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Module 1: What is Interior Design?

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Why is interior design an important field?
Interior design is one of the most practical applications of creativity. Whether most people consciously admit it, we are all affected by our surroundings on a profound level.
Activity: The Importance of Interior Design
(Time: 10+ Minutes)
Think about the last time you had to attend an appointment, meeting, or event in a public building such as a library, a healthcare centre, or a town hall. What was your general impression of the place? What kind of mood or feeling did it inspire within you? Why do you think the interior made you feel this way? Narrow it down to at least three specific details.
In the West, we spend most of our work and leisure time indoors. Therefore, our surroundings influence our mood and thoughts from the moment we wake up in the morning and see our bedroom décor. Although people have different tastes, everyone feels better when they live and work in an environment that supports their wellbeing. Interior designers make use of colour, patterns, lightings and other elements, to create the right atmosphere in any given space. For example, hospitals and clinics often feature plenty of white and cream, to create an impression of cleanliness, purity and hygiene. There is nothing about white paint that is intrinsically cleaner, but it has a powerful psychological effect.
 
Interior design can even improve interpersonal relationships. Consider how much more pleasant it is to spend time with others in a welcoming space. Even the happiest family or closest group of friends will have a better time in a clean, well-designed home, as opposed to a messy environment. If you have children, providing them with a comfortable, safe home in which to grow is one of the most valuable steps you can take in nurturing their emotional and psychological development.
 
Finally, interior design is of cultural significance. Even if you have no desire to work as a designer, studying the aesthetics of various eras is a great way in which to bring history to life. If you enjoy visiting stately homes and other buildings from centuries that boast interiors from a bygone age, you will appreciate how exciting it can be to imagine how other people lived. Interior design offers us a tangible means of connecting with previous generations, along with a means of inspiring the next wave of designers.
 
What qualities are helpful for a career in interior design?
 
Most people would probably assume that artistic ability and creative flair are the essential qualities an interior designer needs to possess. However, there are several other skills you will need to develop if you want to build a successful career in this field.
 
Activity: What Makes For A Good Interior Designer?
(Time: 5+ Minutes)
Now that you have an understanding of what an interior designer does on a day to day basis, you will be able to appreciate just how diverse a successful designer’s skill set needs to be. List at least five personal qualities or skills, besides creativity, that you think are necessary in order to do this kind of job.
 
The following skills will give you a great foundation from which to start your career:-
 
Confidence: If you intend to work for yourself, you will need to be comfortable in promoting your own work. When you are starting out, whether as an employee of a design firm or working on a freelance basis, you must have faith in your ability to create and implement designs that meet the client brief. You will need to feel secure in your unique sense of style and preferred way of working.
 
Creativity: Interior design involves a significant degree of creative thinking. You will need to use the clients’ briefs as a starting point for the realisation of a grander vision. There are many elements to consider when planning a space and you will need to bring them in harmony with one another. You need to strike a balance between working within parameters specified by the client and weaving your own creativity into each project.
 
Visualisation skills: Modern interior design entails the use of software, but a designer will still need to draw on their ability to visualise how a space will look upon completion. In time, you will be able to stand in a room and imagine in your mind’s eye how it would look following decoration or innovation. Visualisation skills are also useful if an interior doesn’t turn out quite as you or the client wish, because they will allow you to quickly determine the adjustments that need to be made.
 
Willingness to use and adapt to various computer software: It is standard industry practice to use software that allows you to model spaces before undertaking any work. Mastery of such programmes requires time, practice and patience. New versions of popular packages are released on a frequent basis and it is a good idea to keep up to date with new software features. If you do not find software easy to use, you may need to arrange training, either online or in a classroom setting. You may also need to set aside time to practice using a programme before beginning a project, as “learning on the job” may be very stressful in this scenario!
 
Initiative: Not all projects will go to plan and you will need to draw on your own initiative when you inevitably come across a stumbling block. For example, you may run a project that unexpectedly goes over budget and have to devise a means of producing the desired look at a lower cost. Sometimes, you will be faced with a setback in the form of illness and may then have to make up for lost time. You will need to remain calm and work with your client to reconfigure the schedule.
 
A sense of your own style: Most people can learn the basics of design, but the most successful designers add their personal flair to their projects. You may have always favoured a particular “look” or still feel unsure as to your preferences. The more experience you gain in bringing client visions to life, the more confident you will feel in adding your own distinctive “stamp” to every project. Versatility is a great asset and you should never override your client’s preferences, but showing a signature style across your portfolio will allow you to build a distinct “brand”. Even if you don’t sell your own products, it is still helpful to think of yourself as offering a unique service. Therefore, you should aim to develop a USP – Unique Selling Point.
 
The ability to apply basic design principles: There are a huge number of potential styles you can use to improve or create an interior space, but there are certain “rules” or guidelines that most creative professionals incorporate into their practice. For example, objects arranged in threes are usually more aesthetically appealing than those arranged in odd numbers and mirrors make a space appear larger than it actually is.
 
Project management skills: Each client represents at least one distinct project. Even when working in a team with others, a designer will still need to take responsibility for organising their portion of the design work, ensuring that it is ready on time. Freelance designers must possess especially strong project management skills, as they must coordinate all stages and aspects of the project. As you gain experience in seeing projects through to completion, you will soon be able to provide accurate estimations as to how much time a room, home, or commercial space will take.
 
Good communication skills: Whilst some clients will be cooperative and communicate their needs clearly, others will have unrealistic expectations, be prone to changing their minds, or have no idea as to what they want or need.
 
