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How to Market to Architecture & Interior Design Students

Don’t wait to approach architects and interior designers when they’re established and, correspondingly, busy. Instead, you can start building your brand awareness with rising students in the industry.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

Matt Wagner talks about how students are sourcing products today and what changes building manufacturers can make to reach them better.

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales, and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach talks to Matt Wagner, an interior designer and professor at Virginia Tech.

Matt gives thoughtful insights on how students are using building materials today and what the best ways are to help them choose your product over another.

As a building materials manufacturer, you may find it difficult to market to architects and interior designers. Once they become more established in their career, they get busier and busier, with a limited ability to research new products.

It’s possible, however, to get around this by capturing their attention earlier in their careers when they’re actually students in undergraduate or master’s degree programs.

Matt Wagner is a professor of interior design at Virginia Tech and also has his own consulting practice. He offers incredible insights on both students and professionals and how they’re getting their information. Plus, he’s an expert both on the interior design side (that’s his undergraduate degree) and the architecture side (that’s his master’s degree).

Do students really specify familiar companies in their career?


According to Matt, the answer is yes. When he was in graduate school at Virginia Tech, Matt worked on a solar decathlon house. He was on the fabrication team and worked with materials every day. One of the products he became familiar with was aluminum cladding from Alucobond.

After graduation he worked at an architecture firm where he suggested the same product during a project’s conceptual design phase. Yes, there certainly were comparable competitors, but Matt chose to spec the brand he already had experience with.

Research and Discovery Stages for Architecture & Interior Design Students


Matt cites the rise of the Internet as the biggest change for today’s students of architecture and interior design. While he thinks on-site resources like the library should be used more, there’s no question that online marketing plays a huge role in what products students are likely to discover.

The manufacturer doing the best in this space, according to Matt, is 3form. In fact, he’s even had to ban use of their products in his classroom because they do such of good job of making it easy for students to find design inspiration.

Matt says there are a few specific areas where 3form performs well in the student space. Not only have they been around for a while, they also have a cool name and overall branding and use interesting materials in their products. Plus, they have samples in the university’s art and architecture library so students get to see new and interesting products they’ve likely never had access to before.

Where Architecture & Interior Design Students Discover Products


Virginia Tech has sponsored studios, which helps students get their hands on actual products from specific brands. Matt’s current studio sponsors are Haworth and Dirtt and students get to use their products in some of their design projects. The return for each company is that the students become familiar with their product lines.

Haworth in particular caters smartly to students by offering a robust BIM library on their website. So any student using REVIT can just download a Haworth table or chair. Sponsoring a studio can be a good way for companies to get involved in academia, Matt says. But there are of course limits in finding an available program for sponsorship opportunities.

Matt also suggests that manufacturers look at websites and catalogues that regularly feature projects and list our product sources for the entire thing. Archdaily and Architect Magazine breakdown products in an extremely accessible way.


Manufacturers can also reach students by having plenty of technology downloads on their website. This is especially helpful for students who are still learning software. Plus, it’s incredibly efficient for all designers, regardless of whether they’re in a professional firm or academia. Matt highly recommends that manufacturers step up their digital libraries to gain more exposure in the student arena.

Matt also sees a rise of the use of Pinterest among his students, although it’s unclear how much is used for product exposure versus general inspiration. Just like simplified online shopping and buying processes, students might not be consciously thinking about brand identities. But if you’re manufacturing company isn’t present on social media platforms like Pinterest, you’re probably losing the opportunity to grow awareness with rising architects and interior designers.

How Building Materials Manufacturers Can Grow Awareness with Architecture & Interior Design Students


Matt advises that building materials companies be accessible with their marketing and advertising, especially if there’s a way you can easily highlight your product within a design space. Students might not know all of their available resources right away, so they need to discover you as part of finished projects.

Another area where building product companies can improve is directly on your homepage. Simplify your message so that directly states your purpose and and differentiating features. That way rising students can grasp those concepts without having to dig too deep.

If you’d like more information from Matt, feel free to contact him at [email protected] or visit his website at: