NYSID alumnae returns to alma mater to talk breaking barriers within the inclusive design industry

Beth Diana Smith graduated from the New York School of Interior Design with an AAS in 2015. She is the owner and principal designer of Beth Diana Smith Interior Design, a New Jersey based interior design firm. Beth’s work and her design advice has been featured on television and in various print and online publications including NBC, HGTV, Vogue.com, EBONY, Design*Sponge, and The New York Times.


What is NYSID to you?
Where creativity and learning meet.

Why do you think your experience at NYSID was valuable and how did the combination of your academic, curricular and leadership experiences influence you?
I believe that my experience was valuable because of all of the things that I was exposed to and learned, not only by my teachers but also by my classmates. The decision to go back to school for a career change was not an easy one, so I was looking for a school that not only could accommodate my work schedule but that could also provide me with the foundation to build a successful design career. I’m a firm believer that school teaches you the concepts and that experience teaches you how to apply what you’ve learned. My business background, academia, and ambition has influenced me to continually evolve as a designer and to push the design envelope. 

What’s it really like being black and working in this industry?
Being black in this industry is not much different than being black in any other industry, there are many challenges including exclusivity and preconceived notions. What I would like to see in the design industry is responsibility and accountability of organizations, vendors, schools, trade resources, shelter publications, etc. to actively partner with black designers. There are so many of us that are doing amazing work and have a wealth of knowledge. This is something that should be shared and highlighted on a consistent basis.  

What is a proud accomplishment in your life?
A proud accomplishment in my life is obtaining three degrees, the last one in interior design from NYSID. The culmination of what I’ve learned in obtaining my degrees, and the related experience, is a significant part of how I approach design and how I manage my business.

What inspired you most during your time at NYSID? For example, guest speakers, lecturers, research, friendships, extra-curricular activities.
What inspired me the most was the people that I was surrounded by in my classes and having professors that were passionate about design. The age range of students was diverse and I truly appreciated that, it helped me see design through the lens of people of various ages including the impact of technology. There were also certain professors that helped me think outside the box and were so passionate and knowledgeable that it made it fun, which turned out to be a lifesaver when you are exhausted from going to school on nights and weekends.

Many black designers are helping to shape the culture of interior design. Why do you think they’re often overlooked and pigeonholed?
I think it’s part of a bigger problem within our society including, quite bluntly, racism and sometimes ignorance. As I mentioned, there are preconceived notions and even stereotypes that play a factor. It’s up to all of us, regardless of race, to highlight and call attention to the impact that black designers have on our industry.

How do you continue to push forward an inclusive industry?
By setting an example, by showcasing that exclusivity is not okay and that it should not be the norm, and by holding each other accountable. Change does not just happen, it is propelled forward by conscious effort and purposeful decisions.   

And finally, is there anything else you’d like to share?
Follow your dreams, pursue them with great vigor because life is much more amazing when you are doing what you love.

Phyllis Greer