By: Kyle Niblett
March 27, 2023
Racing against the sunrise to get a project completed, University of Florida School of Architecture student Khoi Vo knew he could have avoided an all-nighter had he been more organized and disciplined with his time.
But he asked himself, “What is sleep when you are young?” Besides, if he was already finished with his final, he would miss his favorite tradition as a student at the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning: him and his studio mates blasting Europe’s “The Final Countdown” across the atrium minutes before a final project was due.
Despite the lack of sleep, Vo eventually graduated with his bachelor’s degree in design in 1997. Today, thanks in part to his education in Gainesville, Vo now serves as the chief executive officer of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Before he could lead the largest and most prestigious organization for practicing interior designers, students of interior design, and interior design educators in America, he had to first learn the language of design at UF.
“Design is a language, and like any new language, you must first learn the vocabulary and the grammar to communicate your individual thoughts and ideas through the built vernacular,” Vo said. “The great thing about design is that it is a universal language that transcends time and boundaries. What set DCP apart was how the curriculum challenged us to think, in addition to learning the language of material and space.”
To this day, some of Vo’s closest friends are those who lived and breathed the studio culture with him. The Savannah, Georgia resident reflects fondly on his studio experience, especially the wisdom and insight he gained in crits from Martin Gunderson, Nina Hofer, Ron Witte, Tony Dasta and Bernie Voichysonk.
“Those professors influenced me and made me who I am today,” Vo explained. “We had the best faculty in the world teaching in Gainesville.”
Two aspects that he particularly appreciated from his education were the ability to apply design thinking to solve challenges, as well as the ability to collaborate. The usual end point for using said skillsets were going up to the top floor and launching his models into the air after the final review with his friends and colleagues. Using both pair of skills to this day, Vo believes they are equally viable in design practice and in leadership in business.
“Collaboration is one of the most important aspects of a design education, as well as a design career,” said Vo when asked of the importance of the OneDCP mantra. “You learn quickly that no one works in silos, and that you are only as good as those you collaborate with. How can a designer be relevant if he/she does not consider all aspects of design, from the city to the building to the materials and scale of an interior environment, to the objects in those spaces?”
Now as the CEO of ASID, it is his goal to similarly bring together all sectors of the interior design community in a collaborative way, knowing everyone is stronger together. It also provides a great opportunity for him to lead an organization that he strongly believes in, and one that has supported him throughout his career.
That career started after leaving UF, where he then graduated with his master’s in architecture from the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Following his second degree, Vo went into design for several firms throughout southern California, working on museum, retail, commercial and residential projects in all phases of the design and construction process. After quickly falling into the dilemma of wanting to both practice and teach design, he started to teach part-time, and ultimately started devoting more time to teaching than practice. With more than two decades in academia, most recently a leader at the renowned Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Vo took on a more active role in administration and business development.
“Education is at the core of ASID’s values, so I feel fortunate to be in a role now that allows me to bring together my experience in teaching, and business,” Vo said. “Design can change the world and ASID is leading the way to support our members in the profession, proving that design matters!”
Currently, Vo works with an amazing team to oversee all aspects of ASID. With a deep focus on its 20,000-plus design members, as well as industry partners, he strives to offer support through all aspects of the design journey, from educational programming for students, to career and leadership development for young professionals, to continuing learning opportunities for design leaders and executives.
On top of that, he also advocates heavily for ASID’s Small Business Solution program, which partners with design entrepreneur members to support their growing businesses. Their very robust research arm also greatly contributes to the design body of knowledge.
As CEO of ASID, Vo continues to meet and develop relationships with DCP graduates.
“When you meet a fellow UF graduate, you know the rigor that he/she went through and understand that they have a solid foundational understanding of design and the world around them,” Vo said. “Graduating from DCP is a badge of honor and is something I still value to this day.”
Vo’s Advice for DCP Students
What would you tell prospective students who are thinking about attending DCP?
“Learning effective communication skills – verbal, written and interpersonal — is as important as learning to be a great designer. One cannot succeed without the other. Another thing I would say is take it all in. Great designers are those who absorb everything in their life. From art to music to food to human experiences, everything is a learning opportunity. It will all inform you and make you a better designer. Lastly, students should know that as a designer, you are responsible for your stakeholder’s well-being. This is not a transactional practice, but a transformational one, for you and those you serve.”
What is the one thing you know now that you wish you would have known your first day at UF?
“I wish I was more disciplined and organized. I would have been able to take advantage of more things if I wasn’t always running around trying to finish a project I had procrastinated on. The irony of youth is that young people are not always aware of how valuable time is.”
“DCP was also where I met my wife. One of my studio professors said I would never be a designer with my weak hand skills and implored me to take an art class. So, I enrolled in a drawing course, and serendipitously met my wife, Kristen. She also graduated from UF with a degree in Art History, and her father is a distinguished professor from the UF College of Medicine.”