Welcome to IIDA Northlands first Blog Post of Community Pop! We are thrilled to introduce this Q+A style blog post, featuring incredible members of our wider IIDA Northland team, with each interviewee nominating the next month’s interviewee. This month we are featuring the Past President of IIDA Northland, Megan Duffy who is interviewed by Caitlin Wolff. We invite you to come back next month where we introduce the Community Pop Podcast with another exciting interviewee, nominated by this months Megan Duffy!
Caitlin: Megan, how do you take your coffee?
Megan: I cannot drink it black, so I always have to have sugar and cream of some sort – usually coconut milk or almond milk. If I’m going to treat myself or I’m at the airport – then maybe something special. The espresso at Fluid, just by itself, is pretty dynamite!
C: Cheers! So Megan, tell me about your career path and how you came to your role today.
M: I did not have awareness of what a commercial or residential interior designer was as a child. I was always drawn to art, I spent a lot of time coloring and drawing as a kid, I even tried to sell my drawings at the end of my driveway once. I was always rearranging things, I loved problem solving. Somehow I got turned onto the idea of Interior Design in college. So once I figured it out, I actually had to switch schools because the school I was going to didn’t have a design program. So I switched to the Art Institute International. Through that I was exposed to commercial design. I got an internship at what was then Ellerbe Beckett (now AECOM) and just fell in love with it. There I got to see what the world of commercial design really was, and also got to meet some great people. It was my first introduction to IIDA, back then there was a student rep to the board position, and someone that I worked with at Ellerbe said “You should join us!” I had no idea what it was and I just said yes. I’m so glad that I did. I met a lot of people through my time at IIDA, especially as a student. I wouldn’t have known anybody else. It gave me an opportunity to engage in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
After my internship at Ellerbe, I finished up at school at a smaller architecture school where it was big A, little I – and learned a ton but found that I wasn’t able to advance my career as much. I didn’t have that design mentor (I was working for the architect). Someone I knew had moved over to BDH that I had worked with. She said you’ll love it here – and so I moved to BDH and I was there for 15 years. It was the bulk of my career at a firm that was founded by a woman, owned by women until fairly recently – with a focus on big I, little a as we said. There was one architect there, now there are many – but It really had an interior design focus. I took on a lot of responsibility and portions of a role that I probably wouldn’t have at that point in my career if I was at a large firm and instead filling a pretty small portion of a role on a project.
So that brings me to now – at Fluid. I have been at fluid for about two years. The beauty of this role is that I do get the creative portion – gives me more leadership and business-facing opportunities which became a big part of my role at BDH. And I found that while I love design, there’s so many other aspects to the business of design that I enjoy. My role at Fluid is the Director of Creative and Client Services. It’s three buckets:
Leadership Team – we’re an EOS company. BDH was as well, and I have an experience as an integrator)
Client Services – using my design background to deliver innovative processes to the market, make sure that client experience is wonderful and focusing on our internal process.
Creative Services – continuing to be that thought leader, working with Haworth, and how our position and brand is in the market. I get to spend time writing as well, that is a passion of mine but I didn’t have a lot of time for before.
C: And how did this journey bring you to IIDA Northland and the executive committee?
M: I participated in a few different things with IIDA. First there was a Community Outreach program, we partnered with People Serving People – I co-chaired with Lisa Kirkbride and solicited donations to get the spaces renovated. I also became pretty involved in in Midlac – which, some people newer to the industry might not be familiar to that legislative action committee, it’s a cohort between IIDA, ASID, instructors and professionals. Before I was thinking about this industry, people had worked really hard to get certification title practice act in Minnesota. We were continuing to push forward in that realm. Through that, I continued to interface with IIDA and took on the role of VP of Government and Regulatory Affairs (now the Advocacy Committee) and had great mentors in that. I learned a lot about our legislative process. I was toying with moving onto the executive committee but at the time, I was getting married and having a baby. And while I say yes to a lot of things, I always want to excel, so I thought this seems like a bad time to take this on. I stepped back and focused on family for a bit and it was always a bucket list item. I have gained a lot in the organization. I feel where I’m at in my career that the executive committee was an area where I could add a lot of value. And ironically coming after Mari, and Rebecca coming after me, and we all followed each other in the GRA position before, I went to school with Rebecca. It’s a fun time to be part of the committee.
C: Isn’t that so true about this industry that truly everyone has a connection – whether you went to college together or grew up as interns together, we have such an interconnected web of people in our market.
