Interior Design After College: What I’ve Learned

By April 30, 2017Blog

Life is a learning process and change is an inevitable part of life. Things around us are constantly changing and the way we adapt to these changes varies from person to person. One aspect of change, when it comes to your professional career, may begin as you transition from college to a job in your field. Of course going to college will help prepare you for your field, but there is still much more to learn and everyone’s experience may vary. In today’s post, I’d like to share not only my experience but share a few testimonials from other fellow designers who have recently emerged into the field as well.

I graduated almost a year ago and have just recently began working in the model home merchandising field of interior design. In this short time, I have observations that I think will be helpful to share with you whether you are graduating, about to begin an internship, or just curious as to what interior design is like in “the real world” vs. school. Mistakes will be made but all you can do is take note, learn from it and avoid it the next time. As you transition from college to your job there will be things you already know how to do and things you will have to figure out, but, you will be able to successfully make this life transition just as you did going from middle school to high school and high school to college. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Just because you are not in school anymore does not mean you can’t ask questions or ask for help.
2. Be prepared no matter where you go. Always have a pen and paper (or something to type notes on) and a tape measure on you. Once, I thought I was only having to pick up tile samples and within that same hour, I unexpectedly ended up having to go straight to a builder’s meeting.
3. Everything is very fast paced. Where there used to be time to ignore something confusing until after class or when you could find help, you now need to figure it out quickly so that you can move on to the next hundred tasks of the day.
4. You will have to get over your fears to get the job done. For example, I don’t like having to make phone calls but if that is what is needed to complete the task at hand then it has to be completed whether I have never done it before or I am nervous to do it.
5. It is no longer like school where procrastination, lazy work or a mistake will only result in a bad grade that can be made up. You now have a job with several tasks where your mistakes can affect your coworkers’ job and the company’s progress as a whole.
6. It will pay off to be organized and observant and not mindlessly completing tasks forgetting what you did. More often than not, a co-worker is going to ask you something like “hey last week when you completed (whatever task) what was the number on….” and you will need to have an answer or at least a way to back-track and find the answer to whatever you did.
7. Although Revit is sometimes used more in school, not all, but many firms are still utilizing AutoCAD so you will want to make sure that you haven’t gotten stuck on only using your favorite program and can adjust to what your firm uses.
8. Whenever possible, try to complete tasks ahead of schedule. Although interior design is a very busy profession, there will be slow days. Don’t treat these days as lazy days. Think of them as the calm before the storm.
9. The first few weeks may seem confusing because you are trying to get the hang of the methods of your firm but it’s not as scary as you would assume it is going to be. Take it day by day and you will start to get adjusted before you know it.
(In my throwback 90’s kid Reading Rainbow voice) …but don’t take my word for it! Check out these awesome testimonials from 5 fellow designers:

“The biggest thing I think I’ve learned since starting my career in Interior Design is patience. My reasoning for that is because you think you learn everything you need to know in college to prepare you for industry work, but you don’t. Experience in the field is where you will learn everything. In college I thought working in the field of Interior Design would be all glamorous work, however, that is not the case. It’s hard work during the process of a project and seeing the end results of your work is what makes it GLAMOROUS. Advice I would give someone leaving college would be what I mentioned before PATIENCE. Enjoy the ride of finding the job and exploring the different options available to you and know that it is okay to hear NO, those words should empower you even more to keep going.”

-Vania, Residential and Commercial Design (2.5 years’ experience)

“Over the past two years as a design associate I’ve learned to soak up every little bit of information. As soon as we graduate school we are so excited to use everything we have learned and done the past four years in our future job but there is so much more that can only be learned in the “real world”. When we were in school we would question why we needed to do certain projects and learn about certain subjects but in reality every single thing we did is all beneficial. The more you learn and know the more your clients trust and can rely on you more.

Post Graduation life can be the best and worst time. You’re excited to be done with school and be out there in the real world. Then comes the realization that you might not know what exactly you want to do or scared of failing. Whether it be residential or commercial design that you choose, always remember to ask questions and soak up all the information you can! Don’t expect to know everything starting off, you will make a few mistakes. But take those mistakes as a learning experiences for your future projects.
PS. Carry a measuring tape(s) with you. I can’t tell you how many times they have came in handy!”

-Jennifer, Residential Design (2 years’ experience)

“Since I’ve began my design career fresh out of school, I’ve realized that there are many things I haven’t learned yet. I knew that I wanted to do commercial design—and I was lucky to finally land a position in that exact field. I didn’t know what all to expect other than what was in the job description. I felt confident in computer drafting and FF&E which I learned how to do when I was in school. I knew that with commercial design, there may be more limitations when specifying furniture and textiles.

This may seem obvious but staying organized is very important when you juggle many projects, things may get confusing. One thing about my job currently is that projects are constantly coming in and you have to stay on top of them. A project that was sent out may come back with requested revisions and depending on the due date it may take priority over another project that is already in progress. I am also learning how to quote projects. In school we didn’t dive too deep into quoting but we have had instances where we were required to have a list price and markups using formulas in excel. However every company is different, there are different dealers they work with and the markups are not the same. I am learning a program that works with AutoCAD called Cap 2020 that the company specifically uses for specifying furniture from certain vendors.

