CSU student shares lessons learned from the International Interior Design Association’s Rocky Mountain Chapter Design Charette

Two students try to balance their design awards on one hand as the progress forward in a playful way

Photos for this story courtesy of Cara Lefebvre Photography and IIDA Rocky Mountain Chapter.

Many students in the Colorado State University Interior Architecture and Design Program are a part of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) student group which holds several industry-focused events and opportunities throughout the year. Susan Hsin, an interior architecture and design student in CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising, was part of a team that won first place in a student design competition sponsored by IIDA.

IIDA Design Charette

In the fall semester, IIDA hosts a design charette for the Rocky Mountain Chapter where local student members work in small teams with students from other universities to respond to a design brief. They have a few hours to learn how to work together and create the deliverables. At the end of the day, the student groups must present their design solutions to a panel of judges. The student team that wins first place continues on to the Western Regional Student Design Charette in April.

Several students from CSU participated in the design charette. Congratulations to these incredible student teams who placed in the competition:

The Trading Post | 1st Place Student Team, advancing on to the Western Regional Student Design Charette in April 2023:
Susan Hsin, Colorado State University
Ria Hurst, Pikes Peak State College
Zining Zhu, Colorado State University

Runner Up Teams:

99% Invisible | Honorable Mention
Bergen Baucom, Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design
Christina Covell, Colorado State University
Rebecca Graese, Colorado State University
Teri Johnson, Pikes Peak State College

 Design For ALL
Stephany Ayala, Colorado State University
Jimmy Day III, Colorado State University
Catie Landeen, Colorado State University
Rachel Link, Front Range Community College

Competition experience

Hsin is a fourth-year student in the Interior Architecture and Design Program. She recently completed her senior capstone project and you can view her work in the 2022 IAD Virtual Student Show.

Hsin has also been a leader during her time at CSU. Not only is she the president of the IIDA CSU Campus Center, she was also chosen by her class to lead the planning of the class’s senior show alongside fellow senior Zoe Bullock.

Susan Hsin works on the design brief at her laptop
Susan Hsin works at her computer during the design charette. Photos by Cara Lefebvre Photography.

This year was Hsin’s second time participating in the design charette and also the second time she was a part of the team progressing to the regional presentation. She shared more about her experience, lessons learned, and encouragement for younger students.

Can you share more about the IIDA design charette process and what it entails?

Students from different programs across the state are split up into small groups and are given the opportunity to respond to a client. The brief includes an existing building shell with basic information, such as square footage, location, and any other important building details, along with the client’s general vision, needs, and wants for the design.

Teams are given three hours to meet the deliverable requirements. We spend this time figuring out how to best work as a team, followed by documenting our process on the drawing board, which can include everything from research, concept development, and inspiration images to 2D drawings, 3D perspectives, and a physical material palette.

When time is up, each team gets to present in front a panel of judges. After judges have some time to deliberate, a winning team is selected to represent the Rocky Mountain Chapter in the larger IIDA Regional Design Charette. It is a day full of fun, creativity, collaboration, and great food.

Can you talk a little bit about the last time you participated?

I have now participated in this event twice, the first being when I was a freshman in the IAD program. At the time, my design knowledge was limited compared to my group members who were much further along in their programs, some of whom already had some professional experience even, so my role on the team looked very different than it did in my most recent experience. Even though I may not have had as much technical knowledge and skills to offer, I was able to visually communicate our team’s ideas by contributing with my hand-sketching and rendering abilities.

The first time I participated, everything was to be delivered manually. We compiled a materials palette and organized our content on a poster board to present to the judges. Following our presentation, my team was selected as the winner that would continue onto the regional charette in San Francisco. I couldn’t (have been) more excited but was also nervous since the charette was scheduled to conflict with the IAD Design Scenario [a requirement for freshmen to continue on in the program] that year.

As Dr. Scolere and I were trying to figure out a solution for me to participate in both, COVID was changing the world around us, quickly. With all the uncertainty of how long the pandemic would postpone things, IIDA decided to cancel all charette events until further notice. I wasn’t able to go on the trip, but nonetheless, it was a very rewarding experience to be a part of when I was a freshman as I was extremely nervous for the Design Scenario coming up. A little unexpected bonus of this outcome was IIDA transferring all of the expenses they had already spent on our travels to us for our personal use. Silver linings to every situation!

Where will you go in April for the regional charette and what will that process be like?

My team from 2022 will be traveling together to Phoenix, Arizona, with Caroline Paris, IIDA Rocky Mountain Chapter’s VP of Student Affairs, to participate in the in the next exciting challenge. We will most likely be mixed-up with students from programs in other states, which will be another great opportunity to grow our skills in communication and collaboration with people we are not familiar with. It will be a larger event in the spring, and the winning team from the regional charette will move on to compete at nationals with the winners of other regions during NEOCON (the organization’s national conference).

What motivated you to participate?

I decided to sign up as a freshman to help ease my nerves for Design Scenario. When I first heard of this event, I thought it would be a great opportunity to replicate the environment that I was anticipating for the big day. It was a hard decision at first to invest in a professional organization that I knew hardly anything about while also not knowing if I even had a spot in CSU’s IAD Program. Looking back at it all, I think this event gets a lot of credit in boosting my confidence in my ability to perform well in Design Scenario.

Second time around, things have changed a lot. I’m in my last semester in the IAD program, leading the IIDA Student Campus Center at CSU, and have some more tools under my belt in the design world. I was so excited to share the positive experience with my board members and other students looking to get more involved with student organizations. The turnout was incredible, and we had a total of eight students spend their Saturday in Denver taking on this fun challenge. It was truly a full-circle experience to participate alongside my amazing team at CSU, and I’m excited to share that Zining Zhu, our board’s Graphic Design Chair, and I will be traveling to Phoenix together in April to compete in the regional competition.

What lessons did you learn from participating?

This is another one of those instances that understanding the context of a project and creating a strong foundation for a design team shines to be most important for the outcome. The outcomes were competitive, and all the teams had winning results in my opinion. After getting our results back and receiving feedback from the judging panel, they told me that what set our project apart from the others was our attention to the context, our strong connection to place, and our thoughtful context that wove together all of our work.

This event has a special place in my heart because it reminds me of how rewarding it can be to take those chances of stepping out of our comfort zones to grow. I lacked all confidence and was pretty terrified of the possible outcomes of Design Scenario as a freshman if I am being completely honest, and attending this event changed my trajectory before I even knew it. Experiencing discomfort in the presence of ambiguity is sometimes the ticket we need to become a better version of ourselves, and this is one of the many amazing moments in my academic career where I fully felt that.

The group of local students from all teams pose for a picture for the design charette

About IIDA

The International Interior Design Association is a member-based interior design organization that “considers the power of design in making space, creating change, and building better, more inclusive, brighter (more equitable) future for all.” It includes professional, associate, educator, and student memberships.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.