IU design student: ‘It was so cool to work with real clients’

A project to redesign the inside of a historic Indianapolis theater handed third-year interior design students real-world experience.

Part of IU’s interior design program in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, the project helped students gain know-how while sharing their skills with the broader community.

IU students present ideas

IU students Rachel Dyer, Melinda Nagel and Emily Haden present theater design solutions to Footlite Musical board members, instructors and peers.

“Usually we only present our ideas to our professor or to each other, so it’s a huge deal to present to a real audience,” junior Rachel Dyer said. Emily Haden, also a junior, echoed her class partner’s thoughts: “It’s a condensed timeline, so it was a lot of work, but it was so cool to work with real clients. We got to present our ideas and receive feedback, which is something we’ve never had before. I feel like this is actually preparing me for what I want to do in real life.”

Professor Barb Young said she was approached last semester by Footlite Musicals, based in the Hedback Theater in the city’s Herron-Morton historic district, inquiring about working with IU students for ideas about a full renovation including lobby and house space, a new commercial kitchen, restrooms and additional theater space.

“It’s a win-win,” Young said. “For our students, the experience is really the most valuable part. But for our partners, they’re able to utilize the creativity of these students to receive conceptual designs.”

Previous classes have offered redesign ideas for the interior of a steakhouse, a consignment shop and a Bloomington-based elementary school library, she said.

Young reminds clients who work with students they’ll receive conceptual plans, and recommends they hire a professional firm to implement the plan. In addition, she said, she sometimes modifies a client’s actual needs to include elements she feels will strengthen the learning experience — requiring the addition of an ADA compliant restroom, for example, or asking that students showcase sustainable design features.

Sometimes, Young said, clients choose a favorite design publicly — a “win” that doesn’t net students anything other than the joy of seeing their work selected — while others morph elements from several groups into one design. Still others merely say thank you and walk away, leaving professor and students alike a little bit curious about what happened next, just like they might in the real world.

For students like Dyer and Haden, however, the project centered on trying to turn a concept into a cohesive style. For example, the two struggled to find the perfect harmony between the Art Deco- and industrial-style lighting elements they’d chosen.

“There’s a lot of history in the theater, and we don’t want to totally remove that,” Haden said. “But we want to bring a new, fresh twist to its look. It’s a delicate balance, and so fascinating.”

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