Running an organization like IIDA Northland that is so built on social connections, we all come to expect coming to events, networking, getting to know each other – that is why so many of us participate in this organization. It’s kind of an oxymoron to have managed such a highly social organization in the last year – and you came in mid-way through the Pandemic. Tell us about that experience. And have any good things have come out of it – any things that have changed for the better that might be carried forward?
M: Obviously it has been a challenge to say the least. The most important thing we’ve learned is to honor what we are all going through, and everyone’s experience is different. There’s challenges on all of our plates; whether it’s small children, aging parents, running your own business, some of our members are teachers. It’s okay to not deliver as we expected. This is a volunteer-run organization and the last thing we want to do is burn out those wonderful people that have chosen to give their time and then found themselves in a pandemic and volunteering and everything else. We’ve all found new ways for people to connect, certainly we’ve learned how to be more virtual. We know it’s just not the same – Our board meetings used to be so fun! Before it started, you’d get to catch up and now we have up to 20 people on a Zoom meeting and it’s a challenge. We’ve had some good retreats, even virtually, and doing some hybrid things going forward. FAB being virtual – that was such a hallmark event. That committee had an in-person event completely planned. I remember when we were first coming into the pandemic, and we’re like “well maybe FAB will still happen in May… right? ” because nobody knew what this was going to be. And then we realized we needed a plan B. There has been so much positivity that has come out of being able to connect, reach people on their own time. We’ve done a lot of things that were recorded – when you can’t go in person you can attend via the recording. It has helped us reach people outside of the Twin Cities, which has always been a part of the mission but is a challenge to do because we’re here, we think with that lens – but there are other areas of this state and neighboring states. Now It’s much easier to bring them into the fold, host a virtual event or have a hybrid option. Students are another great piece to this; unless you’re going to a college or university that’s here in Minneapolis. There are a lot of interior design students in Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin, it has historically been more difficult for those students to participate and feel connected.
Another great initiative we started this year is the BOLD Mentorship program, which is for and by designers of color. I just sat in on a meeting with MSP Noma and that partnership. It’s a beautiful thing to see come to fruition – it will continue not just forward for IIDA northland members, but that connection to MSP Noma, AIA and MNCREW. We’re all in these industries together. Even ASID, we’ve done events together and I hope to do more of that.
C: You’ve talked about mentorship, and some of the women that have come before you, propped you up in your career and within IIDA. You have the privilege of steering this organization that is overwhelmingly full of strong, talented and wonderful women. What is your advice professional to professional for women in this industry?
M: Believing and supporting each other. Getting connected with people. What I’m learning in any mentorship and relationship is being vulnerable. For someone like me that strives for perfection, means showing where I’ve failed too, admitting and learning to grow from it.
Knowing that those women and people around you; we’re all people, we make mistakes, and should learn and grow from it. Not being afraid to reach out to someone and say “I’m struggling, I’m curious about this” people generally want to help. It fills up their cups too.
C: Not just saying where you’ve failed or struggled. Do you think it’s also learning how to prop yourself up too. That’s something that generally comes easily to men. It’s difficult to shout our accomplishments from the rooftop and say “I did this, and I’m dang proud of it and I want – it’s finding the confidence and learning from women who do that well.
M: Every woman is moving through the world differently. There tends to be a lot of the extra stuff in life that falls on us, whether that’s extended family, partner, children – there’s a lot of demands on our time as well as being motivated to excel professionally.
C: Tell us about the photo that inspires you.
M: The photo I sent was from a trip to Lake Tahoe that I took last August. It was a spontaneous trip with a friend of mine with a friend of hers that I didn’t’ know well yet. It came up like “we are going to Tahoe next Thursday, you should come too!” and I said yes. We had a weekend of saying yes, honest amazing conversations. We did a lot of hiking, moving our bodies and the views there are just remarkable. We’re talking about when we’re planning our next trip.
C: And tell us about your family.
M: My family – Posi is my husband, he is a healthcare worker so that’s been interesting during the pandemic, we just celebrated 10 years of marriage. My son Ben will be in fourth grade and my daughter Claire will be in First Grade. We’ve been riding that distance learning/hybrid learning/in-person learning rollercoaster. They’re doing amazingly well. We also have three cats, one of which makes many appearances on Teams calls. We do have four chickens as well – three hens and one rooster (we’re keeping him until a neighbor complains). Definitely our urban farm.
C: It has been so great talking with you today Megan. Can you do us the honor of nominating the first member of our community to kick off the Community Pop podcast?
M: I am nominating Korrin Howard at Dunwoody. And I’d like to ask her what are interior design students learning today that we didn’t learn in school 10 years ago? And what does she wish they were learning more of?
Caitlin Wolff – Social Spaces Specialist