Rob Shaheen Talks Judging the IIDA Student Competition

May 27
Rob Shaheen Talks Judging the IIDA Student Competition

Rob Shaheen, Interior Designer/Project Manager, at NELSON has served as a co-chair for the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Northland’s NEXT award committee for the past three years. During this time, he has served as a member of the Student Advisory Committee for which he developed the organization’s new multi-media competition. We recently caught up with Rob to discuss his involvement with the board, as well as his insights into the competition.

Question: Tell us a little bit about the competition.

Answer: When I first joined the committee, the competition was a typical design charrette. I didn’t like seeing students do the same type of projects that they were required to do in school. I really wanted to see them push their limits and design something fun and creative. Previously, we were only getting two submissions per year. We wanted a higher turnout and knew that the competition had to evolve.

Question: What is your hope for the competition?

Answer: Our committee is making great strides to improve our support of academic member schools. Our goal is to nurture REAL relationships with educators and students so that we can be more useful to those members. The goal for our NEXT competition is to encourage and celebrate the NEXT generation of designers, creators, and thinkers; to allow future professionals to create, to invent, free of boundaries, and ultimately flourish. Our media competition is formatted for submissions to be uploaded to the web on Vimeo so you could easily participate from anywhere!

You can view this year’s promotional video & 2015 competitors by clicking on this link.

Question: What are some interesting aspects of this competition?

Answer: The judges of the NEXT competition change every year. We try to get a mix of designers & professionals from outside of our ranks, creatives from other industries & always someone that is not a creative but a dealer or critic of media, and usually include one local celebrity. For our first competition, the regional director of Living Social Mike Moore was a judge, and this year, a local artist HOTTEA served as a judge. Aside from that, we really look for participants who are willing to step out of their comfort zone.

Question: Do you have any interesting stories from your time on the committee?

Answer: Actually, one of my colleagues, [Hannah Preble], competed in the last design competition. She said she gave up sleep, took off work, and spent about 60 hours on the project. She ended up taking second place and is now employed in our Minneapolis office.

This year the submissions have been really surprising and thought provoking. Check out the one that suggests that gender neutral restrooms are what is NEXT!

Question: Anything else you would like to add?

Answer: Just some additional information about the competition… students can compete as many times as they like as long as they are enrolled as a student & a member of IIDA. They are also eligible to enter more than one submission per year. The question and deadline will always remain the same. This is by design not only to elicit a vast difference in responses but to chronicle over time what our students were thinking about and addressing during their education.

We also try to add a level of theater to the whole thing. In the weeks before the deadline, we announce a new judge weekly. We present their bio and picture and send out an e-mail blast and hit all of the social media outlets. Last year, we had a judge in Australia. She announced the awards via video. It was pre-recorded, but we set it up to play like a simulcast. She announced each winner, followed by a viewing of the video, and then even a congratulatory statement. This year, we did the same thing with HOTTEA [guest judge] as he won’t be in town during the ceremony. He travels extensively creating installations around the world by invitation these days! The point being is that we go for a level of celebrity with the judges being from difference background but critical consumers or creators of media, art, design, etc. Last year we also had a photographer along with a judge duo. We talk a lot about self-branding when we speak to students and this judge team, composed of two partners from a local marketing firm Known Branding, had one vote to share.

To learn more about the NEXT Competition, please contact Rob at

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