A designer should anticipate that some clients will need extensive guidance in choosing elements of an interior space, whereas others may have devised an unrealistic brief that far exceeds financial and practical limitations. In these instances, a designer will need to exercise tact and diplomacy, drawing on their past experiences when explaining to a client what is and what is not feasible.
 
Financial planning: A freelance designer needs to have an appreciation of cost – what fixtures and fittings cost, how much it costs to cover a floor in a mid-range carpet, how much builders and decorators typically charge for various jobs and all other common costs associated with interior decoration. This is essential, in order to properly advise a client on how much they should expect to spend on the project and the anticipated breakdown of costs.
 
A desire to keep on learning: Some styles and design principles have stood the test of time, but each year brings with it new approaches, colours and decorating techniques. In order to offer their clients an up to date space, a designer needs to take responsibility for keeping up with trends. However, a good designer knows that it isn’t a good idea to try out new fashions just for the sake of it – every space is an individual project and requirements will differ in each case.
 
The ability to work with other professionals involved in a project: Interior designers often work with people other than individual clients. For example, they may need to collaborate with builders, painters and architects in order to realise a specific vision.
 
A willingness to work in different environments: Even if you choose to specialise in designing a particular kind of space, each environment is different. You may work in an urban flat one week and then move on to designing a country house interior the next. It is fine to favour one type of project over another, but don’t become too trapped in your comfort zone. Pushing yourself outside your usual parameters will force you to tap into your creativity and keep yourself engaged with your profession.
 
General professionalism: Interior designers often work with individuals and organisations who are spending a lot of money in pursuit of a particular result. They expect their project to be well run, completed on time and to be carried out in a professional manner. From the way you dress to the way in which you talk to clients, aim to always uphold the highest possible standards.
 
How are interior designers trained?
 
There are several routes into the industry. The most conventional path is via an arts college or university degree course that prepares students with the skills required to work either for an existing company, or to set up their own. For example, the University of Edinburgh runs a four year BA (Hons) course in interior design, which requires three A Levels with BBB grades or higher. Some colleges of higher education also offer courses other than degrees. For instance, Kensington and Chelsea Art College offer a BTEC Level 3 Certificate in Art and Design, with a focus on interior design. Level 3 qualifications are equivalent to A Levels and can provide you with a means of securing a place on a university course.
 
Some interior designers study architecture and spend their careers designing the construction of buildings and interiors, along with devising plans for their interior décor. Architecture is a competitive and demanding profession and entry standards for degree courses are high. For example, University College London (UCL) receives 14 applications per place for its Architecture BSc course, which requires you to have achieved AAB at A Level and to have prepared a portfolio of creative work.
A degree in architecture not only equips you with the skills needed to design buildings, it also gives you transferable skills that are useful in film-making, fine art and many other design-based disciplines.
 
Along with the chance to receive expert tuition, universities and colleges often have links with companies and individuals already working in the design industry. This enables them to help students find internships and gain valuable work experience, which is usually a requirement for securing employment following graduation. When taking on new employees, the majority of agencies request a degree-level qualification in design or architecture. Universities and colleges also have specialist facilities that enable students to become acquainted with the tools they will use when working in a design agency or as freelance designers. Subscriptions to industry-standard software can be expensive and students are usually entitled to receive a discount for the duration of their course.
 
Fact: The average entry requirements for entry onto an interior design course is ABB at A Level.
Source: SI-UK London
 
However, the conventional route of attending Art College or university is not an option for everyone looking to become an interior designer. One alternative is to undertake distance learning courses from a reputable provider. For example, the National Design Academy offers courses ranging from diplomas to Masters Degrees in interior design. Their courses are accredited by Staffordshire University and Leicester College and are regularly audited for quality. They can be studied anywhere and are cheaper than standard university degrees. At the same time, some students find it hard to motivate themselves to complete the work, because they are not accountable to tutors in the same way as those attending lectures and tutorials in a conventional educational setting.
 
There is no law prohibiting anyone from setting up their own interior design business. If you have a talent for design and are willing to teach yourself all the practical skills required, you could find success as a self-taught designer, if you work on small-scale projects in residential settings. However, you will have better prospects and a much more substantial skill set if you seek out formal training. It may be possible to secure a job at an agency if you have a proven track record of completing projects to a high standard along with an outstanding portfolio, but this is not a common route for interior designers to take.
 
Quiz: Professional Training & Qualifications for Interior Designers
 
What are the prospects like for interior designers?
The good news is that there will always be a demand for people who can design efficient, cost-effective spaces in both residential and commercial contexts. Successful designers may be booked up months or years in advance and a few have become household names. At the same time, interior design is a competitive industry. It attracts a lot of people who like the idea of working with high-end furnishings and fittings, or designing spaces that will allow them to realise their own personal vision rather than that of a client. It is important to be realistic and acknowledge that it can take a considerable amount of time and effort to build a solid reputation as an interior designer. At the same time, there is no need to be discouraged, providing you are willing to work hard and continually develop your style and skill set.
 
Fact: A designer wishing to register with the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) must have at least six years of relevant education and work experience in the industry.
Source: BIID
 
A designer working in their first job can expect to earn approximately £18,000-£23,000. Their salary will increase as they gain experience and take on additional responsibilities, such as overseeing large-scale projects. Depending on the rate at which they progress and the opportunities available within their company, they can expect their salary band to increase to £25,000-£40,000 within a few years. A highly experienced designer can command a salary of over £45,000 and those with significant creative responsibility (sometimes known as “creative directors”) can command salaries that run into six figures. Self-employed designers’ salaries depend on their ability to secure contracts. In theory, they are not constrained by a salary band, but need to strike a balance between ambition and realistic expectations.