“At first, I wasn't sure if interior design was a realistic field for me,” said Naomi Mekonnen, concerned about the industry being white-dominated. What changed her mind? IIDA’s Design Your World (DYW) program. Exposure to successful Black designers who became teachers and mentors sparked confidence in herself and her work. She realized the power of creativity, learned to set goals and organize her ideas, and recognized design as a viable career path. She decided to pursue it full-time, and succeeded in persuading her parents to support her passion and vision.
Proof that DYW has a life-changing effect, is the program’s expansion across the U.S. Since its inception it has grown to three cities, broadening access and providing teens an entry point to careers in design. From Chicago to Miami and recently St. Louis, its impact is undeniable. “Design is such a powerful catalyst for change and for demonstrating human potential,” said IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO, Cheryl S. Durst. “Through DYW, a diverse group of students will be empowered to fully realize that careers in design and the creative arts offer unlimited potential. Perhaps most importantly, they will realize—through a curriculum and instructors that represent them—that design is truly ‘accessible’, meaningful, and relevant in their lives.”
On a mission to advocate for the value of design—a commitment that extends to empowering underrepresented communities—the weeks-long immersive program's curriculum is meticulously crafted to ensure that by its conclusion, students would have the foundational elements of a design portfolio. It covers fundamental aspects of commercial interior design such as color theory, textiles, and layout, with a strong focus on storytelling. Additionally, students were trained in sketching, elevations, and presenting projects to potential clients. Guest speakers and lecturers feature creatives and leaders across realms, from interior designers and artists to firm owners and operators. As part of the program’s hands-on learning approach, students embark on educational field trips that provide insights into their city’s architecture and built environment, history, and potential. In essence, DYW was created to prove that anything is possible.
Building on that big-picture thinking and continuing their enduring dedication to promoting equity in design, OFS and IIDA presented the Design Your World children's book: a collaborative effort featuring OFS Sales Manager, Maria VanDeman, and OFS VP of Research and Insights, Doug Shapiro as co-authors. It all started when Shapiro received a message from Durst. She wrote about her experience as a teacher in Washington, DC, where she introduced her students to the potential of design by enabling them to rearrange the classroom. This pivotal moment helped them understand that they could affect change in their environments and instilled a sense of agency over the spaces they inhabited. Shapiro's perception was profoundly influenced by this story, and he realized the impact of early design education provides children with the access to and understanding of its power.“I hope that if it doesn't just simply inspire people to seek the design profession, then I hope it inspires them to take control over their
VanDeman added: “I want to give designers a handle to be able to take this message outside in their own circles. There is only so much Doug and I can do. But if each designer takes this message and spreads it even farther and shares it with students and kids in their own circles, I think that the story, passion, and inspiration will go really far.”
Design Your World presents interior design as a life tool, to introduce design as a valuable and viable career choice, and to promote diversity in the interior design industry through representation. With the support of OFS along with partners 3form, Mannington, Sherwin-Williams, Blick art materials, as well as media sponsor i+s, the program has flourished, yielding tangible changes in the process. In a mere span of three years, the program has broadened its horizons and influence, actively shaping a future of design that is both inclusive and equitable while guiding young individuals toward their true passions.
Who better to testify to that than a former student? DYW’s impact is crystalized in Mekonnen’s words: "If it weren't for the program, I would most likely be majoring in something I didn't love."