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Jul 02, 2021 By IIDA HQ
Applying Human-Centered Design to Mentorship
2021 Wilsonart Essay winner Jonny Bywater, Student IIDA looks inward and discusses the importance of mentorship early in design careers.
By IIDA HQ Jul 02, 2021
Published in Foundation

Human-centered design is the heart of interior design. After all, what are we aiming for if not improving the lives and well-being of the people occupying our spaces—the workers, the diners, the patients, the shoppers? Taking the concept and applying it to a virtual mentorship, Rachel Maloney, IIDA, Design Director at IDEO provided Jonny Bywater, Student IIDA with a cohesive and rich experience, all while being completely virtual.

Throughout his experience, Bywater was able to dig into what he was truly looking for in his work as a designer, and assess his goals and strategies to access a vision of who he wants to work for, and with, and ultimately how he wants to design. With Rachel’s help, he put together an enlightening discussion for students at his chapter, featuring a roundtable discussion with designers across three commercial disciplines.

IIDA, the Foundation Trustees, and Wilsonart are proud to name the 2021 winner for the Wilsonart Essay Competition, Jonny Bywater, Student IIDA, of the City College of San Francisco. He was a participant in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program and is the recipient of the $1,000 prize on behalf of the Wilsonart Education Fund. You can read his winning essay below.

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Jonny Bywater, Student IIDA, and winner of the 2021 Wilsonart Essay Competition. Image courtesy of Bywater.
Jonny Bywater, Student IIDA, and winner of the 2021 Wilsonart Essay Competition. Image courtesy of Bywater.

Human-Centered Mentoring

By: Jonny Bywater, Student IIDA, City College of San Francisco

While I was fairly new to the concept of “human-centered design” at the beginning of this journey, when this design principle is applied to your mentorship process, you begin to understand very quickly why it is so effective. That is why this particular “human-centered mentorship” with Rachel Maloney, a Design Director at IDEO, was such a pivotal experience at the beginning of my design career. We realized together what I was truly looking for in a role as a designer and where I should be focusing my attention in order to contribute as best I can in this field.

I knew that this wouldn’t be a typical mentorship experience given the inability to meet in-person, let alone go near an office to experience a “day-in-the life” like previous years. However, given the miracles of technology, many Zoom meetings, and a lot of virtual sticky notes later, it was as if I was in a meeting room of IDEO, surrounded by seemingly random words and phrases on small, brightly colored squares, hoping to solve an issue through design.

By applying IDEO and Rachel’s human-centered design approach, my interests and strategies for entering the field of commercial design were dissected, examined, and reconfigured. Through this process, we were able to understand the characteristics I should be looking for in a firm and the types of people with whom I want to work, either virtually or in-person when that time comes.

In addition to Rachel’s virtual sticky-noting of my goals and interests, she assisted me with contacting speakers and preparing questions in order for me to lead an IIDA Northern California student roundtable. By bringing together three amazing designers in different commercial disciplines, I was able to use my newly defined values and questions to have fascinating discussions directly with professionals that helped me and other students taking part. We realized where may be the most rewarding area in which to work, the technical skills required for these roles, and also the soft skills that are so important in finding a place to be fulfilled and design something special.

The 2021 IIDA mentorship program was certainly unique, but through consistent virtual meetings inside our homes, it allowed for an environment with the most unfiltered versions of ourselves to be on display, and that was so important to me in finding trust with Rachel and her guidance.

Throughout this mentorship, I have asked myself the hard questions and learned where and for whom I want to contribute and why. Now that society has realized and is grappling with how tethered work is to our personal lives in the age of COVID, it is imperative that we apply our personal beliefs and goals for society wherever we choose to work. I have realized how to ask the right questions and form the relationships needed in order to best contribute to the world I want to create, and that all started by looking inwards and taking a human-centered mentorship approach with Rachel.

For more information about the IIDA Student Mentoring Program, or the Wilsonart Essay Competition, visit our Student Section.

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