On the podcast each week, I talk to interior designers about how they got into interior design, if they went to interior design school, how they started their own design firm, and how they manage the day to day. I constantly have the opportunity to learn new key ingredients to how and why these designers have become so successful in an industry filled with struggling business owners.
Recently in an interview, I talked with an interior designer that came from a highly educated upbringing. She grew up believing that the degree you earned was less than information, but more of a pedigree. When she decided to do an about-face and go a different direction, she landed in interior design. She struggled with the question of whether to go to school or just get out there and get some experience. She ended up going back to school but did not finish.
I think a lot of people that would like to get into interior design struggle with this question of whether to go get a degree from an accredited interior design school or to just start doing it. I have interviewed a lot of successful interior designers over the last year and a half. Some would swear that you must go get a degree and some would not even consider you a real interior designer unless you had a degree with some credentials behind your name, but others never even went to school. I think the answer lies within you. It depends on what you want to do. Do you want to work in commercial spaces and design for hotels, restaurants, and office spaces? If the answer is yes, then you should definitely opt to go to school and get the degree. You may even want to get an advanced degree. I believe some of the most successful designers in the commercial space even have an architecture degree but additionally do interior design as well.
A lot of people like to ask me “What are the threads that I see in the most successful designers?” I have not created an end-all-be-all list (yet), but I do know that going to school is NOT on it. I do however believe that if you don’t quite know what you want to do, but are sure you want to work in interior design, that going to a good interior design school is a great place to start. Some people I have interviewed knew exactly what area they wanted to work in, and dove right in. Others thought they wanted to do residential and fell in love with commercial or hospitality after getting exposed…and visa-versa.
Many of the designers, including the designer I mentioned above, knew they wanted to work in residential design and found that the interior design schools had a heavy focus on commercial design. When they got out into a design firm, they were learning all over again…sometimes with a whole new vocabulary and basics. Though obviously, some things translated, there are skills that are used in both spaces. I have heard it over and over: there is the technical side of design that can be learned, but the vision and soft skills of design are more internal and really cannot be taught. I am not certain about that but it makes sense. You either have a sense of good style and taste, or you don’t, and I don’t think the best interior design school in the world can fix that.
So, if you are trying to decide on what you should do, my suggestion is to go get some experience in a design firm, volunteer your time if you have to, work for free and get a basis of what you want to do before you go spend thousands of dollars to figure it out going to an interior design school. Then, once you figure out what aspect of design you truly love, then dive all in.
The above pictures were taken by me while speaking at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in Atlanta.
If you want to connect with Nick May and The Chaise Lounge, please do so on our website at TheChaiseLounge.com where we talk the business of interior design.