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

Elizabeth Battin
Class of 2012
Interior Designer
Marie Aiello Design Studio
Kerri Rappaport
Bachelor of Fine Arts
Interior Design


Interiors & Sources: Why was it important for you to become involved with NYSID’s mentorship program?

Elizabeth Battin: I’m a huge supporter of giving back when it comes to educational experiences. Providing students with an “outreach” program allows them to build partnerships with people in the workforce they will soon be joining—a connection that is often difficult to accomplish, especially in such a large city. Having recently gone through school and the job search process, this relationship can offer additional resources to the student and help guide them through the transition; as a mentor, it keeps things fresh and it is a constant way to reinforce my passion for the field.

I&S: What is the most critical bit of wisdom you’ve tried to impart on Kerri?

EB: Take risks. I find that you learn so much more when you take design risks in school; it creates conversation that wouldn’t otherwise happen. One of the biggest things I learned in school and have reinforced in my career is to make one bold move and allow that move to guide your decision-making process. I cannot tell you the number of times I have told Kerri, “I like that, but make it a bigger gesture.” As a student, you get so caught up in the small changes you are making that you forget about the big picture. Interior design can be extremely detail oriented, which is part of what makes it so beautiful, but taking a risk often forces a designer to think on a range of scales and make a statement that can be read across that range.

I&S: What’s a common mistake or misconception that you’re trying to help young designers avoid?

EB: Having completed an undergraduate and graduate degree in design, too often I find myself working on something alone. So much of design in the real world is collaboration. I sometimes feel that school can put you in a competitive “I don’t want to give my ideas away” mode as you work on individual projects, and you often miss out on the opportunity to be a part of a team and discover all the wonderful and beautiful ideas that come out of taking a new perspective.

I&S: What’s the most important thing you have learned from Kerri during your time together?

EB: I see a lot of myself in Kerri as a designer; we both have a tendency to be overly critical of our work and put ourselves into panic mode. While it is valuable to be your biggest critic, you need to be able to be confident in your design and ideas. Seeing Kerri be so successful in school and her projects is a constant reminder that if you believe in your design you will thrive.

I&S: Why is it important for you to have a design mentor, and how has Elizabeth influenced your view of the design process?

Kerri Rappaport: It is important for me to have a design mentor because it is someone that has new and different ideas. Elizabeth and I can relate because she has recently been through the same process, but she can also share real-life experiences that I haven’t experienced yet. It is always important to get as many opinions as possible, because one idea may steer you in the right direction for your project.

I&S: What is the most important thing you have learned from Elizabeth?

KR: One of the most important things I have learned is to be confident in what I do. Many times I have come to our meetings stressed out about a project and feeling trapped. Elizabeth has helped me realize that by taking a step back and looking at the project as a big picture, you can come up with a new idea. I have always been very technical and logical, but through spending time with Elizabeth, I have come to understand the importance of creating a single design concept that will guide every decision.

I&S: What have you taught Elizabeth over the course of your relationship?

KR: Whenever I need to meet and go over a project, Elizabeth is always there to help in any way she can. She sees my dedication to my schoolwork and my thirst for design, and I believe that ignites a passion for her design work, as well.

I&S: What common misconceptions or attitudes do you find among more experienced designers, and what can they learn from young designers like yourself?

KR: Designers, especially those that have worked in the field for a long time, get caught in doing the same designs over and over again. It is important as creative individuals to continually engage in all aspects of the design world and constantly seek inspiration. Inspiration can come from anywhere; by taking an abstract idea and implementing it into a design, it can be a refreshing change.

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