Having recently completed five years of interior design education and one year of internship, I find now is probably a good time to reflect on some of the major takeaways that I had gained from my experiences so far. Although educational experiences vary even within the field and I cannot speak for everyone, I still hope that by sharing these five key learning points, I can offer some insight into what my experience of the interior design education was like and give a very general overview of the kinds of things that might be gained from such an education.
1. How to be resourceful and take charge of my own learning.
As with every discipline, there is simply too much to be learned and taught within the short time frame of four to five years of undergraduate study. For that reason, and in order to maximize discussions and work time, most of our studio classes spend little time teaching us the specifics of the various modeling, rendering, and Adobe software. Instead, time constraints in the classroom meant that we often had to learn and figure out these tools in our own time and by our own means. While professors were always keen to help, a large part of the learning process was necessarily self-directed. From asking fellow classmates for help in searching online forums to watching video tutorials, the experience taught us to be independent learners who know where to look for help and resources when we are in need.
2. It is important to start building a working knowledge of materials and construction methods while still in school.
At my undergraduate program, there were two classes that specifically addressed such topics: a materials and construction class, and a furniture design class. However, like most of my classmates at the time, technical details such as joints and finishes could not seem more irrelevant and inapplicable to the ambitious design projects that I was working on for studio classes. It was not until my first internship at a design firm that I gradually realized how much I missed by not paying close attention to those classes. For projects taking place in the real world, unlike in our hypothetical studio projects, materials and construction are significant, if not most important, part of the entire process. Having even a little but solid knowledge of how these things work will not only ease our learning curve during the first internship but also make our internship experience much more meaningful and fruitful when we understand what we are dealing with.
3. There is an abundance of inspiration to be gained from looking at architecture and design websites, magazines, books, and portfolios.
From the many websites on architecture (like this one) to the many architecture books and magazines in our school library, there was never a shortage of resources whenever I was in need of answers or inspiration. However, my major takeaway was that instead of only consulting these resources when in need, it was much more beneficial to be in the constant company of these resources so that architecture and interior design education could also become a part of my daily life. Additionally, a wide range of architecture and design portfolios from students, professionals, and even firms around the world are made publicly available on websites such as issuu.com. Upon finding such a resource, I, along with the rest of my classmates, starting saving and bookmarking various portfolios that I found inspiring, and that would likely be a guide when I am working on my own portfolio in the future. Looking at, and learning from the works of others is also another great way to expand our horizon and relate our own experiences and work to the field at large.
4. Trust your instincts and ideas, but articulate them convincingly.
My ex-studio groupmates and I will always remember with much fondness, those semesters where we had three studio instructors teaching a single studio class together. Our regular consultations with them (separately) were not the most helpful or productive sessions, especially when what one professor said at that time was the complete opposite of what another professor had said just twenty minutes before. Whose advice were we supposed to follow? As we moved further along, however, we realized that it is not about how much advice we take from professors that will ultimately reflect the quality of our work. Rather, it is how much we see through our own ideas and convey them clearly, effectively, and convincingly to our professors. I soon found out that it is the same in the office. Different individuals on the client team will inevitably like and dislike different aspects of a design proposal, and it would make no sense to try and satisfy them all, nor is it possible to do so. The important thing, then, was to be thorough in my own thinking as well as presentation.
5. The practice is only one part of the discipline; there is also history, theory, and criticism.
Almost all architecture and interior design education consist of classes in architectural history. Despite that, many of us were reluctant to see the relevance of such classes when we were in school, and most likely still remember the sense of dread when it came time to memorize those buildings and their architects for final exams. However, by a fortuitous combination of an inspiring history professor in our third year and multiple internship experiences, I gradually gained an understanding of architecture and interior design not only as studio practices but also as humanistic studies that involve rich histories, theories, criticisms, and debates. By expanding my understanding of the field, it became possible to see my studio projects and internship experiences more critically and as part of a larger critical discourse that is both shaped by and goes on to shape humans and their environment. Ultimately, this is what led me to consider further studies in architectural history, and I am still grateful for it.