bhb interview no. 1: rita dielle
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Commercial interior design, starting your own firm, resources for the hospitality industry, & advice on the ncidq
The first guest of blue hour blush: the interview series is Interior Designer and co-founder of Defined ID Design, Rita Dielle. In today’s post, we discuss the ins and outs of commercial Interior Design, starting her own firm, special resources for the hospitality industry, and advice on the NCIDQ. We’ll also find out the hottest Dallas hotel pre-COVID-19, and what designers really think of HGTV.
Amidst the chaos of 2020 and my first semester of grad school, I’ve been working on the newest section of blue hour blush: the interview series. The goal of this series is to be a resource for design inspiration, industry knowledge, and advice for students. Stay tuned for more interviews coming soon.
After weeks of telling myself to put grad school to the side and set up cold informational interviews to meet designers in my new city, I had a serendipitous situation fall right into my lap. A friend in the industry, Sarah of Sarah Jacquelyn Interiors, reached out to connect me with Rita Dielle, a Dallas designer she’d recently met. They’d met through the NCIDQ - Sarah is an NCIDQ ambassador, and Rita Dielle was studying for the practicum (before it was cancelled due to COVID-19). Back in February when brunch was still an option, she and I met at the Hudson House and I got to learn more about life in the industry, the nuances of hospitality design, what to expect when studying for the NCIDQ, and more.
Our conversation reminded me of the importance of informational interviews. Rita Dielle validated some of my hunches about where I wanted to go in my own career path, and we were able to speak in depth about concepts that are less well known among students and difficult to decipher from internet research.
First off, we discussed the ins and outs of what she did on the daily in the purchasing and design departments of ForrestPerkins. ForrestPerkins is an international design firm specializing in hospitality, and yes, Rita Dielle definitely made an impression on me when she mentioned where she worked. The new-to-me firm had gone straight to the top of my career wish list when I’d heard a speaker from the firm share the keynote address at an ASID SCALEX student event in Chicago last year.
Update: Since speaking in February, Rita Dielle has gone on to establish her own interior design firm, Defined ID Design. The Dallas-based firm was co-founded by Interior Designer and fellow ForrestPerkins alumna, Michelle Mallette, and offers both design and purchasing services.
Although she loves design, she also discovered a passion for purchasing. As someone trained in Interior Design, she entered ForrestPerkins through their Design team. After getting more experience within Purchasing, she realized that she loved the faster pace and more analytical nature of that team. From what I’ve seen, it’s common for designers to disperse throughout the industry as they get more experience with different roles. Not everyone stays in the sector of design where they started from - and that’s not only expected, but exciting. It uplifts the entire industry when the rest of the network has an intimate understanding of how the design process can best function. And, in Rita Dielle’s case, it broadened her understanding of the industry and allowed her to add more expertise to her design practice in the establishment of her own design firm.
So: what is Purchasing, and how does it differ from Design? Both teams are integral parts of a design firm. Using the design they’ve created, the design team compiles a spec book for each project. The spec book contains all of the items listed in the design, and is then given to the purchasing team. Purchasing is responsible for gathering quotes for each item, creating a budget approved by the client, problem solving any issues that arise during production, maintaining the project timeline, tracking warehouse inventory, and coordinating with consultants to make sure the install runs smoothly. Fun fact: the design team and the purchasing team have separate, distinct contracts within each project.
Rita Dielle maintains that the Purchasing side is more of an adrenaline rush for her, which she loves. Even though she finds it more exciting, it doesn’t leave her feeling exhausted. As she was describing her satisfaction with Purchasing and how it differed from her love of Design, I drew the parallel between maximizing vs. satisficing. Maximizers want to choose the absolute perfect outcome, even if it exhausts them or causes them to second guess each time a new option comes up. On the other hand, satisficers are more likely to desire an outcome that meets their needs, and stop re-opening the search once they’ve found the optimal option.
