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ASU interior design student wins national contest for modern workplace

Winner, semifinalist donate prizes to ASU Design School scholarship

March 31, 2023

An Arizona State University interior design student has won a national competition for a colorful and flexible modern workspace.

Madeline Magee, a senior at The Design School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, won the Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition in February. More than 1,200 college students from 77 higher-education institutions submitted designs to the contest, sponsored by Steelcase, a manufacturer of office furniture.

This was the first time ASU entered the contest. In addition to Magee, interior design senior Chloe Cobb was a semifinalist.

Both students have decided to donate their winnings toward a scholarship for an undergraduate in the interior design program. Magee won $2,500 for first prize, and Cobb won $1,250. Steelcase is matching the donation.

Magee said she was speechless when the win was announced.

Madeline Magee, a senior majoring in interior design, won the Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition, beating out more than 1,200 other students from around the country.

“I was grateful for the opportunity and being able to represent ASU in something we’ve never participated in before,” she said.

“Now, ASU will be recognized as a winner, and every class will reference my project, and that’s really cool for this school.”

Students in the interior design program learn history and theory in their first year, followed by five-credit studio courses every semester thereafter. The studio courses focus on different areas, including health and wellness, retail and workplace design, according to Brie Smith, head of the program and a clinical assistant professor of interior design.

“Our workplace studio has not always aligned with this competition so we moved it to the fall semester, so this was our first time participating,” she said.

The entire senior cohort of more than 50 students participated, spending about six weeks on the project, and the faculty chose three designs to submit to Steelcase.

Magee and Cobb were among five semifinalists nationwide who were flown to Michigan to present their designs to eight judges.

“I knew I wanted to do something bold and different and something that could be super expressive because I’m a student and it wasn’t something that needed to be realistic like in a real-world corporate job,” said Magee, who will work at a Phoenix interior design firm after she graduates in May.

The contestants had to make sure at least 80% of the furniture in their design was made by Steelcase. Magee chose to use all Steelcase furniture in her design.

“I leaned into a lot of research about the idea of work modes and how the modes — focus, collaboration, learning, socializing and rejuvenation — can be used in the workplace to give options to the people coming in every day,” she said.

The contest’s fictional office was set in Boston.

“I ended up using the Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge as an inspiration for a lot of the design elements of the project,” she said.

Her design included a “mother’s room,” beverage bar, wellness room, a retail mockup space and team spaces.

This rendering by Madeline Magee of her design for a modern workplace includes team space.

Magee said that winning the contest was the perfect way to cap her experience in the Design School.

“It was the perfect interaction of education and professional practice in one experience,” she said.

Magee’s professor for the project was Cheyne Brown, a faculty associate who is director of workplace strategy for architecture firm Corgan. Cheri Jacobs, an assistant teaching professor and freelance interior designer, worked with Cobb.

ASU’s interior design program has been growing, Smith said.

Several years ago, the cohorts numbered about 30 students. In an effort to be more inclusive, the school changed the admission requirements for second-year students.

“Overnight, our program jumped to 60 students, and we’ve maintained that for the past two or three years,” she said. “We’re projecting 90 to 100 students continuing into their second year next year.”

Smith said it was exciting when Magee and Cobb shared their plans for their prize money.

“Most exciting for us, as a program, is the generosity and willingness of these students to want to invest back into the program and financially support and award other students,” Smith said.

Magee said that as a student who’s paying her way through college, she wanted to help those like her.

“I wanted to make sure a design student could push themselves in a project rather than picking up a second job,” she said.

The Design School’s success in only its first year of competition has drawn attention, Smith said.

“Even before it was publicly announced, we were being contacted by professionals around the country saying, ‘Wow you have two of the five winners – congratulations,’ ” Smith said. “So that was exciting as well.”

Top image: This rendering by Madeline Magee is from her design for a modern workplace that won the Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition. 

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