His picture says it all. Michael “Mike” Dudek is not your typical professor. No moth-eaten tweed jackets with suede elbow patches here. (OK, we didn’t discuss his sartorial preferences – we’re just assuming here.) Originally from Waukesha, Wisconsin (home of the uber-cool BoDeans and the bouncing Olympic Hamm brothers), and most recently transplanted from Atlanta, GA, Mike and his wife have recently landed in Manhattan. Manhattan, Kansas that is. Home of Kansas State University, AKA K-State. That’s right – Mike is now Assistant Professor of Interior Design, teaching within KSU’s Department of Apparel, Textiles and Interior Design. Quite a good gig, we think.
It’s not terribly surprising that this Interior Designer of 23 years eventually gravitated towards education. He obviously loved school. He earned his B.S. in Architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and then his M.S. in Interior Design from Florida State University.
He must have been doing something right because after college the stars aligned, and he landed his first design job pretty much instantaneously: “I graduated on Saturday and the following Monday I started as the only Interior Designer for a 35 person Architecture/Engineering firm. They received my resume the day the previous Interior Designer resigned. More dumb luck than talent I’m afraid.”
So how did Mike decide to dive into campus life” “I was in professional practice until June of this year. After years of professional work I decided that I had done what I came to do and needed a new challenge. I taught an occasional design class and really enjoyed it, so I made the commitment to shift my career to full time teaching. The search for a full time position was difficult since I did not have much academic experience. Having 23 years of practical experience did not make much of an impression on academia. Only a few programs realized that I was serious and that I had a lot to bring to their program. Kansas State took a chance that I could actually teach. So far so good.”
So what kind of knowledge base does Mike try to instill in his students to prepare them for a career in design” “There is more to interior design than furniture and finishes. Our students are taught how to understand the architectural context of the interior space that they may be designing. Granted, not all interior space needs to respond to the architectural envelope. However, there are far too many interior designers who are exacerbating the distrust that the architecture profession has for Interior Designers by misunderstanding, or even ignoring, the design intent of the architect. Let’s face it – without architects and architecture we would not have a purpose or a job. We also stress the importance of having a strong concept or a clear organizational and character direction to every design. Again, not every project requires a design concept, but you can’t have great design without one. Once our students get out into the professional world they will be able to figure out which skills to apply to each project.”
Like many designers these days (not to mention we here at PLiNTH & CHiNTZ), Mike has some pet peeves about how our industry is perceived: “I am saddened by the plague of the ‘decorate on a dime overnight’ shows that present Interior Designers as those whose sole purpose is to turn hassocks into a coffee tables. I am also afraid that these shows are typecasting all male designers. I do not swish and swoon at my friend’s poor decorating decisions, and I do not know any male designers that do. But for some reason this is the image that the popular media pushes on us.”
However, The Prof has some good ideas on how designers can help to dispel the myths. Industry members, take note. “I wish ASID, IIDA, FIDER, IDEC and NCIDQ would issue a collective statement that they do not endorse – and will boycott advertisers of – these shows. I am tired of people assuming I am a decorator (not that there is anything wrong with that) when I tell them I am an Interior Designer. Professional legislation of the profession, although important, cannot overcome the damage done by these shows. Vern Yip (of the original Trading Spaces) is one of the most talented designers out there, but I’ll bet he is sorry that most of America thinks his greatest talent is creating funky headboards.” Right on, brother.
Though Mike has his hands full with school, he would like to attempt to take on projects when he can: “As a newbie to academia, I doubt I will have time to devote to practice for a while. Since we teach the practice of Interior Design I think it is imperative to actually practice what we teach. Once I’m indoctrinated I will seek out professional practice opportunities to keep up with you in the professional world. Although, after 23 years of rather intense design projects, I welcome the opportunity to do some research or service projects that will help advance the profession, promote K-State’s program and validate my career shift.” We bet K-State is happy to hear that.
We asked Mike about his professional affiliations: “I was active in IIDA way back in the 90’s, but when my focus shifted to teaching I dedicated my time and fee money to IDEC. I do think membership, especially for students, is worthwhile. It is the best way to network and keep up with what is going down in the profession. I am currently deciding whether to join ASID or IIDA (can’t afford both) so that I can get up to speed on design practice in the Midwest. Unfortunately I have to decide between two organizations that appear to have the same goals. I still can’t figure that one out. Maybe that would be a good topic for PLiNTH & CHiNTZ to address.” Duly noted, Mike.
In his new life as an educator, we wondered how Mike stays current with what is going on in the industry: “I read PLiNTH & CHiNTZ [we love this man!] and several other design related periodicals. I also keep up with my former coworkers who are still in the trenches.”
Despite his gratuitous endorsement of our online efforts, Mike candidly admits that he initially has his reservations about us: “The first time I saw PLiNTH & CHiNTZ I was not sure what to make of it. I’m glad I read on because I think the profession could use the opportunity to step back and take a light hearted, but informative, look at our jobs and itself.” Although you probably don’t believe us, we promise we haven’t paid Mike a dime. Really.
Now for the lighter, fluffier side…
P&C: What was your first job ever (not in the design industry)”
MD: I unloaded grocery trucks from 4:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M. until I determined that 1) I am not a morning person, and 2) manual labor is not my bag.
P&C: Do you have any hobbies”
MD: I collect records, which – for your younger readers – are the things made out of vinyl. My wife and I also enjoy going to estate sales and auctions to add to our collection of mid-century design classics.
P&C: What do you do for fun”
MD: I like to go to sports car races and hope to get to the 24 hours of Le Mans in France this year. We also like to go to the beach, but now that we are in Kansas that will be a little more difficult.
P&C: What would your dream design project be”
MD: I would love to design a home on Anini Beach in Kauai, Hawaii. I am a big fan of Bauhaus and the International Style, so I would probably do a minimalist glass box, ala Philip Johnson. However, my wife would probably steer me to a more indigenous solution, which is a good thing. It is very difficult to make minimalism warm and inviting.
P&C: Any other links that you would like to include for our readers”
MD: There are thousands, but one that should be on every designers favorites list is www.baddesigns.com. Yes, this sight highlights bad design.
The Prof says: “I would love to hear from prospective and former design students or former coworkers.” If you fit into one of these categories – or even if you don’t – you can email him at email@example.com. Requests for cash will be denied. That’s a promise.