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EHD Design Team Advice: What to Know Before Starting Design School

This year, I needed some serious help in the design department—not styling, mind you, but people with real design and rendering skills and a willingness to help on many different levels (including blog post prep). I needed design school grads. People who could remind me what a P-trap is and warn me that the door swing will obstruct a piece of furniture. I’m not good at the details, measurements, scale, code, etc. yet they are extremely important. We all have our strengths, and I needed people stronger at my weaknesses. As you well know, I took on two massive renovation projects, neither of which were in LA, and while I have some experience with renovations, I needed assistance from people who might have been taught by experts. So, fast forward a year and I’m so happy to have found the members of the EHD design team. Julie, Velinda and Grace have been so integral at executing the design of these two houses (and the blog posts that correspond).  Since they took a different path than I did (as a reminder, I did not go to design school), we thought it would be fun/super helpful to anyone considering coming into this field if we picked their brains on their experience, path and schooling. There are a lot of career-oriented things that you don’t ever know until you’re forced to learn (i.e. after everything is said and done or you’re already on the job) and these three have some awesome advice about what they learned, how much their programs cost them, what they WISH they had focused on while in school and their general “this is what to expect” feedback. Spoiler alert: it involves insane amounts of homework and learning extremely technical programs.

Before I let them take it over, let’s introduce these three wonderful women (from left to right, Julie, Velinda and Grace).

Meet the EHD design team:

Emily Henderson Design School Advice Group Shot Outside 02

Julie Rose, Project Manager/Design Associate: At EHD for just over a year. On the project managing side, handles the day-to-day management of the mountain fixer and the Portland project. On the design assistant side, creates designs for the projects, assists with design problem solving, prepares spec sheet drawings and renderings for construction/blog posts.

Velinda Hellen, Design Associate: On the design assistant side, creates designs for the projects, assists with design problem solving, prepares spec sheet drawings and renderings for construction/blog posts. (Definitely didn’t steal this line from Julie). On the EHD team for about six months, starting to dabble in writing a blog post or two (which she’s into).

Grace De Asis, Design Associate: Just shy of working at EHD for three months, assists with solving design problems for the mountain house, helps prepare design-related blog posts, including rendering images of the spaces, prepares working drawings for construction, and runs errands, such as looking for samples and swatches.

What school/program did you attend, what did it cost and what made you choose it?

Julie: I received a BFA in Interior Architecture from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. The program was about $36k a year which I’ll probably be paying off for the rest of my days. As for why I chose it…um, the rain. I honestly love cold, wet weather. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in Los Angeles—too many years of beautiful sunshiny days can make you grow an aversion to it. Haha, listen to me complaining about gorgeous weather. But really, I love Seattle, so I did some research on what art schools were in the area and Cornish seemed like the perfect fit. It has been around for more than 100 years and offers both visual and performing arts. The program was modeled after the Bauhaus school which focused on creating a strong design concept and to unify all areas of the arts. It was overall a very creative environment and the class size was small—there were eight people in my year—which meant that we got a lot of one-on-one time with our professors. 

Velinda: I went to/plan to continue going to the Architectural Interior Design Program at UCLA Extension. They offer a 2-year certificate in interior design, which they estimate costs around $18,250. I think that’s slightly low, but a good guess…probably more like $20k. What’s cool about this program is that if you have any bachelors degree (my undergrad is in business; I had no prior design classes at all), you can transfer directly into their Master’s program (they say it takes an extra year) and have a Master’s in Architectural Interior Design in just a few (intense) years total…or join me on the 6 year track! (If you just asked “What’s slowing her down?” well…working full time for Emily!… Truthfully though, the $35k that last year is expected to cost.) I was genuinely pleased with the program and each professor there. The biggest reason I chose this program was because the classes were built around adult schedules. A few of the courses are even offered online, which can be a big help if you can’t manage to always make it onto campus.

Grace: I kind of attended two schools, but my pathway was weird because when I first started looking into interior design, I was working as a financial statement auditor for a public accounting firm. This meant that I wanted a program that was relatively quick (not 4 years long), not insanely expensive, and one that I could take at night after work or on the weekends. I did three semesters at Otis College of Art & Design in El Segundo, CA (under their ID continuing ed program), but ultimately pursued the Certificate in Interior Design program at the Philippine School of Interior Design (PSID).

