Topics: College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Immersive Learning

May 21, 2013

Interior design students present their finished work to client Easter Seals Crossroads
Interior design students present their finished work to Indianapolis-based client Easter Seals Crossroads.

Through the creation of its new University Design Center, Ball State's interior design program is providing students a level of professional work experience matched by few other accredited interior design programs in the country.

Ball State interior design students assist partners statewide, including retailers, hotels, offices and nonprofits in need of design concepts for their spaces. Working in teams, the students consult with clients and provide graphic solutions — everything from the layout of floor plans and ideas for lighting to suggestions for fixtures and furnishings — that can then be executed by professional designers.

"Typically, we mock up designs for imaginary clients and review those with our peers," said Zech Smith, a junior interior design major. "Working with professionals who actually value our input, offer us feedback and need our services? You can't put a price tag on an experience like this."

Smith was one of more than 20 upper-level interior design majors who spent the spring semester working with two clients through the University Design Center (UDC) and the university's Building Better Communities initiative. They included the Indianapolis offices of the nonprofit Easter Seals Crossroads and Muncie-based software company Ontario Systems LLC.

Executives at Ontario Systems solicited help from the students in overhauling the company's 35,000-square-foot office building. "What we have right now is a big, gray box," said Deborah Wright, human resources supervisor for Ontario Systems. "It was exciting to see how the students would infuse our offices with their bold design choices. It's helping us look at the space differently."

Of the nation's 150 accredited interior design programs, few, if any, colleges or universities have a center dedicated to these types of student design opportunities for commercial clients, says Reza Ahmadi, director of Ball State's interior design program. The students' experiences through the center allow for more collaborative, creative work than a typical internship.

"Interns with professional firms are usually given one task to do and aren't typically given the chance to interact with clients the way these students do," Ahmadi said. "Nor would they be involved with all phases of the design project in the same way, from beginning to end."

Any monetary gifts or grants from UDC's professional clients will be put toward the establishment of permanent offices for the center within the Applied Technology Building. Funds may also be used to help run the center and provide future scholarships for students of the program.

As UDC grows in reputation and scope of work, Ahmadi said, the goal is to partner with Indianapolis-based professional design firms whose employees can help the students by participating in critiques, presentations and feedback as they work on future projects.