Head of the Class

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

by Margie Monin Dombrowski

technology shift
Teaching students in-demand technological skills is a challenge because they’re constantly changing.

“Years ago, you’d have a separate class on AutoCAD,” says David Sprouls, president of the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID). “Now it has to be integrated into classes almost from the beginning.”

Revit has been added to the Harrington curriculum over the past five years because it’s used so frequently in the industry. To make room for the course, others were lumped together to avoid increasing credit hours. “We had a separate class for project management and one in business practices,” says Dr. Martin-Rutherford. “We combined those into one so they learned project management software in the same class where they learned accounting and the legal principles of professional practice, as well as the other aspects of running a business.”

As the industry evolves and designers look to boost their resumes, continuing education can fill the gap. NYSID recently stepped up by adding three new year-long, post-professional master’s programs in healthcare, sustainable and lighting design; the school also offers continuing education classes in graphics and technology. “Professionals feel they need to add to their resume, specialize or become an expert,” says Sprouls. “They’re looking for that leg up.”

“I think that we expect a lot out of graduates,” says ASID President Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC. By the time a student arrives for their first day on the job, she says, “we expect them to be functioning at a high level, to sit down and work on their own projects or work with a partner or small team.”

While learning the various programs is important, it’s only part of the equation. “Technology is a vehicle to communicate a design idea,” says Marini. “We don’t want to turn the classroom into a software learning experience.” Still, instructors can leverage technology to teach and share ideas in the classroom and beyond, with remote classrooms and new apps like FaceTime making global education possible.

“How do we teach cultural awareness if our students aren’t connected with students or people from other countries?” Marini says. “We’re seeing more of this in higher education. Technology is being used to deliver a different type of education that’s unique.”

social responsibility
With easy access to information, students have the ability to research project solutions in more depth, which they can utilize for social good. Students are realizing design’s social responsibility and taking on pro-bono projects for homeless shelters, food banks and more, addressing a need in their communities and enhancing their resumes while they’re at it.

“We see this in design competitions, senior thesis projects or dedicated studios,” says Marini. “It shifts design from a static view to a very purposeful human interest story. We want students to look at the impact of interior design and how we can make a difference. Interior design students are grabbing onto that.”

Margie Monin Dombrowski is a freelance writer and interior design student based in Orange County, Calif. She frequently writes for interior design publications and creates copy for businesses on design topics. Find her online at www.margiemd.com.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Interior Designers: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/interior-designers.htm (visited April 29, 2013).

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