Women in Architecture Series


A Conversation with Nicole Ward

Nicole is an interior designer working in our Boston Office.  She recently sat down with us to talk about her experiences as a woman in the design industry.

What influenced your decision to become a designer? When did you know you wanted to be one?

As a child I was always passionate about art. I’d spend hours as a three-year-old sitting in the hallway with my giant bucket of crayons doing my best to “stay inside the lines.” As I grew older, and realized being a children’s book illustrator may not be the most realistic career path, my focus shifted towards a career that would allow for a balance of my hybrid left and right brain tendencies. 

I completed two high school courses in interior design and realized that it was a subject that would allow me to be creative while successfully utilizing my practical and realistic view on the world.

Where/when did you go to design school? By your own estimation, what percentage of your graduating peers were women?

After high school, I received my Bachelor’s degree from Endicott College in 2010. Out of 30 Interior Design graduates, only one was male. It is interesting to me that architecture is still highly dominated by men while interior design is by women.

When you first entered the workforce, did you benefit from having a female mentor?

My first job after college was working for a small, woman-owned, dealership design firm in New Hampshire. We were a small office of eleven women, all with our own strengths and weaknesses. While there I took on many roles and worked on projects from all sectors of the market. 

In some cases I’d be managing the job all the way from programming through install and in others I was acting as an assistant. Working in this type of environment and having strong women around me only further proves that women are vital to our industry because we bring a different perspective that can assist in a more holistic view on the built environment.

What drew you to your specialty (healthcare, academic, residential, etc.)?

Some in the office may argue that I’m a furniture specialist, although I’d say that is more due to my past work experience. Having said that, I feel that healthcare is the one segment of our industry where our designs can truly impact the life of the environment’s users.

At a recent design conference I met a designer who when asked about his reasons for pursuing healthcare he noted that for him it was about “saving one life plus”. He went on to explain that as healthcare designers, our ability to create facilities that enhance the care in which society is able to provide, will in fact save at least one life and that it is about any lives over that one that we should set our design goals for.

This statement really resonated with me as I realized that until now I never once thought about what I do as a way of saving lives. I always thought of my brother, the EMT/Firefighter as the lifesaver, not myself. It gave me a new perspective on the importance of what it is that we as healthcare designers provide to our industry and that other segments could really learn a lot from us and how we approach the built environment.

What has been a favorite project you worked on at SBA? Why?

Since joining SBA I’ve had the opportunity to work on an array of projects, however, one that stands out to me is the MG West projects currently under construction in Waltham, MA.  The projects themselves are particularly interesting as they combine a complex duality of design challenges—two projects being designed simultaneously in the same outpatient facility but for two separate end users with two completely different patient populations and approaches to their care practices. This project allowed me to be involved from an early stage and has provided a more holistic and collaborative view to the design process.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given (in general)?

The best advice I think I’ve ever received was from an interior designer I worked with during my very first internship. She told me that it was always important to make sure you take care of yourself. It seems a bit cliché, however, I think sometimes in our industry we forget the importance of not over exerting ourselves. 

We all understand there will be deadlines when we need to put in the extra hours to reach project goals; however, I found that her advice was a reminder of how important it is to take time to rejuvenate our minds. Without that rejuvenation, the quality of our designs would deteriorate. 

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