Firm Advice from Design Mentors

We talk with three pairs of designers and students from the recently launched NYSID Alumni Mentorship Program to uncover advice from both ends of the professional spectrum.

by Erika Templeton

Nick Domitrovich
Class of 2012
Interior Designer
Evgenya (Jane) Epelbaum
Master of Fine Arts
Interior Design (MFA-1)


Interiors & Sources: As a relatively recent graduate yourself, how do you approach the mentoring relationship?

Nick Domitrovich: For me, mentoring is easy. I just think about what stage she is at in the program and think back to my own experience, recalling what I wish I would have known then. Like Jane, I was changing careers when I decided to enroll in NYSID’s MFA Post-Professional program. I was leaving the world of sales and training to pursue interior design, with no real exposure to the field. There was a lot of uncertainty and it would have been extremely helpful to have a source to guide me through the process.

I&S: What is the most critical bit of wisdom you’ve tried to impart on Jane, based on your experience as a professional interior designer?

ND: There are three pieces of advice that I always circle back to. First, learn and master the basic skills as quickly as possible. By pushing yourself, especially in the beginning, you achieve a solid footing that allows you to really explore your true talents. Once you’ve mastered these basic skills, target what you want your few areas of specialty to be and become an expert. The design industry is extremely multi-faceted, almost to a fault. If you attempt to master everything, you will be overwhelmed and, in the end, only mediocre across the board. By focusing on a few certain skills, you set yourself apart from the pack.

Finally, there is what I call the 90/100 rule. Designers, for better or for worse, are always striving for perfection. However, the simple fact is that a project can always be better. Designers need to understand when to stop exploring and when to start executing. I would rather be 90 percent happy with an idea and execute it 100 percent, than be 100 percent happy with an idea and only have the time and/or money to execute it at 70 percent.

I&S: What’s the most common misconception you’ve encountered among young designers?

ND: I think a lot of young designers come into this field thinking that it will be easier than it is. There is so much more depth to design than what the general public sees, so we think, how hard can it be? I went to a top undergraduate business school and it was probably half, maybe a third of the workload of my graduate design degree. I work just as many hours now as I did when I was in sales and trading, perhaps more.

I&S: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the mentoring process so far?

ND: When you mentor or teach someone, it forces you to stop and reflect on your own journey so that you can give the best possible advice. By doing that, it reminds you to follow your own guidance, because you can easily get bogged down in the daily grind and forget the principles or lessons that you’ve learned along the way. For example, Jane and I were talking about critiques and I was explaining how important it is to listen as objectively as possible and to remove yourself from the project for that moment. It is a very difficult thing to do, because you put so much of yourself into the work. In the end, it will almost always make you a better designer. After I said it, I thought about a critical critique I had received earlier that week and how I took it too personally. Even if I disagreed with the critique, I owed it to myself to at least explore the comments. In the end, as is often the case, the project was better for it.

I&S: Why is it important for you to have a mentor, and what qualities do you seek in them?

Evgenya (Jane) Epelbaum: I have always believed that in order to succeed in anything, it is instrumental to consult those who came before. The most practical knowledge usually comes from those who have experienced the same or a similar challenge. Particularly, it is imperative to learn from their mistakes while acquiring invaluable knowledge based on their experiences. As such, I think it is essential that the mentor feels successful in his or her field. Furthermore, I think it is important that the mentor feels driven to help others.

I&S: What is the most important thing you have learned from Nick so far?

JE: While I genuinely always feel reenergized and inspired after our meetings, probably the most important thing I have learned is how to focus on what is important. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in all of the work and minutia of the day-to-day, but Nick encourages me to always think about the greater goal and what is absolutely critical in order to achieve that goal. While he tailored the advice specifically to my program, I think it translates to any and all challenges in life: time management and understanding your goals is absolutely vital.

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