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Apr 01, 2021 By IIDA
2021 Diversity in Design Scholarship Awardees Named
IA Interior Architects, in partnership with the IIDA Foundation, is pleased to present the 2021 IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship winners and honorees.
By IIDA Apr 01, 2021
Published in

IA Interior Architects and IIDA are proud to announce the 2021 Diversity in Design Scholarship Awardees. Our winners represent diverse voices and perspectives in interior design, and we are pleased to enrich diversity of thought in the industry by supporting these students in their educational pursuits with one $5,000 scholarship, one $3,000 scholarship, and four $500 scholarships.

Our students winners are enrolled in programs across the country, and have demonstrated a unique and insightful vision towards how representation in the design profession can create equity in the end-user experience of designed spaces, and what this means to them.

Sarah Relyea



Our first place winner (above) , Sarah Relyea, Student IIDA from The Ohio State University explored the idea of “Diverse Diversity,” or keeping in mind that the idea of diversity shouldn’t be restrictive or limited to checking a set of boxes—it’s important to consider all of the subtle ways spatial experiences can be diverse, particularly in terms of visible and invisible disabilities.

Our second place winners are Kay Myers, Student IIDA, Madison College (Below left), Ariana Rahim, Student IIDA, California State University, Long Beach (Below right), and our honorees are Teah Brands, Parsons School of Design, The New School, Lilliana Davie, Student IIDA, University of Texas at Arlington, Reece Lash, Indiana University Bloomington, and Mandi Taylor, University of Oregon. You can read their full essays below.

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Kay Myers, Student IIDA
Kay Myers, Student IIDA
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Ariana Rahim, Student IIDA
Ariana Rahim, Student IIDA

Diverse Diversity

By: Sarah Relyea, Student IIDA, The Ohio State University

I think that one of the ways increased representation in the design profession can create equity in the end-user experience is by investigating what I like to call diverse diversity. There are many "stereotypical" ways in which people think of diversity, such as the mistreatment of people of color, the pay gap between men and women, and the implementation of elevators and ramps for disabled members of our population.

While all of these issues are extremely important and deserve the attention of those fighting for social change, there has become a new gap separating these common topics of diversity from the rest. One example that I feel is particularly relevant to design is expanding the concept of ADA design. This ranges from considerations of those who are visibly disabled to those who are invisibly disabled. Once this concept was brought to my attention in one of my courses, it was something I could not avoid when developing designs. From creating wider hallways to allow non-hearing people to have room to comfortably sign with one another, to considering the ways mental health can be impacted via the applications of biophilia in spaces, I strive to infuse overall inclusiveness in regards to ability/disability in my designs. While this was something that I learned about due to the instruction I received in my courses, my instructors learned of these concepts from people of different diversities who have dedicated their design careers to solving issues they currently face in the built world.

I hope that bringing more diverse people into not only the design profession, but also design education can strongly impact the way diversity in design is viewed, and can cause the experiences of space to become fully equitable, no matter the user. There is still much to be learned about common and uncommon topics of diversity, and it is only by learning from and engaging with those who experience inequity that we as designers can contribute positively to the end-experience of the user.

Giving Place to People

By: Kay Myers, Student IIDA, Madison College

Art. Language. Storytelling. These things help define culture; hold heritage of a people. They create context and origin and legacy. Where we come from and how we came to be at this time and place, here and now, is what makes us each unique. How we visualize and interpret the world we inhabit very much depends on our life experiences and opportunities. As designers, this is something we do with every project: manifest beauty, decipher industry jargon, communicate through storytelling to create a palette of place. But whose story are we telling? For a long time, that story has been mostly white, middle-class and up, or some romanticized reinterpretation of what design for that sect of society has been or should be.

Increased representation in the design profession increases the creation base to visualize, interpret, and showcase an increased diversity of contexts, origins, and legacies. Some may find this to be a “fresh” perspective, but more truthfully, it is simply an unrecognized perspective – one we haven’t seen because the diversity hasn’t been allowed, encouraged to participate, or be known. Designers of different backgrounds and experiences will utilize different color combinations, textural qualities, lighting specifications, and even space designation. Form and posture can change. Visual balance, scale, and repetition can be altered. These considerations affect the way in which an end-user experiences and utilizes space. It can change their level of comfort, creativity, and well-being. It can help end-users recognize that they belong in a space and even help them to take pride and ownership in that space.

A great example of this is in the schools re-imagined by Project Color Corps. Schools in low-income, at-risk communities are often not designed or created with student curiosity, learning ability, or mental health in mind. Many of these buildings look like concrete bunkers or jails. The story these places tell is bleak. The community input and conversations that occur where Project Color Corps invests are life altering. “What color can stop violence?” “What color can create love?” “What color can signal hope?” All questions that children ask in discussions about which colors might best suit their space. Their input as co-designers creates a palette of place for them – signifying their backgrounds and experiences – their visioning of a better future for themselves and their community.

Moving forward, we must design all places by considering how we feel and responding through what we want to see – designing for equity, justice, and inclusion. We will be better equipped to do this by fostering increased representation and diversity in the design profession. We will better understand how to see and create new landscapes, communities, and spaces. It is our job to come together in empathy and work to re-set and re-design our future to give place to people – place where they can belong and feel ownership and recognize it as a part of themselves regardless of their origin, experience and opportunity.

Rewriting the Future Together

By: Ariana Rahim, Student IIDA, California State University, Long Beach

Design and architecture are the indirect authors of our lives. Spatial design influences our choices, perceptions, and beliefs both as individuals and a collective. It could be the simple design of way-finding through a park to encourage more physical activity, or the complex sense of seclusion that can cause social isolation in multi-story apartment buildings. Regardless the level of depth, this broad influence can have consequences that ripple throughout society, both positive and negative. If our built environments assert such control over us, it is imperative that those designing them reflect and represent the diverse groups of people that reside within them.

Today, America is still feeling the repercussions of historical lack of diversity in design, architecture, and planning. Minority communities suffer from the rippling effects of years of discriminatory building practices and neglect. Meanwhile, those with privilege experience the continual benefits of development and innovation. To create a future where design and architecture serve all, not just the elite class, we must begin to include more people in the conversation.

As the face of our future, architecture and design should strive to create inclusivity for all classes, races, ethnicities, and disabilities. The best way to achieve this is to bring a multitude of diverse groups of people into the field. Diversity is the fuel for change and the antidote to stagnancy. Every individual sees the world through the lens of their own unique culture, upbringing, and experience, bringing a fresh perspective. When groups of people from mixed backgrounds collaborate together, innovation and creativity flourish and a sense of empathy for those with different backgrounds grows. We become smarter, and stronger, by diversifying our workplace, and as a result, our own minds.

Through years of volunteering with previously homeless youth and refugee children, I have begun to see where design is failing and how imperative it is to have the voice of diverse cultural and economic backgrounds in the field. I had never experienced challenges like these children grew up with, and while I gained empathy, I could never truly understand their struggles. The insight gained has deeply influenced my choice as a designer, and a human, to create opportunity for all kinds of people, and to advocate for the voices of these youth to matter.

By including the voices of people who have been marginalized, the field of design can pivot away from ethnocentrism and start creating unique solutions to the racial, economic, and environmental problems we see in America. The outcome would be spaces that truly respond to the needs of many users. Instead of gentrification, imagine a future in which the intersection of culture, design, and empathy reinvigorated struggling neighborhoods with quality affordable housing, connection to nature and community resources. Imagine sustainability brought into the everyday life of Americans, and equality in the way we design for diverse groups. By harnessing the strength in our differences, America can begin to use the powerful influence of design to write a more just future for all.

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