Inspirational Women: Michelle Smith

Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day 2023 and have chosen to highlight a wonderful selection of truly inspirational women who are vital members of the commercial interiors sector, each playing a different role. We spoke with Michelle Smith about being an inspiration to others, the women she celebrates, the advice she gives as a mentor and the potential impact of greater gender equality on her work.

Please could you introduce yourself and your role? 

I am Michelle Smith, an Associate Designer at M Moser Associates in London. I’m an Australian and studied Interior Design, Industrial Design and Business entrepreneurship. My career began over a decade ago, where I have worked on private residential, multi-residential, hospitality and commercial projects. Workplace design, however, is where my passion resides.  

My role includes a myriad of responsibilities. I currently help manage and mentor a team of over 20 designers, technical designers, and architects. I sit across resourcing, fee writing and pitching for new work. I provide the overall direction and coordination of projects and have experience in both consultancy and design and build realms. One of the main things I enjoy about the role is bringing in new clients, establishing a good rapport that leads to repeat work and building our portfolio of projects. 

What does it feel like to be inspired by, and inspire, people around you? 

I really enjoy supporting and mentoring team members. It’s important to have one-on-one catchups to touch on mental health, what projects they like and don’t like, how we can play to individual strengths. Also, to find out what skillsets they lack and how we can provide training or guidance to help better their development. I`m always amazed at what can come out of a 30-minute conversation.  

As a manager, it is important to understand that every employee has a different personality and work ethic. I am always flexible and empathetic to each person. I’m a big advocate of career development and hope that being supportive can help pave a positive and educational path. 

Throughout my career, I have been inspired by other women. They have all taught me different things about this industry and shaped the way I am as a designer and leader today. 

Which inspirational women do you celebrate? 

Whilst being in the UK and at a larger company, I have been amazed at how many talented and driven women I’m surrounded by. It is truly inspiring and motivates me to continue my current path. Next month I’m transitioning to our Amsterdam team and am really empowered to be one of 4 women leaders there.  

Regarding other women that inspire me, I’d say Jacinda Ardern. I love how empathetic she is, and I feel I can really relate to her personality. So inspired by the fact she had a baby whilst in parliament too! 

What are three pieces of advice you give to the women you mentor? 

A designer once asked me, “How do you do it all?”. It was a hard question to answer. There have been so many little things along the way that have gotten me to where I am. 

There are, however, three things that I would advise: 

  1. Be confident in your abilities: Don’t listen to people who say you aren’t good enough or you’re not ready. You know what you are capable of, so don’t let others stifle your ambitions.
  2. Be willing to learn: Good designers are all-around designers. Try to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as possible from different people. You can gain many skills if you want to learn and show enthusiasm. Education in all stages of a project will provide an excellent basis to become more confident as a designer and be trusted by clients and colleagues.
  3. Persevere: Even if you have a supportive network, it comes down to having the perseverance and initiative to see your goals through. Only you can set the bar high, and only you can achieve it.

Would greater gender equality create a more sustainable future for our sector and what would that entail? 

From my experience, the architectural world is gaining more balance between men and women. However, interior design is still catching up. The number of women in leadership positions is also particularly low compared to men.  
It’s great to see in our London office, where we have a balance of interior design leaders, that we all see each other as equals. We can assist this growth in equality by providing greater awareness and support to the market and tertiary levels of education to ensure the next generation of young designers see this as the norm.  
We should aim to be inclusive designers as our primary goal. We can mitigate discriminative patterns by including gender, race, disabilities, ethnicity and more in our design thinking. Having a wide variety of perspectives involved throughout the design process means we can provide broader solutions that cater for all needs.  


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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