greenery, sitting areas and bike lock stations.

For his I Like Design entry, Hernandez-Perez wanted to create an atmosphere of calmness that related to nature, specifically the sky. For the community center element he wanted to inject “the collective feeling you get in a mall.” Of his designs in general, he says one of his favorite things to do is coordinate ceilings and flooring materials, “creating spaces within spaces.”

Ricardo Hernandez-Perez's Designs
(click to view larger)

Left to Right: Nurse Station, Clinic Waiting Area, Floor Plan


“I also love to use layers of materiality, playing with translucent versus opaque materials to add depth to my designs,” he adds.

Hernandez-Perez certainly walked away with the right message from the I Like Design competition. “I have gained more confidence in my work and it allowed me to learn how to communicate my design to others effectively, as well. Otherwise, it would’ve been hard to get votes if my intent wasn’t communicated thoroughly.”

danielle sapp
Danielle Sapp’s design entry attracted a great deal of attention from the moment it was received, thanks to her solid foundations of evidence-based design and sustainability. Throughout her thought process on the project, she put herself in the shoes of the right people: the visitors.

“What will they see when they walk in?” she says she asked herself. “How would it make them feel? Would it seem sterile and cold like a hospital or warm, calming and confident? I wanted to impact people’s lives on a personal level.”

She hopes to continue doing that by moving into a career of healthcare design after graduating this year from the Art Institute of Tampa; her next goal of achieving NCIDQ certification will certainly help. “I would love to begin my career with a department that is small enough to allow full exposure and responsibility for many types of design work, yet large enough to have the resources to support [the work].”

Sapp echoes Welch’s thoughts that it’s difficult to be given your first “shot” in the industry. She suggests that firms provide students with the opportunity to shadow professionals. “It’s a great way for them to experience the job hands-on, gain insight into the industry and build relationships with a mentor that can develop into apprenticeships.”

Danielle Sapp's Designs
(click to view larger)

Left to Right: Central Lobby, Clinic Reception Area, Clinic, Floor Plan