I Like Design winner reflects on his win and internship at Michael Graves

07/12/2018 By Robert Nieminen

Earlier this year, interiors+sources announced that Afshin Homayoonmehr had earned the title of our 2018 I Like Design student competition winner (see our May issue for more I Like Design coverage). The then-interior design undergraduate student at San Diego Mesa College impressed the competition’s judges by conceptualizing an innovative, modern bookstore that embraced concepts set forth by the WELL Building standard (per entry requirements) and earned him a summer internship at Michael Graves Architecture & Design in Princeton, New Jersey.

If it sounds like the I Like Design competition is unlike others in the industry, that’s because it is. Offering more than just a cash prize and some publicity, this program is designed with students’ professional development in mind. Because nothing prepares them for future better than hands-on, practical work in an esteemed firm like Michael Graves Architecture & Design, the competition’s prestigious partner. In fact, San Diego Mesa College Assistant Professor Farida Gabdrakhmanova, ASID, LEED AP, said she was amazed by the amount of support Homayoonmehr has received and the tremendous opportunity this competition affords students like him.

“Money is money,” she observed, “but you have an opportunity to practice [design] and work within a well-known firm. I think it’s much, much more rewarding than money. I cannot even estimate how much [Afshin] will get from this summer internship—it’s invaluable."

Editor-in-Chief Kadie Yale with Afshin at NeoCon 2018 after the I Like Design victory

Gabdrakhmanova had been looking for a supplemental project to add to her fall course curriculum, and the I Like Design program proved to be instrumental in the process to introduce new concepts to students. Due to the entry requirements that center around the WELL Building standard, Gabdrakhmanova immediately recognized the merit of bringing the challenge into the classroom.

“I liked that this was a project that required students to learn and design by WELL standards, because design is changing, the whole approach of designing is a little different now,” she said. “We’re not just making things for beauty and functionality—now we’re changing how people live, how they feel inside interior environments. And it’s so great for students to learn that, especially if it’s integrated.”

The process of preparing entries was a challenging and eye-opening experience for many of her students, most of whom had never paid attention to or been exposed to designing for health and wellness before, and on a very tight deadline (just six weeks). But with a dedication to research and an eye for detail, Gabdrakhmanova said Homayoonmehr rose to the challenge.

“I really can say that throughout the project, Afshin was very deep in his research and what really impressed me was his attention to all the details and his creativity,” she said. Gabdrakhmanova said she guided Homayoonmehr (and other students) through the process, helping them to refine their presentations and make adjustments when necessary. Of the 19 students in her class, Gabdrakhmanova said 10 of the concepts were worthy of submission, but only four were polished enough to enter the competition. Of course, Homayoonmehr’s work paid off handsomely, earning him both the internship at Michael Graves as well as a trip to the NeoCon World’s Trade Fair in Chicago this past June.

interiors+sources recently caught up with Homayoonmehr on the heels of NeoCon to get his impressions on the I Like Design competition, as well as his internship and plans for the future.

i+s: What did it mean for you to be named the winner of the 2018 I Like Design competition? What did you learn?

Afshin Homayoonmehr: It’s meant a lot for me, actually. It’s really different than any other competition. It’s designed in a way to make students ready for the design profession. The internship at Michael Graves has been great for me and the NeoCon experience was really good as well. And then also the press on me in the magazine is great. So, those are three positive things for my future—wherever I go my resume will be impressive.

I learned about the WELL Building standard which we had to use for the project entry, and it was very valuable because I think it’s a hot trend now. It’s something beyond LEED. The WELL standard is something architects and designers are talking about, so I’m already familiar with it, which is a big benefit for me.

i+s: Tell us about your internship at Michael Graves. How’s it going so far? What are you working on right now?

AH: It’s very good. I’m working in the interior design department and helping them with a project, buying products, etc. It’s not anything out of the ordinary, but everybody's super nice and helpful, and I’m learning on a daily basis.

I’m also part of a group project for new people like me, the other interns, and new architects. They get us involved in a real-world project which we’re designing and doing the research part right now. We’re designing a facility that homeless people. It’s interesting to work on a real project where we do a lot of research and try to fix this problem that’s [common to] big cities.

i+s: What are your plans for the future?

AH: I’m going back, perhaps, to the west coast where I’m from and looking for a job there. I also have plans for to continue my education to get a graduate degree because I already have a bachelor’s in engineering, so I’m thinking about more interior architecture. But also, I feel like because the economy is good, I should be working right now instead of in school, so I may take some time off of school to go work professionally and gain some experience, and then continue to my master’s degree [later].