dear design school grad, redux


la quinta plan

Congratulations graduate!

You designed your way out of college with all of those sleepless nights and huge pots of coffee. I bet you know every show on television after midnight. Now that you’re ready to create the next greatest building interior, here are a few tips from the trenches (well at least the trench that I work from).

If design doesn’t feed your soul, don’t do it.

I was a senior in business marketing when I switched to design. Business school did not inspire me and someone suggested interior design. First I laughed (right, pick pillow and curtain colors for a living?) Then I started talking to professionals in the field. What I heard sparked a fire in me that I couldn’t articulate and hadn’t felt before. So based on my gut reaction, I added another two years to my college career and made the switch. I still can’t articulate the feeling, but I do know that if I am not creating, drawing and solving problems that create better lives for my clients, I don’t breathe as well.

If design itself doesn’t feed your soul you still have options: sales, facilities, move coordination. Find your niche.

There are no shortcuts.

When you graduate you won’t be designing the next cover project for Interior Design Magazine. You will be creating presentation boards, putting documents together that show other people’s designs to their best effect, putting together finish schedules, specifying furnishings that someone else chose, cleaning up the conference room. Your job is basically to make other people’s jobs easier. This is the path.

  • Study hard
  • Learn the amazing computer programs that are available to you and offer these skills every chance you get
  • When you finish a task ask for another
  • Expect to work long hours when a deadline is approaching and don’t make plans the evening before a presentation….you will have to cancel

I began my career in small design firms so that I was exposed to the full breadth of design projects. My projects weren’t spectacular (small office spaces, very basic tenant improvement work), but I learned how to run a project from start to finish. If you choose to begin your career for one of the larger firms, you may work on more prestigious projects, but you will do a smaller piece of them. You know your personality, so move in the direction that best fits who you are. And whatever you do, do it well. The devil truly is in the details…mess up the details and the senior designers in your firm won’t want you on their projects.

You are a problem solver first….never forget that.

Pretty isn’t the highest priority. Your first job is to solve your client’s problem, and before you can do that you must understand what the problem is. Research your client’s business, ask questions about your client’s lifestyle. Understand your client’s family, customers, employee needs…whatever is appropriate to this project. Determine the best way to make this project function so that your client’s life is better as a result. This is how you solve their problem. Then make it pretty or hip or cool or dark…aesthetics are important, just not the first order of business. A project that looks good but doesn’t work well is a failure and you won’t get hired again.

Learn all you can before you begin and then learn some more.

There are certificate programs and short degree courses. Take the long course. Design is not just color theory and lighting science, it is a way of looking at the world. The only way to get there is to take the long course…and understand that there is no end. In order to create successful design you will need to understand the world as it grows and changes. Keep reading, talk to experts in other fields, pick the brains of the contractors and fabricators you work with, travel, take pictures. The world is an exciting place and everything you learn will make you a better designer. Get accredited and certified in whatever areas you have interest. That alphabet soup behind your name helps to tell your story.

Pretty pictures aren’t built projects.

Part of every design job includes an understanding of the local jurisdiction’s rules, operating procedures and building codes. You learned some of this in school….learn more. Anyone can draw pretty pictures (well almost anyone), but can these pretty pictures be built? Learn how to research this information and the senior designers in your firm will be begging to have you on their teams. Even if this never becomes your area of expertise, know enough to ask appropriate questions as a design begins to gel. It seems to get more difficult all the time to navigate the myriad rules and regulations that sometimes feel like roadblocks, so get used to finding ways around. I learned early on (thanks to my friend Ed), that the best way to complete a project successfully is to meet with building officials before design has even begun. Explain the project goals and ask for guidance to avoid potential bumps in the road.

Welcome to the world of design! I hope it fills your soul and makes you as happy as it makes me.

Keep in touch,
NCIDQ (this means I’ve studied and passed the national interior design certification exam)
LEED AP ID+C (this means I’ve studied and passed the LEED exam for interior design and construction, a green building certification)
CID (this means I’m a certified interior designer in the state of California and can sign my own drawings)