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A Conversation with IIDA’s Student of the Year: Tyler Hatton

November 13, 2020

The future of design is in the hands of our students. This week, we’re exploring that topic with Tyler Hatton, a 2020 graduate of The Ohio State University’s interior design program and this year’s winner of the IIDA Student of the Year Award. Sponsored by OFS, this award recognizes an IIDA Student Member who significantly impacted his or her school’s interior design program through outstanding leadership, insight and involvement.

During his time at Ohio State, Tyler received first place in the IIDA Student Design Charette at NeoCon and has won several other design competitions. Tyler has held positions with BHDP Architecture and L Brands and has spoken and presented at several interior design events, including the IIDA Chapter Leadership Council this past February.

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We recently spoke with Tyler about his pursuit of a design career, how the pandemic affected his senior year and where he finds inspiration. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

KI: What inspired you to enter the interior design profession?

Tyler Hatton: Growing up, I was interested in design before I even really knew what it was. I was always drawing layouts of my parents’ house and doodling on the back of church bulletins. Family members gave me computer programs where I could design houses. In high school, I took a CAD class, which made me think about becoming an architect. I was ultimately steered toward doing something more “practical,” so I studied business for my undergraduate degree. When I had an internship in Paris, I was really inspired by all of the historic and modern architecture and by art museums and other public spaces. I decided that’s what I wanted to be doing -- creating spaces and creating beauty in the world. So, I decided to go back to school, this time for a degree in interior design.

KI: What were the factors you considered when selecting schools of interior design?

Hatton: I thought about going to school somewhere far away, but then I considered that it might be nice to have a familiar environment while navigating a new experience. I learned that Ohio State had an interior design undergraduate program, which I didn’t know existed during my time there. Since I had already taken the general education classes, I knew that I could go to Ohio State and really focus on the design classes I wanted to take.

KI: You took on a leadership role in a student chapter of IIDA very early in your time at Ohio State. What factors directed you to take on those additional challenges as a student?

Hatton: I have always been drawn to some type of leadership role in my various activities. I take on a personal sense of responsibility for things I do and for organizations I’m in. I want to do my best, and I want the group as a whole to do its best. That said, I didn’t seize a lot of leadership opportunities in business school. I wanted to make the most of my “redo” to demonstrate my passion for design, to be a leader and to meet new people.

KI: How will your leadership in the student chapter of IIDA influence your professional career?

Hatton: I’ve made great connections with both students and professionals throughout the organization. I’ve met people with whom I can see myself connecting for a lifetime. Through IIDA, I attended a student professional development conference in Texas where I met another student. A few months later, we met again at NeoCon. Growing your network is such an important benefit of being part of an organization like IIDA. I believe that the more involved you are, the more you get out of the experience.

KI: Educators play such a critical role in student success. Are there any stories you want to share about educators who made an impact on you during your time at Ohio State?

Hatton: I was fortunate to have a lot of great educators throughout my studies at Ohio State, particularly in design. One drawing instructor, Michael Kellner, gave us the space to grow personally and artistically. Rather than just drawing, we would talk about different events in the art and design community or how people express themselves. He really cared about what students were going through as people.

The one professor who’s made the biggest difference in my life is Rebekah Matheny. When I met her, she was vice president of student relations for the Ohio/Kentucky Chapter at IIDA and the IIDA Ohio State faculty adviser. She’s really passionate about helping students grow and reach their full potential, and she thinks it’s critical for students to learn from professionals as well as faculty. She works that into a lot of the IIDA events she organizes. Personally, she has always pushed me to try different things and inspired me to put my best work and self out there. She encouraged me to pursue design competitions, IIDA events and scholarships. It was really because of her leadership and guidance that I even considered applying in the first place. She’s someone who I can really count on.

KI: You graduated during the COVID pandemic and your senior year was different as a result. For instance, the Interior Design program’s Senior Show -- traditionally attended by design professionals as a means of getting feedback from folks in the industry -- happened online instead. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?

Hatton: It was crazy. When the pandemic hit, we were getting ready for our Senior Show. We were certainly not expecting to go on spring break and never come back again. Everyone was taking a collaborative course that mixes interior design, graphic design and industrial design. That had its own challenges. Sometimes, we sat on FaceTime calls for three hours just so we could actually be working together instead of doing work independently and then sharing it afterwards.

The Senior Show is something that every student in our department looks forward to, ever since they’re admitted into the program. Most people love to share their work, thought processes and story. The show also presents an opportunity for feedback from the design community. Because everything with the pandemic happened so quickly, the senior show was moved to a website. It was challenging because it wasn’t a live event, so there wasn’t an opportunity to get feedback or present ourselves to professionals in the industry. There was no way to guarantee that professionals were going to look at the website and then reach out to students about their work.

KI: Do you think we should continue with distanced or hybrid learning? What do you recommend that faculty do or change about the curriculum or professional development opportunities?

