3 Things You Won’t Learn In Interior Design Schools
The first thing that all aspiring interior designer’s do when they think about taking up interior design as a career is to look at courses interior design schools provide. Although this was all that was available over the last 20 years to get into this industry, these days it may not be the best source of information for your new career.
Many courses focus around subject areas which consider interior design as a hobby rather than a profession and so the quality of the information presented in these courses is not only vague but is not useful to a real-life interior designer.
At universities the quality of information is centered around the probability that you will expect to want to build a career as an interior designer, however, the information is not only presented in an academic way, it is written by academics who usually have never worked in the real industry or built an interior design business themselves.
The theory of interior design is very, very different to the practice of interior design and this can be seen with the multitude of unemployed interior design graduates around the world hoping to get work but not understanding why with their lovely certificates they are still unemployable or not particularly useful in an office situation.
So here is a list of things you may (or hope to) learn in an interior design school, just for comparison.
- Design styles and developing an eye for design.
- Art, architectural and design history.
- Concepts, mood boards and how to design a space.
- Decorative textiles, fabrics and finishes.
- Space planning and how to create a layout.
- How to use 3D or imaging software or to draw by hand.
- Develop a theoretical project to start or create a portfolio.
- Learn how to design with light and create a lighting plan.
- Properties and psychology of colour.
- Present information visually to clients and other professionals.
- How to write a brief and how to work with clients.
- How to market yourself as an interior designer.
These are very relevant things to learn if you want to become an interior designer, however, they are not going to be very useful in helping you find work as an interior designer.
As you can see these things are fun, useful, creative and definitely lure you in with the promise of a beautiful career. They do not, however, address the reality of what it is like to work as an interior designer and the basic skills needed to run an interior design business.
I often hear that the modules related to running an interior design business or marketing your services are vague, outdated and dry without much real-life success in terms of designers actually learning how to set themselves up if they were hoping to actually work for themselves as an interior designer.
If you are still quite young or have hopes of working for someone else as an interior designer, then this will suffice. If you were hoping to set up and run an interior design business at the end of such a degree, diploma or course, then you will find yourself very disappointed (and probably broke).
That is why I wrote this post. I want you to know the truth behind what you will and will not learn in typical courses from interior design schools. As I mentioned, this is fine if you want to go off and work for someone else (good luck getting experience with your “portfolio”), if you are straight out of school, have a large cash investment behind you or if you plan on working in academia.
Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. I find that often, we get into this field because one day, we hope to work for ourselves, we are creative at heart and we want the flexibility and freedom that interior design promises. Sorry to say then that those courses miss a few key skills that can only be taught by someone who has built a business from the ground up, painstakingly and usually quite slowly, making mistakes and falling far too often. That person, in my 20 years of experience is not willing to give up the information very willingly, however!
So what skills do you need to run a successful interior design business and what are the 3 things you won’t learn in interior design schools?
1 | How To Start & Run An Interior Design Business
Yep. That’s because most of the people teaching this stuff have never done it, or they have tried and failed and then thought, I’ll go into academia because I will get a secure paycheque at the end of the day as it’s all a bit too hard!
Starting and running any business can be challenging, but an interior design business is very specific and has a lot of pitfalls and areas where you need to be careful. Not having the right setup from the get-go (or investing too much in the wrong things at the outset) will waste money and time and sometimes can be the sole reason for failure from the beginning.
If you want to give yourself the best chance of success as an interior designer, then starting your business correctly (and legally) no matter whether you are a company or a freelancer, will make your day to day administration less stressful and work with you rather than against you.
2 | How To Get Consistent Clients & Income
You do it for the love of the job right? Well no… Just because you enjoy it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid for it (are you insane?) This is avoided in interior design schools because they genuinely don’t know how to teach you because they don’t know how to get clients themselves (or else they’d be doing it).
What usually happens is the school will bring in “outside help” also known as someone who is really great at marketing or business but doesn’t work specifically with getting interior design clients in the modern world. My first business coach wasted 12 months of my life helping me to “get clients”… Luckily I finally figured it out on my own after many years of trial and error (and a lot more learning).
Interior designer’s (and architects, artists, even musicians for that matter) all forget that in order to run a profitable business you need to be making a profit! Especially when in the early stages of setting up a business, having a consistent stream of income and making a profit is going to be what makes or breaks your dream of becoming an interior designer.
In order to have a successful, thriving and long-term business, you need a way of knowing how to get clients so that if the market changes you can deal with the new market or situation like a business owner, rather than lose everything and give up.
3 | How To Get Past Fear & Gain Confidence To Run Your Own Projects
How is this even relevant you ask? I can tell you it is the biggest reason interior design businesses fail. If you are missing a key skill, such as how to run a project from start to finish your potential client will see it and you will make a lot of costly mistakes for you and your client.
There is a reason to be afraid because if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can be sued, especially if there is a lot of money at stake and you have delayed a project which has, in turn, delayed the client or builder. This fear holds you back from taking on a project and you keep thinking, “I will take on another project that doesn’t require doing that part of it.” Unfortunately that job never really comes around.
Confidence comes from taking action and from getting familiar with doing something. Projects undertaken in courses in interior design schools are theoretical, this means that you aren’t learning the key skills you need to be running a project in real life (no matter how cool their “simulation project” seems). Doing in real life is different and sometimes our own past or bad experiences can cloud our judgment and stop us from doing things that we want to do.
We are human, we react to situations in human ways. Interior design schools remove the human from the equation and give you the raw information, just like going back to school. You’re all the same and treated all the same.
That’s ok if you did well at school, but not everyone is. Often later in life we want to undertake a course in interior design and think, I am going to do it but then hit the same barriers we came up against in school (no wonder it’s exactly the same!)
So these 3 things you won’t learn in interior design schools can be a non-issue for many aspiring interior designers, for others, they are the deal-breakers between a long and thriving career and giving up on a dream.
The reason I wrote this article, is because there are a lot of courses about interior design out there and yet they don’t give you the skills you need to actually become a real, practising interior designer (or be useful enough to get hired as one). It made me so upset to see so many talented and driven designers straight out of schools and courses looking for work without much hope of getting employment and they didn’t have a clue why!
Our signature program “90 days to a freelance life” focuses on giving you all the basic skills required to set up and run an interior design business and start working with real clients (whilst getting paid) and growing your practical skills alongside your experience in a way that is in-line with your aspirations and abilities.
About the author
Jo Chrobak is the founder and CEO of The Interior Designer’s Business School. She has over 20 years of experience working in architecture and interior design, across the world on commercial and domestic projects from international hotels to developments and new builds. Her vast experience transcends industries to give her unique knowledge of processes and strategies which she passes on to her students to help them succeed as interior designers as quickly as possible.
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Jo decided to travel the world in her twenties to gain experience and education from as many sources as possible. She graduated with first class Honours, top of her graduating class and a Bachelor of Architecture in 2007 and since then has worked on projects in Norway, Oman, The UAE, Egypt, Australia, Canada and across the UK and Europe.
She currently runs her architectural and interior design studio (www.jochrobak.com) and specialises in complex projects that require both architectural and interior design knowledge.
Jo is also trained as an Ashtanga yoga instructor, a life and business coach and is a passionate artist creating bespoke artwork for clients.
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