NCIDQ's Interior Design Experience Program (IDEP) is an excellent way for those entering the profession to develop their careers and prepare for the NCIDQ examination. But, we,
as interior designers, have an important responsibility to this program—to participate as
sponsors and as mentors. When we invest our time and energy with the participants in this program, the returns are quite high, as I learned when I talked with LaToya Nelson, the first person to complete the program.
LaToya Nelson graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC with a B.S. in Business Administration & Marketing. She worked as a buyer for a company department store, and then returned to school to study interior design. She finished her MFA in Interior Design at The George Washington University in 2001. Nelson's mentor, Vincent Carter, has been a long-time volunteer for NCIDQ, serving as its president in 1996. Mentors in the program are those professionals who do not work for the sponsoring firm, but who are available to provide career guidance and support. Mentors must be NCIDQ Certificate holders and licensed to practice in their jurisdiction if they live in a regulated jurisdiction. Alternately, a mentor may be an architect licensed to practice in his/her jurisdiction.
How did you learn about the program?
Nelson: I learned about IDEP in a professional development class. The professor highlighted IDEP when we were talking about the industry and professional expectations. I enrolled in IDEP as soon as I graduated and got a job. IDEP was great for me because it encouraged dialogue with my supervisor. The program also allowed me to have someone outside my job as a mentor. IDEP highlighted areas where my work was not balanced—categories that I needed more responsibility in.
How did participating in IDEP help you on the job?
Nelson: I informed employers that I was enrolled in IDEP when I was interviewing. They were supportive—and a few were surprised that the program existed. They hadn't heard of it before. In my first position I did a lot of construction documents and CAD work. At the next firm I had a chance to do more programming. IDEP recognizes that programming is a critical task that interior designers need to do. I gained great experience doing programming—being responsible for generating a program document for 5,500 people and one million square feet for the Department of Transportation. I used my log book regularly—recording my hours every week. I found that keeping on top of recording my hours made the process much more manageable.
Some architectural firms—and I've worked for quite a few—think of architects as space planners and think of interior designers as finish selectors. Having the IDEP categories helped me explain to my supervisors that, as an interior designer, I needed to complete work in space planning, schematic design, design development, etc. IDEP has given me lots of opportunities to work for different places, yet it kept me focused in terms of what I was "bringing to the table." I knew where I had a lot of experience because of the hours that I logged in each category.
How did you select your mentor?
Nelson: I found my mentor, Vincent Carter, when I heard him speak at an ASID/IIDA event in DC, while I was a student. When I graduated I had an informational interview with him and asked him if he would be my IDEP mentor. The greatest benefit of having a mentor outside of my job was being able to talk to someone about my career who was not directly vested in me. If I had a concern with a job situation I could talk to my mentor. Vincent could say to me, "This is a typical thing that you run into in an office—get used to it" or give me other advice.
What do you think graduates need to know about IDEP?
Nelson: People don't know about IDEP until they are about to take their [NCIDQ] exam. The fee is very reasonable and you can spread payments out over time.
I paid $75 to enroll, $75 half way through the program, and $75 when I submitted my final log book. The best part was when I completed IDEP I received a certificate to take
the exam for free! If more people knew that IDEP does not require a lot of paperwork then I think they would enroll. Because I did not have the expense of taking the test I was able to spend money on taking ASID's STEP prep course.
I took the NCIDQ examination immediately after finishing IDEP in October 2003. I passed! I felt like the IDEP log book and NCIDQ examination corresponded pretty closely in terms of requirements. My experience was balanced so I was able to prepare for the exam in a way that allowed me to do well.
Vincent, you've been a supporter of NCIDQ for many years, but this is the first request you've had to be an IDEP mentor. What was that like?
Carter: LaToya wasn't aware of my involvement with NCIDQ, which made her request very genuine and real. She was an ideal IDEP participant. LaToya had a vision of what she wanted to accomplish and where she wanted to be within three years. I am glad to say that I played an active role in guiding her to take advantage of several situations, which continue to contribute to her advancement in the profession.
The required meetings to review her progress and the true mentoring that was a natural part of such meetings made them beneficial for both of us. My rapport with LaToya made it easy for us to discuss several job opportunities and enabled me to both encourage her to pursue some and avoid others, or pursue them for a limited time to gain exposure. Everything was done with a purpose and was part of a larger plan. The ability to vary the location of the meetings was helpful. It made it possible to invite LaToya to events (ASID, IIDA or others) that she may not have known of, which expanded her network.
How much time did your mentoring relationship require?
Carter: My time commitment as a mentor was minimal. We met approximately every other month, usually over lunch for a couple of hours, or in conjunction with a professional event in the evening. We were able to coordinate schedules well.
What did you gain from this opportunity?
Carter: Being involved as a mentor gave me an opportunity to see a young design professional grow, gain experience and benefit from some of my own experiences. The pure joy of watching LaToya prepare to sit for the NCIDQ exam, and the excitement of learning that she passed the complete exam on the first try, was a reward itself for me.
Vincent's and LaToya's positive experiences with IDEP are not unusual. As another IDEP participant said to me recently, "I like IDEP because it makes it easier for you to know what kinds of experience you need. IDEP is a personal thing—you have to do what
you need to do—bring it upon yourself to make sure you meet requirements. You have to be an advocate for your own professional development."
As practicing design professionals, we are advocates for the interior design profession, and we need to encourage recent graduates to be advocates for their own professional
development. Encourage someone you know to enroll in IDEP. If you are a seasoned
professional, sign up to be a mentor. If you have employees, encourage them to enroll in
IDEP. If you are in the process of hiring employees, support the program by making IDEP a requirement for all new hires. However you choose to get involved—IDEP needs you!
David Hanson serves on NCIDQ's Board of Directors. He has been a registered designer since 1992 and is an NCIDQ Certificate holder. He is the owner of DH Designs in Vancouver, British Columbia and specializes in retail, corporate and hospitality design. For information about NCIDQ, visit www.ncidq.org.