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Nov 07, 2022 By Vasia Rigou
IA Interior Architects Elevates Diversity in Design
The IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship enriches diversity of thought and practice across the design industry
By Vasia Rigou Nov 07, 2022
Published in

Deadline extended to December 9! Apply today

In a conscious effort to break the cycle of inequity, designers and firms are dismantling some of the imbalances in their industry. To see real change and redefine what the system looks like, companies and organizations are creating opportunities for BIPOC, minority, and underrepresented designers. Starting at a critical point in one’s life, as early as high school and higher education, they are looking to create pathways for young creatives to enter the field, get a job, and claim a seat at the table. One such effort is the IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship. Set to broaden the level of discourse through dialogue and open communication on issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice, IA Interior Architects (IA) is taking a step toward building a purpose-driven design world where everyone feels they belong. The award, now in its fifth year, was established in coordination with the IIDA Foundation—a partnership that aims to enrich and evolve the interior design profession by recognizing outstanding students.

“Our mission was to include and expand the representation of voices that play such a critical role in design,” says IA Co-CEO and President, Tom Powers, AIA. “Our goal is, and has always been, to use our influence to provide a path for those just starting out in their career, for those who traditionally have not had a voice,” he adds. “What we create as designers has the ability to impact people’s lives, and with that the responsibility to truly listen to what people are saying so that we make the vision come to life through design. We recognize that too often design ends up being done in a vacuum, and we want to break this pattern.”

The process is simple: Open to any minority student currently enrolled in a design or architecture program, the entry requirement was a 500-word essay asking students to challenge the design industry and education system to make actual changes. Addressing actionable steps that universities and design firms can take to become more equitable places, as well as highlighting what will have the biggest impact on minority students looking to enter the field, the essays provide real-life insights into the future of design. They also showcase the next generation’s most coveted skills: empathy, imagination, ambiguity, iteration, creativity, and problem-solving. All essays are reviewed by select leadership of the IIDA Foundation Board of Trustees, IA, and are juried anonymously.

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Los Angeles IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship Celebration, image courtesy of IA Architects
Los Angeles IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship Celebration, image courtesy of IA Architects

“Addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion is critical for creating change and shaping the future of design,” adds IIDA Foundation Chair, Tara Headley, IIDA. “By providing this opportunity, students can participate in these defining conversations early on and bring greater awareness to the power of representation.” Recognizing the lack of exposure and representation as well as networks for mentoring and support in the design profession—especially in students and early-stage professionals—IA deemed it necessary to work toward elevating inclusivity, amplifying diverse voices, and ultimately creating a more just world for all.

“IA strongly values the opportunity to engage and exchange ideas with the next generation of designers and architects, while also conveying the legacy and impact that our profession has had on society at large,” says Kimberlyn Daniel, IA Chief People and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer.

When it comes to challenging the design industry with actionable steps toward change, students are at the forefront: “This scholarship signifies the importance of the design industry acknowledging diversity in design. It’s a wonderful initiative taken by IIDA and IA so that we can open up dialogue and start making changes to create a more equitable design industry,” says Farhath Ahmed, Student IIDA from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and winner of the 2021-22 IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship. “If students don’t see diversity in the future workplace and see that capable, senior, and talented folks never make it to the top they aren’t going to be as motivated to join an industry that doesn’t enable minority growth to the top levels,” she adds stressing the importance of representation in the field.

Second place winner Nadiri Wilson, Student IIDA from California State University Long Beach, is on the same page: “For the future, I wish for studio courses to have more African American and Latinx designers contributing to this industry. Having one black designer in a studio full of predominantly white and Asian designers does not make it diverse.”


Design is all around us—it doesn’t just show up in products, but also in services, in housing, in communities, and in how cities are built. Hence, diverse voices and perspectives are vital. As Ahmed puts it: “Equity in the design industry, firms and universities is an ongoing process and created through dialogue which must be ongoing.” It’s time we recognize that a lot of intelligence, creativity, and potential goes missing when you leave BIPOC designers out of design. The IA Diversity in Design Scholarship is without a doubt a step in that direction.

Applications for the 2022-23 IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship are now open with an extended deadline of December 9! Questions? Contact ​​foundation@iida.org.

Apply here

Lead Image: Photography courtesy of Garrett Rowland and IA Interior Architects

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