Q&A with Jessica Williams

Posted on May 13, 2020 in Blog, featured


IIDA VAWV reached out to Jessica Williams, a seasoned designer and IIDA member, to offer advice to anyone in our chapter/industry that may be feeling a little uneasy about the state of the economy. 

1. Were you working in the industry during the 2008 recession? If so, what advice can you offer to designers that are graduating or to designers that may be in their first five years of their career?

JW: I graduated in 2008. Fortunately, I was already working in a small hospitality firm and was able to continue working. The majority of my classmates did not have this luxury and many went on to work in different fields. My advice would be don’t be afraid to try something that may not have been on your radar. Any skills you can gain will be of value and may have a larger impact on your resume than you may have originally planned for. Be flexible and diversify!

2. When the market negatively shifts, have you noticed some specialty areas get hit harder than others? For example, many would assume that residential design declines more than the commercial design industry – but within commercial design (retail, healthcare, hospitality, corporate office) is there a discipline that usually gets hit first?

JW: I would say the service industry usually gets hit the hardest. Hospitality designers have to really watch the industry closely. If we are in a recession people’s finances aren’t as readily available for luxury spending. The hotels aren’t going to be booked as frequently and the lavish dinners out will also cut back.

3. Many people assume that interior designers either work in an interiors firm, architecture firm or furniture dealer. But during the 2008 recession, many designers that lost their job, found new jobs, in alternative positions and companies, but were still using their design skills. Do you know of a few alternative career paths designers can be hopeful for?

JW: Yes I know a few of my classmates that now work in the industry but as event planners. Some on their own and others within companies. Their design skillset provides them with an eye for detail, organization, and people skills that all come into play while planning and setting up events. One of my classmates works for a well-known hotel and handles all of their music events. Other options include residential organizational business, helping people organize and design certain areas of their homes. Retail window design is also another avenue that using a design skillset. Creating vignettes to aid in the sale of products.

4. As you can imagine, it’s easy to get anxious and stress about the unknown. But what are some ways designers can channel that nervous energy into their work?

JW: I’d recommend using this time to connect with your industry. Participate in as many zoom conference calls, conversations as you can. Really listen to what the senior level designers are providing as insight. The majority of them have lived through several cycles of recessions or stressful world events. There is always a nugget of information that you can take away and add to your arsenal of knowledge.

5. For all of the designers that are independently contracted or own their own firm, would you say this is the time for them to take risks or to play it safe? For example, is this the time for firms to go after the ‘safe’ choice for a project or go after a project that may cost a little more money upfront, but will not only challenge their team to critically design but also have a huge return on investment simply from the marketing of their project bringing in new business?

JW: I would definitely stay on track with your safe bets, but also allow time to explore options and work on diversifying yourself. When the industry turned in 2008, many people learned new skills or ventures into sectors that they didn’t already work with to allow for them to capture revenue that they would have been able to gain had they stayed on their normal path. Never stop learning and growing your skill. You never know when you may need to switch things up a bit.

Durning quarantine Jessica has been spending quality time with her family. Her daughter is a senior and will be going to an out of state to college in the fall so she is taking advantage of all the extra time she have with her at home. 

Fun Fact: Jessica met John Travolta in 2003 when he landed his airplane at the USCG Air Station that her husband was assigned to!