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06/01/2013

Head of the Class

How design school programs are changing with the times, technology and market demands.

By Margie Monin Dombrowski

 
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    Collaboration and technology have become foundational elements at NYSID. Photo by Mark La Rosa View larger

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    Inside Harrington’s six-story campus, a unique display space connects floors designed to hold a mix of classrooms, galleries, offices and collaboration spaces. Photo by Dirk Fletcher View larger

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    Harrington’s Chicago location and tech emphasis pushes students to collaborate with artists from other fields and expand their horizons. Photos by Dirk Fletcher View larger

  • /Portals/3/images/magazine/2013/0613/I_0613_Web_Trnd_4.jpg

    Harrington’s Chicago location and tech emphasis pushes students to collaborate with artists from other fields and expand their horizons. Photos by Dirk Fletcher View larger

  • /Portals/3/images/magazine/2013/0613/I_0613_Web_Trnd_5.jpg

    NYSID’s new Graduate Center allows designers to add specializations to their resume Photo by Mark La Rosa View larger

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    The library at the school’s East 70th Street location remains a popular destination for students. Photo by Mark La Rosa View larger

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    While technology is important, NYSID still places an emphasis on the fundamentals of design. Photo by Mark La Rosa View larger

Whether you’re a freshly matriculated interior design student, recent grad or industry veteran, it’s an exciting time to be a part of our rapidly changing field. One of the worst recessions is now behind us and the jobs outlook gets more optimistic every day. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, interior design jobs are predicted to grow by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020, while jobs at specialized firms are predicted to increase 27 percent.

Opportunities to learn a new specialty and stand out from the crowd are also opening up. Today, sustainable design and healthcare design are highly sought-after markets, and they’re being added to many interior design school curricula. Software like BIM, Revit, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and SolidWorks are not only being woven into course offerings, they’re increasingly becoming essentials for any designer’s toolbox.

design education: practice vs. theory
There are roughly 300 post-secondary colleges, universities and independent institutes with programs in art and design accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design; more than 150 professional-level interior design programs offering bachelor’s or master’s degrees are accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. While every program has its own concentration on theory or practice—or a bit of both—each uniquely caters to its students’ needs. The question is, how are these programs meeting the needs of the marketplace? Are students picking up the skills they need to succeed on the job?

“Many schools are less skills-oriented—their philosophy is the skills they’ll need they’ll learn while on the job,” says John Martin-Rutherford, Ph.D, president of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) and department chair of the interior design program at Harrington College of Design in Chicago. “Our school is practice-based. We know when our grads take the NCIDQ exam, they will have the right skills to practice in the profession.” Harrington students must complete 300 internship hours before graduation so they can land entry-level jobs.

Not only are communication and presentation skills a must, but students need to learn how to work as part of a team and with clients, according to IIDA President Felice Silverman, who is also principal and president of Silverman Trykowski Associates in Boston. Any time you give students an opportunity to work collaboratively ultimately readies them for project management in the real world. Doing this effectively, Silverman says, involves “working in a more interdisciplinary approach within their curricula—not only interior design and architecture, but also construction management and partnering with other disciplines.”

This approach can be as simple as combining interior and graphic design students in the same class, notes Dr. Martin-Rutherford. “We combine courses with the graphic design students because they know more about branding,” he says. “By doing that, [interior design students] get the graphic and interior design skills, and they all learn how to work with each other.”

real-world experience
Preparing students for entry-level jobs typically means internships, which employers are looking for on student resumes. Silverman points to Boston Architectural College as one school doing a great job of giving students real-world experience. The BAC’s concurrent curriculum has students learning hands-on at firms during the day and taking classes at night.

During the downturn, the school had to get creative because students weren’t finding jobs, which is how the Gateway program began. Through Gateway, students can earn credit by participating in pro-bono projects, competitions and other work experiences. Says Silverman, “This Gateway concept allowed students to still mirror that experience” of getting on-the-job experience with mentorship from a practicing professional.


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