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EXPLO Students Test Drive Their Futures at IKEA


How does an interior designer navigate the world?

That was the question a cohort of EXPLO students set out to explore this summer, and thanks to a partnership with multinational home furnishings outlet IKEA, they experienced firsthand what it takes to create a space that meets a client’s vision — and their budget.

By Design: Student-Driven Learning 

On the second day of their Interior Design class, the students were introduced to IKEA designers who offered them a project challenge: design a college dorm room display for their 2019 back-to-campus launch in the store’s main gallery. 

Working in small groups, each team was assigned a client persona and a budget to design a dorm room that would suit their client’s personality and aesthetic preferences. The teams toured the IKEA store, selected their materials, and developed a pitch to compete for the chance to have their design built out for IKEA shoppers to glean inspiration. 

“When first approaching a room design, don’t think about how you want it to look, think about how you want it to feel. What mood and emotion do you want it to give off… ask  yourself that question, first.” 


— Edyta Czajkowska, Interior Designer

The project was essentially what the IKEA design team does for the store as professionals, filtered down a bit to accommodate a range of student experience and time limitations.  

“The project imposed needs, wants, and limitations that you would see in the real world when you are trying to complete a project for a customer,” says Jessica Cirillo, a visual merchandiser at IKEA Group. 

At the conclusion of the course, the students pitched their solutions to a team of IKEA professionals, just as they would if they were working in the profession. Three winning designs were chosen for display, and were unveiled at a 15th anniversary press conference featuring IKEA executives and public officials. 

“The way that these kids came in and were such professionals about their pitch, and they took it so seriously, I think they're on the path,” Cirillo says. “They’re on a track to lead super successful lives and great careers.”

A Wider Lens on Career Exploration

At EXPLO, we want kids to imagine their future self. We do that by exposing students to the real work of the profession and experts in the field — true career exploration. We’re connecting theory with practice through meaningful projects that mirror what they would do as professionals themselves. 

For some students, the experience served as a jumping off point to gain a deeper understanding of what a career in interior design would be like before committing to studying it in college.

“I think what’s great about EXPLO is that you get to jump in and try it out for yourself. It’s not so much about theory, it’s more trial and error. It leaves a lot of room for creativity for you to expand and for you to think out of the box.” 

— Nadya, EXPLO Student

“Sometimes, students don’t know what they really want to pursue. And when they enter college, they change careers or start doubting,” says Valeria, a rising 10th grader from Puerto Rico who has pursued interior design as a hobby, but recently started thinking about it as a career. “It was like the real world. I got to experience what it’s really like to pursue this job.”

For others, the course was a chance to explore new concepts and broaden their scope of what opportunities are out there in the world. 

“By getting your feet wet in these different topics, it’s really cool to see all the options you have for occupations and what you want to do for the rest of your life,” says Sam, a rising 10th grader from New Jersey.  “It’s never too early to see what can be possible. At a young age, you don’t want your vision to be so narrow. You want it to be as wide as it can be for when you actually have to make that choice of what you want to do.”

For all of the students, meeting professional designers and working closely with them for three weeks gave them direct insight to the field and increased confidence in their work. 

“It’s a great opportunity to have someone you can bounce ideas off of, whether it be a professional mentor or someone who’s there for you in life,” Cirillo says. “It’s super important.”