FIT Experience Guides Dahlia Ferrera

When Dahlia Ferrera, ’20, talks about her experiences as a Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design student, it’s never fully in the past tense. Delve deeper and you learn why. So much of what she learned, she draws on in her day-to-day professional life. While student VPED projects are often large-scale and awe-inspiring, it’s exciting to see how these skills transfer to the industry.

Dahlia Ferrera, VPED, ’20. Photo: Madeline Morrell

Here Ferrera talks about exhibits, brand activation projects, site scouting, and a heap of software and communication skills she learned in her VPED courses, and how her education translates to her work with clients:

“My view of design changed completely in my seventh semester Experiential Design class with Professor Barbara Salzman,” says Ferrera. The turning point came while working on a brand activation project: Spotify’s “For the Ride” campaign.

“The campaign typifies the experience of losing yourself in a favorite song,” she says. The project coincided with the heartbreak of losing her father. “The event I created stimulates emotion and vulnerability. It inspired me to create spaces that cultivate community, conversation, and emotion. It’s why I segued to interior design.”

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The experience carried over for Ferrera, who is now a designer at Havenly, a company offering interior design services. “I love that different parts of our homes cultivate different emotions based on the intention of design,” she says.

Recently a client asked Ferrera to create a living room that would help bring family closer together. “It’s challenging to create a living room that resonates for each family member and their guests. I took a sentimental approach, one of human connection. I started with questions about color, decor, additional accent seating, and room dimensions to allow for the pieces I would be sourcing. We decided on family photos, shades of blue and neutrals, and sculptural abstract decor for a relaxing atmosphere,” says Ferrera.

Living room concept for client

Says Prof. Salzman “It’s incredible to see an already talented designer like Dahlia find her purpose through our lessons. One of the special parts of the VPED program is seeing all the unique techniques and skills we teach come together in such visually stimulating and inspiring ways that impact others.”

Living room concept for client

“The takeaway” from Graphic Strategy for Visual Presentation class with Prof. Anne Finkelstein, was the ability to get ideas across quickly, says Ferrera. “I learned to create photo montages, to curate and deliver ideas with moodboarding. This helps to quickly understand a client’s style. It’s very valuable to my process with clients.”

Crosley, Point of Purchase Fixture, Photo Montage

For the design of a patio Ferrera worked on, these skills helped better define her client’s vision early on. “It was followed by feedback, subsequent adjustments to the design, and then a design layout of the client’s space for the team to bring to life as a 3D rendering,” she says.

Idea board for client
Concept board for client

With Intro to Exhibition Design class with Prof. Brianne Muscente, Ferrera created an exhibition for the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. “I learned how children interact in spatial environments, the proper heights of chairs, bookshelves, tables and softer materials free of sharp edges,” says Ferrera.

Nature in Color and Entrance Elevation Dreamscape

Designing rooms for children is now a specialization for Ferrera. “I recently created Bohemian glam interior designs for a client with a four-year-old. This style can have a lot of glass with sharp edges. I adapted the designs to child’s needs in an aesthetically pleasing space. My client loved it. It’s safe for her daughter with storage space for toys,” she says.

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Ferrera learned how to create floor plans, design showrooms, and about furniture styles in her In-Store Design class with Professor Reginald Rogers.

“I created a showroom for BoConcept, a Danish contemporary style furniture company. Using vignettes to tell the specific story of each room, I used Sketchup and Vectorworks for creating floor plans, 3D rendering, and then created a merchandising plan.”

Boconcept Living Room Vignette
Boconcept Office Vignette

This time Ferrera was hired to do a design project involving a contemporary bohemian outdoor patio with a luxurious outdoor dining section.

“I knew the questions to ask in order to lay out my client’s vision. I was able to show her the ways we could go with the design, the materials that could be sourced,” she says.

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“Dahlia bookended her education being in my fifth- and eighth-semester class. She started with a strong interest in theatrical experience, but working with Profs. Saltzman, Kong and Rogers over the course of her education built discipline and process into her passions. In her capstone [course] she was truly well rounded, taking her skills from school into her career directly.” – Craig Berger, Chair, Communications Design Pathways

Professors Anne Kong and Craig Berger’s combined capstone course, taught Ferrera how to gather information to scope out projects at site locations. The list of considerations is exhaustive and necessary:

  • “What are the space dimensions? How many people will be interacting? What are their demographics?
  • How will the space be used? What will the flow of the space be like?
  • What feeling does the client want to invoke?
  • What duration of time will the space will be used for? What is the client’s budget?
  • How will the location affect store or exhibit traffic? Are they a luxury brand, or a mom and pop? What’s the culture of the brand, its color and visual identity? How can the design considerations be used to help them be more recognizable?”

Ferrera says her research and communication skills improved immeasurably in this course. “I learned to design with intention. A great designer does more than create spaces that look pretty,” she says.

Warehaus Orlando Photo Montage

Ferrera applied these skills in a consultation with the owner of Warehaus Orlando. “He wanted to grow his business for the very next quarter, while maintaining the brand’s existing stylistic approach,” she said.

“I advised him that a redesign of the storefront with a new paint job, grass hedges and a logo mural would make the space more inviting and give it new energy in ways their customer demographic would enjoy.”

Daliah Ferrera grew up in Queens, NY, in a largely Hispanic neighborhood that she says exposed her to “the beauty of small businesses and importance of community.” She is proud to be a first-generation, Cuban-American college graduate and passionate about design that serves communities. “It is an essential human right for people to live in spaces where they feel safe.” She draws inspiration from artists and musicans Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith and Claude Monet. Fererra was recently named a NextGen Collective “Latinx to Watch.” 

To follow Ferrera’s work go to her website, and follow her on Instagram at: @dahliawho.

To learn more about the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design major visit: VPED at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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