GCA assistant to the directors, Camille Germany (C), sat down OU interior design alumnus, Avery Smith (A), to discuss her journey into the interior design world! Read on for highlights, or click the link below to access the full podcast. 

C: Hi, Avery. How are you doing? 

A: I’m good. Thanks for having me.  

C: Yes, of course. I was wondering if you could start off by telling me what brought you to OU and why interior design?  

A: I was born and raised in Oklahoma, I’m from a small town right outside of Tulsa, so it was an easy choice as far as choosing a college to attend. For picking my major, I went in as a PR major. I quickly realized my freshman year that the lectures with 150 people were not going to be for me, so I went to my advisor, and I explained that I need something more hands-on. I need something more creative. My advisor presented architecture to me and I was like I think this would be great for me. When I understood the technical aspects that came with interior design, and how it was very much in alignment with architecture. That’s kind of how I stumbled into the profession. I had a really good experience with it.  

C: What were your favorite things about the interior design program?  

A: One of my favorite things was the tight community. I think that’s something a lot of my friends who had different majors were still lacking. I really enjoyed being a part of a community. That was my favorite part. I think I had such a personal relationship with my professors and the people that were teaching in the College of Architecture.  

C: Were there any obstacles or hurdles you faced to complete your degree and find a job? And if so, how did you overcome them?  

A: Everyone in the college can attest to having several obstacles and things that got in their way. It really prepares you better for your end goal, which is to be placed in a good job and be able to thrive there. For me, it was a time management thing. I worked in college; I worked in the Dean Suite for my last semester, which was awesome and super convenient for me. Outside of that one semester was like living the dream, a perfect part-time job in school. I’m also a freelance photographer and videographer. When I was in school, those four years was probably when I was the busiest. That was a huge obstacle for me. It helped to prepare me for juggling a lot of different things, having to, in a sense, please a lot of different kinds of people and communicate with different kinds of people. So that was my biggest thing was just time management and learning how to communicate at such a young age to get my job done for several different people and get it done to the best of my ability.  

C: I know this is such an important topic. So, I would love to hear your perspective on diversity within the industry. Can you talk a little bit about that?  

A: I think you can go several different directions with it, but it’s an issue in our industry. We can see what’s going on in the world in America. Right now, the spotlight is on our country for just awareness around minorities and how they might experience life a little bit differently. I know some numbers show that only 2% of licensed architects in the US are black 478 out of the around 2000 licensed architects are women. That is a very low number. In 2017, only 6.3% of the US interior design degrees are awarded to black Americans. Those numbers are jaw-dropping for me, as a minority in the profession. When you see statistics like that, it’s interesting and it goes further than you know. We ask ourselves; how can we foster more opportunities for minority students in school? So they are able to feel like this is something that’s attainable for them. It is most areas that do not the resources, and not the best academic resources, and not the best funding. Those students are overwhelmingly minorities. I’ve had a lot of talks recently with Elizabeth Pober, who is the director of the interior design program at OU, about how we can kind of work to fix this issue. I was a working student, in most cases, your working students in your program are going to be minorities and people of color. So if they’re feeling like they’re between a rock and a hard place, and they have to drop out because of them having to pay for their own college pay, for their own bills, pay for their own car, their own textbooks. How can educators and schools figure out a way to better prepare those students? So they don’t feel like their only option is to drop out of a program. We are still trying to figure out how to solve this problem.

C: That’s so amazing that you’re doing that work. Thank you so much. You’ve spent a few years in the profession now. Could you tell me a little bit more about what workplace design is and why it’s important?  

A: Yeah, so I’m in workplace design, and essentially what that means is any company that is trying to create a better working environment for their employees.  As far as what’s important, I think everyone’s affected by workplace design. If you’re working for a company, you’re going into an office every single day, nine to five, you’re affected by workplace design. You can ask yourself: are you happy or sad to be there? Is it well lit? Is there a lot of windows?  I think in some way, shape, or form, everyone’s affected by workplace design, and they don’t even realize it. I feel like the industry has evolved a lot. That goes back to what I said at the very beginning, people are becoming more aware of what interior design is and what exactly that entails.  It’s a lot more extensive than that and it really focuses on the human experience. 

C: Are there any recent or ongoing projects that are particularly exciting or interesting to you?  

A: I am working right now on a project for a data company, which doesn’t sound that exciting. Except that the owners are these two brothers who have an amazing sense of style, and they have a great taste. That’s where the fun part of the job comes in. Then you get to do the part that people see on TV or what they probably think of when they think of interior design. It’s been really challenging, but I think it’s going to be so rewarding. Instead of having a reception, they’re having an art gallery when you enter. That’s one that I’m particularly kind of wrapping up right now and really excited about.  

C: Yeah, that’s cool. What are your creative practices outside of design or work? And how do they help you?  

A: Like I said, I am a freelance photographer and videographer and I’ve been doing that for about five or six years now. I’ve taken a step back from it, since I started working full time, just because of working for myself in college and being in school and just having the demand of that on me. I could have done the full-time entrepreneur thing, but I really wanted to try out design and I’m really glad that I did.  

C: Do you have any advice for current interior design students, or those who may be considering a career in interior design.? 

A: So those who may be considering going into interior design, I would say to do your research and understand what it is that so much more than what people think. I understand not everyone has access to do that. I think one thing that you absolutely can do though, even if you don’t have access to other professionals in the field right now is reach out to faculty that’s currently at the College of Architecture. I know that everyone there would just be so happy to hear from someone who’s considering it and would love to take out some time to speak to them and break it down exactly what they’re kind of getting themselves into. For people who are in it now, keep going, know that you love it and know why you love it now because you’re going to have to keep reminding yourself of that outside of school. I think everyone must do that no matter what profession they’re in. 

C: Is there anything else you’d like to add?  

A: Just really savor the time you’re in school right now because you do miss it. I know the relationships that are being built will be with you forever. So really cherish the time because it’s such a special time. 

C: Thank you so much, Avery, for taking time out of your day to talk to me worse, and thanks for your work in the field and for sharing your perspective and experiences with us.  

A: Of course, thank you so much for thinking of me. I’m glad I got to do this.  

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity