4 Crucial Things Interior Design School Doesn't Teach You
(So remember when I said I wanted to drag out the reveal of Barry Dixon's Virginia homes and take a break from the usual inspiration? Since I went to design school in Virginia, my plan was to lead into that with this post, but since I've already spoiled the surprise, here it is! Also, please check out Barry's Instagram! His work is gorgeous, and he's absolutely lovely.)
"How fun!" I can't tell you how often I hear those words when I mention what I do for my 9-5, and that seems to be the reaction most designers expect.
If you say that to a designer, you don't know what we do. Which is totally fair, because I don't understand the ins and outs of your job, either, and it probably sounds pretty cool when you introduce yourself!
But this idea that interior design is fun above all else is pretty false. Going to school for design shattered my incorrect perception; though I still love what I do, it isn't just fun.
If you're considering a design degree, awesome! Please don't kill me for halfway attempting to ruin the dream (because I'm not, I promise!). These boring parts of design are potentially more important to being successful in the industry than knowing what dupioni silk and eglomise are (despite what a college education would have you believe).
Interior design degrees are absolutely valuable to a designer, though not necessarily necessary. Talent and experience go a long way in the industry, and though a degree is potentially a fantastic shortcut to a successful design career, here are a few things that it probably won't prepare you for.
Residential interior design requires a lot of sales ability.
Not what we signed up for.
But sales in interior design thankfully doesn't reek of that used car guy you hate talking to. Your clients want a relationship with you. They want to trust you. Residential "sales" requires no pitching. It's totally relational (which is probably why you decided to study residential design in the first place). While your portfolio gives you a lot of credibility, your client has to like you. You have to be able to convince a client that they want to work with you, without actually "convincing" them. School teaches you how to build a portfolio, but it doesn't teach you how to present that portfolio beyond the technical side of your project.
However, knowledge is another important aspect of your credibility (thanks, school), so learning your products and staying up to date on CEUs is, perhaps surprisingly, super helpful to you and to your clients.
Remember, your clients trust you. If you are confident in why a choice provides them the best look and function, they will take your opinion seriously; they know you are committed to giving them the best home possible.
And that is exactly what we signed up for.
How to Get Clients
If you can master sales, you'll get clients. No problem. The most common, and probably the most ideal, way designers get new clients is a referral from a past client.
To use business school terms, marketing and advertising may help your design business get a little attention, but networking is the most important aspect to building your client base.
That doesn't have to be as miserable as it sounds; the longer you're in the industry, the larger your "network" grows, and your new clients will be likely great referrals from past clients and vendors or builders you've enjoyed working with in the past.
Oh, project management. There are so many facets of this, I don't even know which one to touch. Plus, it sounds super awful and is definitely not why you went to school for design.
But what if your client's builder sucks and you have to do half their job for them? (That happens). Or what if you have to deal with Client A's painter, hardware installer, and mother-in-law on-site, while getting multiple texts from Client B's A/V guy, when you really should be putting together furniture concepts for someone else altogether? (That's normal, too).
The getting-through-the-day-successfully skills you had to teach yourself taking 18 hours while working part time are going to come in handy for sure.
How to Actually Design
If you're expecting to learn how to be the next Candice Olsen or Kelly Wearstler in design school, I'll just save you the registration fees- an interior design degree doesn't (necessarily) mean someone is a talented designer. Kelly, and quite a few other design icons, didn't even go to school for design!
Like I said at the beginning, I definitely think school is very beneficial. A lot of times, a trained designer can recognize an untrained, even talented, designer fairly easily. (On the other hand, some "untrained" designers can outdo quite a few degreed designers).
That's simply because interior design programs teach so much more in a shorter period of time than experience can- space planning, universal design, design history and theory, etc. However, design skill can never be on that list. Talent can be developed, but not taught in a semester long class. A degree program is limited to providing a great foundation to develop design talent.
And look at the design concepts up there. I did those in school. Seeing them now, oh Lord, all the things I would change. But getting better at this is a process, right?