My advice to soon-to-be design graduates would be to learn as much as possible, find out if you don’t know. It’s one thing to go to school and learn the fundamentals, but actually being in the practice and interacting with more experienced professionals will show you how everyone does things differently. I certainly don’t know it all and it may seem daunting at times, but with an eagerness to learn and effort you will be a great designer.”

-Anne, Healthcare Design (Less than a year experience)

“Life after school. Oh, the infamous day that “adulting” has to become a reality. College lays classes upon classes on us in hopes that this curriculum will help us once we are in the “real world”. Thankfully, our program at SFASU was very good with preparing us for a career that is heavily based in AutoCAD and Revit. I am very grateful for a program that took a lot of time to teach us computer programs because without that experience, finding a career would have been daunting. I did get a little bit of a reality check once I graduated college though. We all dream of being an amazing designer and working on our own but the reality is we need some experience before we make that big step. College does prepare you but working in the field is where the real experience is. Interior Design is glamorous in college; it’s pretty, fun, organized and good money. In reality, it is a lot of computer work often in an office with cubicles. Do not fear, it is still fun, just not as glamorous as we all hope for. One piece of advice I can offer is to apply everywhere design related after college. Interior Designers all started at the bottom and worked their way up. It will be hard working your way up, it will take some time but you WILL get there. I went into residential home building and work for David Weekley Homes (which I love!!!). I never thought I would find such happiness within a corporate company. No, this is not where I pictured myself when I was graduating college but I am so incredibly happy I am here. The company is great to its team members, great benefits, pay is good and I still use AutoCAD and Revit daily. One more thing, practice interviewing and keep in mind, as bad as you need a job, they need an employee so be calm and confident and prepare to make that job yours. Your confidence will shine through.”

– Lauren, Residential Design (2+ years’ experience)

“It’s hard to imagine what your forever is going to look like. When you are going through the everyday motions of classes and young adult life you sit back, whenever you can find the free-time, and try to picture all of the groundbreaking achievements you will be a part of throughout your career. However, as I have discovered in my personal journey, the biggest achievement I could hope for is simply to be a part of my chosen field in a place where I am respected by my peers as well as my supervisors. Since graduation from Stephen F. Austin State University in August of 2013 with a BS in Interior Merchandising I have experienced a plethora of avenues of the profession all revolving around Interior Design Showrooms.

Having worked with stone and wood flooring, fabrics, furniture, art, accessories, and many other design elements I have gained a well-rounded knowledge of what is to be expected in each market when faced with the task of merchandising and marketing. No two designs are the same, and continuously bringing a look that is fresh, new, and innovative are constant challenges all merchandisers face on a daily basis. More recently, with my newest position involving social media marketing, I have also learned of the importance of not only merchandising to be able to market to those whom enter your space, but also to those whom view it through instagram, twitter, facebook, and many other media outlets. Now being in the age where you can ‘pin’ together your entire design in minutes it is more important than ever to continue to stay active and up-to-date with the newest technology. While at SFA the severity and importance of how merchandising drives a business was emphasized in every subject, but the pressure to represent this value in life outside of academia increases at an amount I had not expected so quickly. Instead of having one to two months to complete your next project you have one to two weeks. Procrastination, a word I was all too familiar with throughout my college career, is no longer a luxury that can be afforded.

My biggest advice to any college senior, or super senior if you are like me, would be to finish out strong with anything you have. Keep any textbooks you may have on elements and fundamentals of design and merchandising. Although the times and fashions may change, the elements do not. Always be researching in your free time to see what are trends happening in home design and all types of merchandising. Be aware and keep close any connections you have made either with fellow classmates, professors, or professionals you have met in your time. While it is up to you to impress in an interview for any position, you never know whom from your past can get you into said interview.”

-Daniel, Interior Merchandising and Marketing (4 years’ experience)

Thank you for reading. Do YOU have a testimonial from your experience you’d like to share with us as well? Leave a comment or question below.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Kierra
    Another great post that all emerging interior design professionals and interior design students should read. As an educator I try to instill the notion that school is just a starting point for your careers, be that in design or not, but students at the time have a limited frame of reference (generally speaking). Frankly your degree is just a starting point. The key, as your guest contributors admitted, is to have an open mind and to admit that, as great as your academic program may be, you really do not know everything.

    So from an O.G. with experience on both sides of reality, I offer this to your readers;

    Maintain a positive attitude (despite the lack of “glamour”). Chances are your first job may prove to be one you will not devote a lifetime to….do not cop a negative attitude as that will affect everything else in your life including those serendipitous moments that present themselves to you.

    Be nice to your sales & product representatives…..(see note above regarding serendipity)

    Do not be afraid to admit you don’t know and be able to admit mistakes when they happen. Mistakes happen….how you address the error is what sets you apart from those that run and hide.

    Look for opportunities to contribute. Most employers welcome ideas that will help them (and you) make more money.

    Show some initiative and perseverance and finally never stop learning.

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