Hatton: It’s so tricky, because everyone learns differently. Some people might enjoy not having to be in class in person. For group projects in a virtual setting, faculty could consider pairing students based on their preferences or comfort level. Students who feel okay with a one-on-one meeting at a park or coffee shop could do so, while students who want to communicate via Zoom can do that as well.

If the Senior Show continues to be online, maybe faculty can arrange so that projects are sent to different firms or professionals. They can set up Zoom calls where the professional and student can exchange feedback. That experience would more closely resemble what the actual showcase would look like.

KI: Likewise, do you have any advice for students learning during COVID?

Hatton: Do something to get yourself into the mindset that you are doing design work. That was sometimes my struggle. Before the pandemic, I liked to get up, get ready and leave the house for hours -- almost days, sometimes it seemed -- and then I got home. Once the pandemic hit, I had to do things at home to get into the right mindset. I would wake up, exercise and do my whole morning routine as if I was still getting ready to leave. But then I would log on at my computer and get to work. I tried to avoid turning my TV on until 7 p.m. Find whatever you need to do to get into that mindset and stick to it.

KI: Do you think that adjusting to a pandemic will influence you as an interior designer? Will it impact your approach to the built environment or how you might engage with clients?

Hatton: I think the pandemic will absolutely impact space planning and programming. I expect designers will focus on layouts that support social distancing and products that help encourage that. People used to ask, “How many people can we get into a room?” Now, the question is “How spread out can we make people for this space or activity?” I also think there will be a focus on flexible and versatile spaces.

KI: It appears retail and sustainability are your focus and passion. How do you see your career opportunities moving forward?

Hatton: Right now, things might be a little slow. But I think retail will pick back up because people want to go out and do things. There’s going to be a lot of work to do in these public spaces with regard to safety. Many current measures are temporary, like stickers on the ground with arrows to direct people. We’re going to design more long-term solutions that adapt to when we need to be more conscious of social distancing and when we don’t need to focus on that as much.

KI: Are there any notable sustainable or retail projects that inspire you?

Hatton: Beauty and cosmetic stores seem to set the bar for me, in terms of how they use technology in stores, how they approach sustainability and how they create the customer experience. The Lush store in Tokyo has a track around the whole store with bath bombs passing by shoppers on a conveyor belt. When you walk into an Aesop store, one of the employees has you wash your hands, offers you tea and so forth. Maybe it’s because beauty products are something you’re taking into your home, putting on your skin or ingesting. It’s the intimacy of the experience.

From a sustainable aspect, I always look to Aesop. Each store location speaks not only to the brand but to its specific geographic location with a focus on using local materials.

There’s a lot of competition in the beauty industry, and brands must find ways to differentiate. I find that they’re always ahead of the curve.

KI: What does sustainability mean to you?

Hatton: For me, sustainability goes beyond “being green” or using local materials. Sustainability is a holistic approach to design that doesn’t negatively impact economic, social or environmental systems. It hopefully improves those systems. Sustainability means looking at the life cycle of a building, space, product or service and ensuring it’s a closed-loop system that generates no waste at all.

Interestingly, the last sustainable project I designed was for a leather goods company. We sourced leather from the meat and dairy industry, so the entire cow was being used. Scrap leather from the bags we created can be reused for other projects. The leather biodegrades naturally and safely into the earth. It’s a good example of how to use the entire resource and avoid waste.

KI: We would also welcome your thoughts around inclusion and diversity. How will the next generation of designers address these issues? Do you see a different conversation or engagement around these topics?

Hatton: As designers, we’re used to designing for other people and we do our best to be inclusive in the spaces we create. But to really design inclusively, we have to design with all people, hear all voices and work together to build equitable spaces. Going forward, I hope that there will be more diversity in design groups and decision-making groups. I hope that colleges and firms continue to discuss these issues -- not just right now because it’s a hot topic. Colleges can have diversity and design courses. Firms can dedicate a team for diversity on design projects. Having the right curriculum and organizational changes will encourage diversity within the design industry and the spaces that humans use.

KI: Do you have any advice for students first entering the field of interior design?

Hatton: Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to fail. When I entered the field, I was terrified because I didn’t consider myself an artistic person. I didn’t think I was creative. I was sometimes afraid to ask for help. Put yourself out there. Try new things, talk to new people and explore new ideas. One of my courses taught us, “Don’t be afraid to fail forward.” If you’re not failing, then you’re not learning. Learn from your mistakes and keep going.

The Future of Design

A few weeks ago, we had the honor of interviewing IIDA’s 2020 Educator of the Year, Katherine Ankerson, about the future of design education. If you enjoyed this blog post, we encourage you to check out our conversation with Katherine as well.

by KI Furniture 

KI manufactures innovative furniture and wall system solutions for education, healthcare, government and corporate markets.

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