ASID Update: The Double Gift of Mentoring

May 1, 2006
By Robert Wright, FASID
Providing time for students and young professionals could be an ideal way for established practitioners to give back to the design industry.
By Robert Wright, FASIDThe successful future of the interior design profession depends on today's students and emerging practitioners. Looking back on my own transition from student to practitioner, I was most fortunate to work for an individual who felt that her role as an interior designer went far beyond that of a business owner—she was also my mentor. Her passion was interior design and she worked endlessly to ensure that the profession of interior design would be better for the next generation of designers. We not only managed to "get the work out" week to week, but we made time for thought-provoking discussions about the importance of interior design and the career decisions ahead that would make me a true professional.

No doubt many of you also had one or more mentors along the way who aided your success. Becoming a mentor yourself is one of the most important and fulfilling ways that you can give back to the profession in return for the support that was given to you. Of course, you do not need to be the employer of an individual to be their mentor. A mentor can be any dedicated interior designer who makes the effort and takes the time to be a student or recent graduate's trusted counselor. It is the willingness to share and to care that makes a mentor.

The need for mentors is more important than ever as our profession becomes more complex and sophisticated. And with the ever-growing popularity of interior design and the influx of design students, more and more volunteers are needed to assist with student interior design programs. The benefit of having an experienced designer assist in counseling an individual on the fundamentals of a proper education, work experiences and other necessary professional qualifications is invaluable. A mentor can help answer questions about design specialties and career choices, as well as help to identify what skills are needed to succeed in interior design. A mentor can help diffuse the confusion one might have on questions of legislation, business principles and design ethics. Any emerging interior designer would appreciate a professional's keen eye in reviewing his or her portfolio and resume. A young practitioner or student may find it invaluable to tour your studio or observe you working with a client. Visiting one of your job sites with work in process would be a perfect way to emphasize the complexity and detail involved in an interior design project. Inviting a student to be your guest at your association's next event could possibly open new career opportunities and lifelong friendships for her or him.

Mentoring offers many benefits for the mentor as well. The pairing of a seasoned professional with a student may bring forth new, creative energies for the mentor, as well as provide different views in areas of new technology and design trends. It is said that teaching is one of the best ways to learn, and you may find that mentoring will bring clarity to your own thinking about your design process or practice. In addition, mentoring may be the best way for you to find your future employees.

The Interior Design Experience Program (IDEP) created by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) seeks to formalize the relationship between the entry-level designer, the employer and a mentor, in order to assist the new designer in gaining a broad range of quality, professional experience. It provides a structure through which new designers can make a satisfactory transition from the classroom to the workplace and, ultimately, to certification and full professional status. But there are many other forms of mentoring as well—both formal and informal.

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has always seen the value in mentoring the emerging professional. At "Interiors 06: The ASID Conference on Design," we customized programs for students to have the best overview of interior design. Education was provided on the history of the profession and where it is heading, as well as current trends, what employers are looking for and how to apply what you learned in school to the workplace. The conference also offered the ASID STEP (Self-Testing Exercises for Pre-Professionals) workshop that prepares the emerging practitioner to take the NCIDQ examination. Beginner-level programs were provided on our platform issues of sustainable design and aging in place. Sessions were held on right-to-practice issues, explaining the need to legally recognize interior design as a profession and to encourage new professionals to get involved in advocacy activities.

Throughout 2006, ASID will continue its student outreach by sponsoring the Student Day and ASID Career Exchange events at all three NeoCon® markets. Portfolio reviews, opportunities to network with interior designers and ASID industry partners, as well as dynamic guest speakers will provide inspiration for the interior design student preparing to enter the profession.

Many of our ASID chapters also have mentoring programs. The programs have specific time commitments and outline the goals that you want to achieve. By asking the right questions, the student can benefit the most by being paired with the interior designer who shares his or her particular interests. Other chapters offer a "shadow" program that is targeted for a particular week and only asks for an eight-hour commitment from the professional. One day of volunteering could inspire a student to make more informed decisions about her or his career. For more information about these programs, visit the ASID Web site at or contact the education department at the ASID offices in Washington, D.C. at [email protected].

The best way to guarantee a future for interior design is to volunteer to be a mentor. We all need to nurture the next generation of interior designers. Not only are they tomorrow's professionals—they will be tomorrow's dedicated, volunteer leaders.

  • ASID president Robert Wright, FASID, is an award-winning interior designer, with a focus on office and residential design. He is a principal of Bast/Wright Interiors, Inc. in San Diego, CA. ASID staff can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at

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