We immediately assembled an advisory board, which was essential. These professionals (two directors of college/university interior design programs, one current and one retired, and the president-elect of the American Society of Interior Design, New England Chapter) not only helped us spread the word to students but provided invaluable guidance on how to work with them, from structuring the assignment to defining the deliverables.
The judges panel included our advisors plus a representative from Jamestown real estate group, owner of the Boston Design Center; a principal at one of the most prominent architecture firms in the city; and a board member of the International Interior Design Association, all of whom lent credibility to the event with their participation.
BRANDING OUR LIGHTNING
I insisted on creating a brand and logo for the event separate from DNE. It was important to define this program as its own entity and as more substantial than a one-off. I was thinking of the years to come and how we could continue to build on Design Showdown the way Vanity Fair has done with New Establishment Summit and Boston magazine with Best of Boston, two highly successful event series.
The project challenge we gave to the students: Design a live/work space for a duplex apartment on Boston’s Newbury Street. And, identify and describe their fictional clients as a context for their design choices. For example, a 40-year-old active and outdoorsy single woman who wants her city dwelling to feel open. We provided the competitors with photographs, floor plans, and schematics of the space. From the more than 40 students who entered the first round, our judges selected eight finalists who were then invited to visit the Boston Design Center and “shop” for material samples to include on their presentation storyboards.
On the night of the event, with a large crowd and excitement in the air, each finalist pitched his or her detailed plan and fielded questions from our astute judges. After tallying the scores, we announced the winners — first place, runner-up, and people’s choice.
CASH FROM THE CLASH
There were many elements of Design Showdown that we needed to create, develop, scrap, refine, hide, and inflate during year one. It was the essence of fake it ‘til you make it. Not least of all was achieving sponsorship commitment. Here, the rubber met the road. Yes, you can name something and therefore it exists. You can call in some goodwill from people who believe in the importance of investing in the next generation. But, can you get good brands to put cold hard cash behind a year-one concept?
While DNE Editor Gail Ravgiala had been busy engaging the foremost local educational institutions for competitors, I was figuring out how we would position this to would-be investors and how we would price it. In the end, it wasn’t rocket science. The concept and the involvement of the Boston Design Center was enough to create a pull with sponsors. And smart marketers understand that if they’re going to survive for the long haul, they need to think not only about the clients they have today, but the clients they’ll need five years from now (aka today’s aspiring designers). With this event program, we’re giving businesses in this industry direct access to top students and, at the same time, broad exposure to a larger, fully engaged audience.