Adrian College Student Earns Second Prize in Interior Design Competition

International Design Awards honors Joel Mbala-Nkanga for his HEEL Retail Shop Project.

LOS ANGELES, California (Jul 16, 2014) – When the International Design Award winners were announced earlier this month, Adrian College student Joel Mbala-Nkanga was among those lauded. His entry for the HEEL Retail Shop earned the Second Prize in the Interior Design Competition. This annual contest recognizes, honors and promotes design visionaries and uncovers emerging talents in architecture, interior design, graphic and fashion design.

Joel Mbala-Nkanga, a native of Evanston, Illinois grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is a senior at Adrian College pursuing a degree in Interior Design. He acknowledges that the award came as a much-appreciated surprise.

“I am grateful for IDA, and the founders of the award, it is an honor to win it.  My growth as a designer wouldn’t be possible without my family and friend’s support, as well as the instruction and encouragement of my professors and many peers in the interior design department [at Adrian],” he said.

“I am forever grateful for them. To me, this award is as much mine as it is theirs.”

The International Design Awards began in 2007 as a response to the lack of recognition and celebration for smart and sustainable multidisciplinary design. IDA honorary juries examined over 1000 entries submitted by architects and interior designers from 52 countries throughout the world. After final decisions had been made, the jury rewarded the best professional and emerging designers for their achievements in terms of design, creativity, usability and innovation. Judging was a rigorous process, with winners receiving publication of their work in the International Design Awards Book of Designs. The coveted IDA Trophy will be awarded to all ‘Designer of the Year’ title winners at the official biennial International Design Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles.

Mbala-Nkanga’s project, HEEL, is a retail store located in the heart of New York.

“My first real design assignment as a freshman [at Adrian] was a retail store,” he said. “I didn’t know much about design as a whole at the time, and that project didn’t turn out too well.” 

“That was the inspiration behind [HEEL], with the exception being that with this one I had a solid academic foundation and I knew what I was doing.” Mbala-Nkanga’s project combines “the fashion of tomorrow” with the integration of technology today.

His idea was to create a sales setting that allowed customers to make transactions via their smartphones, or to have the option to interact with a salesperson. Interactive touch display screens and rounded TVs allow for costumers to browse available products, locations and costs of the shoes featured in this retail location.

“Heel is not in the business of selling shoes, but in the business of selling an experience,” he said. To learn more about the HEEL project, please visit:

“Joel’s recognition is well deserved,” said Dr. Agnes Caldwell, Adrian College vice president and dean of academic affairs.  “He was the winner of our annual research day award for the best presentation, and he continues to excel.”  

“[Adrian College] offers a wonderful Interior Design major, and Joel helps to demonstrate this on a national stage.”