For Rita Dielle, it appeared that Design was like maximizing and Purchasing was more like satisficing. She gets to make the right choices for the client without endlessly searching and re-evaluating design decisions, which can be exhausting and minimizes the adrenaline rush she craved from her day to day tasks. That being said, she still loves to flex her design muscle - hence the reason why she established her own firm.
Her top advice:
Don’t take the first exam as soon as you become eligible unless you’re sure you’re ready to take all 3 exams. The reason for this is that you have to pass all 3 exams within the span of 5 years, and it’s perfectly common for designers to fail an exam section at least once, because each test is extremely hard. See the average passing rates here. The way the exams have to be spaced out makes little room for multiple failures, which deters many design graduates from becoming RID.
Which exam is the hardest? In her opinion, that’s the Professional Exam (and the link above confirms her stance). The PX is round 2 out of 3, and it’s multiple choice, just like the Fundamentals Exam (FX). While the Practicum (exam 3) is also hard, she mentioned that it should be better now that it’s done on the computer instead of by hand. She clarified that it’s a mix of drag and drop answers, calculations, and more.
Although it’s incredibly hard, it’s still worth it for every designer to try to become RID. Being RID holds the entire industry to a higher standard, and getting the certifications that prove your technical background helps you set yourself apart from designers who practice in the less technical side of Interior Design.
Being RID sets you apart in the hospitality industry as well, where it’s just as common to come across RID designers as designers who aren’t registered.
While we’re discussing different types of interior designers, it’s worth examining the differences between the lines of work any given interior designer can engage in. More on that will be coming to blue hour blush soon. One thing all Interior Designers seem to have in common? Surprise, surprise: how they really feel about HGTV. I was shocked when I heard this the first time, but Rita Dielle confirmed yet again that designers are put off by the network (pls, no one tell my mom). Specifically, they’re unnerved by how much of the design process HGTV has to skip to package the shows into neat little episodes for viewers. As a result, viewers don’t get a clear picture of how much work goes into each project, and how it’s not just something that anyone can jump into without time and grit. It simultaneously idolizes the designer, while also devaluing the effort that designers work tirelessly to be acknowledged for. This is even more of a blow considering many designers work in architecture firms and are actively working to make Interior Design become even more technical and intertwined with Architecture.
It’s hard to navigate these nuances of the industry as a young designer without much experience, and it can be even harder as a student with no idea where to turn for reliable information. This is one of the many ways industry specific organizations come in handy. These organizations are also a great way to meet designers in your area, learn more about facets within the industry when you’re a student, or get volunteering experience for your resume. I met with both ASID and IIDA Chicago chapter leadership members when I was first getting started, and this was how I found my first internship that began my career pivot into Interior Design. ASID is for all designers, and can be made up largely of residential designers depending on the chapter. IIDA is explicitly for commercial designers.
So, what does a designer do if they’re interested in the hospitality industry, which has key components of both residential and commercial design?
This is where Rita Dielle came through again. She shared an organization with me that works specifically with the hospitality industry, so designers in that field don’t have to split themselves between different organizations. It’s called The Hospitality Industry Network (NEWH), and there are chapters all over the US. The best part? It’s totally free for students to join, which neither ASID nor IIDA can claim.
Speaking of the hospitality industry: there are tons of great hotels in Dallas to check out if you’re interested in getting into that part of Interior Design. In fact, before COVID-19 largely shut the hotel industry down, Rita Dielle told me that Dallas designers were flocking to check out the Virgin Hotel Dallas, which had been anticipated since its announcement in 2015. Richard Branson himself even rode a white stallion guided by Miss Texas on the site when it broke ground in the Design District in 2016. Talk about a spectacle.
Rita Dielle is one of the founders of Defined ID Design, a Dallas-based interior design firm established with co-founder Michelle Mallette in 2020. You can find out more about the duo and their firm on instagram: @definediddesign.