IAD Senior Receives Honorable Mention at Steelcase NEXT 2nd Annual Design Competition

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Bliss’ 3-D renderings from his Steelcase NEXT submission. Courtesy of Jake Bliss.

Interior architecture and design student Jake Bliss recently brought home an honorable mention for Academy of Art University from the Steelcase NEXT 2nd Annual Design Competition. Entering the competition was a part of the IAD Senior Commercial Studio Course. Two students from each school are selected and out of over 800 participants, five students place as semi-finalists and five earn honorable mentions.


“The department is incredibly proud of both the instructor and student,” said Laura Blumenfeld, executive director of the School of Interior Architecture and Design.

Bliss, who will graduate this spring, grew up in Portland, Oregon where he earned his associate’s degree in business.

“When I started working retail jobs in high school, I fell in love with visual merchandising and would get excited when our company would roll out floor set changes,” said Bliss, who recognized this passion then found the visual merchandising program at the Academy and moved to San Francisco. One of the required courses was IAD 100: Conceptual Design, an introductory course in the development of concepts and their spatial characteristics.

“I fell in love with this class, the IAD building and the faculty,” he said. “I realized I miscalibrated my passions, so I changed my major to IAD.”


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Jake Bliss. Courtesy of Jake Bliss.

As part of the IAD Senior Studio: Commercial Design class taught by Serena Zanello, students talked about how educational facilities, in general, aren’t effectively supporting students. The class explored how different learning preferences need to be acknowledged, and how design can influence a student’s ability to learn.

This is what the Steelcase competition focused on as well by encouraging students to design “the school of the future.”

“We were provided a floor plan and program, a list of client requirements for the space and were encouraged to think outside the box using Steelcase products in innovative ways,” said Bliss.

“This is the first step to get ready for the professional world,” said Zanello. “Each semester we participate to one or more competitions, or we work with real clients.”

Students understand that from the beginning of a project there is someone at the end who will judge or buy their work. There are deadlines to meet and other talented people competing with them.

“They need to focus and be seriously committed to it,” said Zanello. “We are creating professional peers and boost someway their inner creative capabilities.”

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Bliss’ 3-D renderings from his Steelcase NEXT submission. Courtesy of Jake Bliss.

Steelcase is a nationwide office furniture manufacturer and design center. They began their annual NEXT student design competition in 2013.

The final deliverable for the project was a presentation with floor plans, ceiling plans, elevations, material and furniture selections, custom furniture designs and 3-D rendering ideas for the space. Bliss received an email two weeks after his submission that he had been selected as an honorable mention.

“It was great that my work was being recognized by designers for a company I would love to work at one day,” said Bliss. “It was very validating, especially since I’m graduating this spring and feel reassured that I’m ready for the workforce.”

“Jake demonstrated since the beginning a strong talent and professionalism,” said Zanello. “He was always on time, always had such a great enthusiasm, was detail oriented, self-confident but always listening to his peers and my advice. His concept for NEXT University was well thought, strong and innovative, showing extensive research into all project factors and client needs.”

Moving forward, Bliss would love to go back to what originally got him into design and work on retail space.

“I have such a strong interest in combining my experience with business with my love for design, and maximizing profits for a company by giving them a great canvas on which to sell their product,” said Bliss. “I’d also love to work with an architecture or interior design firm that would give me the opportunity to design custom furniture for a few projects.”

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Bliss’ 3-D renderings from his Steelcase NEXT submission. Courtesy of Jake Bliss.