School of Thought

Academics share their insights on how to prepare the next generation of designers.

09/01/2016 By Louisa Fitzgerald

Commercial interior design evolves at a rapid pace, and educators are challenged not only to keep up, but also to prepare students for what’s next. Here, three top interior design educators and IIDA Educator of the Year honorees, as well as our 2016 Student of the Year, share their thoughts on how the curriculum and students have changed over the years, what skills add up to entry-level success, and what’s next in design education at the college level.

Technology Rules, but the Fundamentals Still Matter

So-Yeon Yoon

Associate professor, Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University
IIDA Educator of the Year 2014

I’ve been teaching Design Communication and Design Graphics and Visualization courses since 2001. While teaching both manual and digital tools, I have seen how much interior design educators’ views on digital media for design have changed. In the early days, digital media was not well received by established educators.

As a result, interior design students were often frustrated by the mixed messages from different educators. With digital media becoming increasingly popular inside and outside interior design education—our students don’t even remember how early they started using computers—I can see the students are very different from their counterparts of 10 or 20 years ago.

Today, interior design students are faster than ever at learning new digital tools. They are much more collaborative face-to-face as well as online. And, it is not surprising to see students who complete entire design studio projects using only a computer. However, they are more hesitant and intimidated with freehand sketches and renderings.

Design Thinking—Not Just Design—Is Key

Lisa Tucker  Ph.D., IIDA, FIDEC, AIA, ASID, LEED AP BD+C
Program chair, Interior Design Program, Virginia Tech
IIDA Educator of the Year 2016

From an educational point of view, teaching soft and hard skills at the undergraduate level, rather than getting students ready for a career in a specific design discipline, is critical. I help them figure out what they are passionate about, and then give them the tools to go into practice.
Firms today are looking for entry-level employees who can problem solve, are resourceful, have had exposure to concepts like well-building, LEED, interdisciplinary design, building reuse, and historic preservation. But, it’s also important that students graduate and be able to work on a team, collaborate, and get along with other people. They need to be ready to contribute.

Preparing Students to Design Globally and Locally

Virginia San Fratello  IIDA
Assistant professor, Department of Design, San Jose State University
IIDA Educator of the Year 2015

As educators prepare students for jobs, we should think about how students can make a difference now with design to better our own communities. Next semester, we’re partnering with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose, Calif., which has commissioned a mobile makerspace called the Spaceship. The Spaceship is a workshop on wheels that will offer digital fabrication tools and training to communities in San Jose. We’re going to pilot the Spaceship with a high school or middle school. Our students will help that school identify a design problem and come up with a design solution that, together, we will make in the lab. It will require critical design skills, but moreover, I will be teaching my students how to teach and how to be leaders.

Honing skills for success at the undergraduate level

Amy Leigh Hufford  Assoc. IIDA
Philadelphia University, Class of 2016
IIDA Student of the Year 2016

My education prepared me to think critically and to be adept at making quick decisions with confidence. In school, as is in the workplace, deadlines are tight, and we are really pushed to use our concept and design goals to propel all decisions. I feel like learning this approach in school was beyond valuable because making decisions is difficult when you don’t have reasons to back them up. Concept-based design is something I will always take with me.

We were also encouraged to think architecturally, both through collaboration and further exploration about how our interior design would both affect and be affected by architecture. Two parts of a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, architecture and interiors work best when considered as one, and I was really encouraged to think that way.

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