What I Learned About Corporate Design from My Summer Internship

Interns Amy Kent and Tiffany Madsen in a design charette at IA Interior Architects' Chicago office. Photo by Oliver Aguilar.
Interns Amy Kent and Tiffany Madsen in a design charette at IA Interior Architects’ Chicago office. Photo by Oliver Aguilar.

When beach vacations, ice cream breaks, and internships are seasonally ubiquitous, IA hosts qualified members of the design community’s emerging professionals who aim for an enriching, expansive experience in a fun and personable environment. For the summer of 2014, Amy Kent, University of Arkansas, and Tiffany Madsen, University of Northern Iowa, worked in IA’s Chicago office to learn more about interior architecture, design, and occupancy health through project exposure for clients including GE Capital, William Blair, AON, Pinnacle Advertising, LinkedIn, McDonald’s, and JLL.

Amy Kent

I grew up with a love of all things art and design and when it came time to decide on a major, the only thing I could imagine doing was interior design. My sophomore year I had a (thankfully) brief lapse of judgment and changed my major to Biology – Pre-med. I was three weeks into Chemistry 1 when I realized interior design really was where I belonged and changed back right away.

I had no clue what to expect when I started working at IA. I didn’t know what my responsibilities would include, if my skillset would be enough, and how I would fit in with the people and culture in both the office and city. My perception has been opened to all that corporate design entails and has guided me in seeking a future career here.

Tiffany Madsen

I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and was introduced to interior design in high school by my fashion teacher, who encouraged me to take design courses that explore other creative aspects. My response was no; I would never be an interior designer. Two years later, I’d declared a major in interior design.

In my first few years at college I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my purpose and future in the industry and weighing how much good design truly impacts people’s lives. Exploring the different areas in the industry through my courses, I felt that corporate design was my niche. I loved the creativity that it provided, and the impact it has on people who spend more time at their desk than they do at home. Being at IA has proven my point to be true and has solidified my decision in this career path.

R, black top: Tiffany Madsen; L, flowered top: Amy Kent. Photos by Oliver Aguilar.
R, black top: Tiffany Madsen; L, flowered top: Amy Kent. Photos by Oliver Aguilar.

AK: I was told in my interview that the culture at IA is unique. At the time, I nodded my head in agreement but after spending three months here, I realize just how true that really is. The people I worked with aren’t just interested in getting a project completed and running through the same five-step program over and over. They really strive to understand the client and challenge them in exploring what it is their people and culture need. And everyone is so supportive of one another: If you are here working late, someone will stay and help you meet that deadline.

TM: There are genuine relationships between co-workers both in and outside of work. Even as an intern, I have felt so included in that and a part of this team. The amount of work each and every person puts into their projects and the enjoyment they express is inspirational. Sometimes as designers we forget how cool our job is. We get to be creative every day in so many facets, yet each decision we make impacts multiple individuals whether we realize it or not.

The pressure to be innovative yet tactful is something I’ve seen across the board in the industry, but IA is able to push its clients into trying new things and sees positive results from that.

Photo by Oliver Aguilar.
Photo by Oliver Aguilar.

AK: We were given the opportunity to be involved in a workplace strategies roundtable and it was so interesting getting to be a part of another aspect of the process—I hadn’t even realized the importance of that component before coming here! In putting together the strategies report, it was so eye-opening to compare what we thought the expected results would be, to what the results actually were.