I chose PSID mainly because the program was geared toward people wanting to switch careers and would only take two and a half years to complete. Most of the programs I found here would take four years, and the other ones that would be quicker were CRAZY expensive. (I did not want to be in school for another 4 years! I may look young, but I assure you that I am not—my almost five years in public accounting is proof of that!) It is also one of the top interior design schools in the Philippines, has been around for 50 years, and all the professors are practicing licensed interior designers. But why the Philippines, you ask? Well, that’s where I was born (and we lived there until I was 16), so I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like to live there as an adult. I figured I might as well hit two birds with one stone—hit two life goals in one go, ya know? PSID was also slightly less expensive than Otis, not to mention the cost of living in the Philippines would be lower. For my 2.5 years of tuition, materials and misc. expenses, it was about $14k…though my bank account says I definitely spent more than that “living my best life” out there.

Let’s say you can go back to when you first started school and give yourself three pieces of advice. What would they be?

Julie: These are three pieces of advice the seniors gave to us as freshmen that we soon quickly forgot due to the intense workload: 1. Stop stressing and just have fun with the projects. School is the time to push the boundaries of design and to be as creative as you possibly can be; it’s all theoretical anyway. 2. Draw, draw and keep drawing. Unless you are the most talented artist, it is always good to practice. Over the summer, I would try to do a sketch a day but was never able to keep up with it so it would take me a bit to get into the groove again when school started. 3. Don’t get stuck on an idea, be open to changing your design. Sometimes a design just doesn’t work no matter how much you might want it to—taking others’ suggestions and scrapping your first idea might make for a better outcome.

Velinda: 1. Trust them when they say to plan 20 hours of homework per course a week. 2. Digitize any worthy, (hand-rendered) projects for your portfolio as you complete them. It’s often free to scan to a USB drive if you’re already printing, but it costs as much to scan as to print if you do it later on, so you pay double. 3. Share knowledge and seek shared knowledge! Ask the professors/students who have taken a course tips for working smarter to save time. (An example, I hand-rendered every single title block for my first hand-drafting class, which took about 20 hours when I could have done one title block, then made vellum copies.) Learning from my own experience instead of seeking to learn from someone else’s cost me SO much time. BONUS 4. Learn the software skills first if your program will allow it. You will be hirable before even finishing school (I was!).

Grace: 1. Trust yourself and your ideas. Definitely spend the time to flush them out in your head so that you can justify them to your professors and peers. In some ways, there isn’t really a ‘best design’, it’s just a matter of being able to explain to your audience the thought process behind your decision. 2. Don’t pick your team for group projects based on friends. In the first year of our program, we were randomly assigned to teams for group projects. In our last year, we were given the freedom to choose our own teams. Honestly, there are benefits to both sides, but also keep in mind that in the real world, you will be working with different kinds of people (whether that’s your co-workers, clients, or vendors), so it’s good to have that experience while in school. It allows you to see different perspectives and style approaches, as well as gives you some insight into how you work with others, how you are able to address both positive and negative feedback as an individual, and how you handle resolving creative differences. 3. Opinions are subjective, so don’t take it too personally if your professors or your peers do not like your designs. It’s just the nature of the beast: some people will like it, and some people won’t.

Emily Henderson Design School Advice Working

What did you learn in school that has been the most useful while working in the “real world”?

Julie: The construction classes. The first class, you learn about building materials and how things are constructed which is useful on job sites. When you can start throwing around terms like ‘collar tie’ and ‘dead load’, your contractor will know you mean business. The second semester focused on construction documents where you learn how to create what we in the field call “a set”, which includes plans, elevations, section cuts, RCPs (reflective ceiling plans), detail drawings, door and window schedules, etc. Learning not only how to read these documents but why it has to be constructed in a certain way can tell you what you can and can’t do for your design. 

Velinda: The most obvious is the software skills (Adobe Suite, AutoCAD, SketchUp). But the ability to read plans and understand elevations is a subtler skill that I’m using all the time. 

Grace: Learning both English and metric systems! Sometimes, for instance, furniture dimensions are only given in metric and sure, I could look up conversions online, but knowing what those numbers mean off-hand (without feeling like I’m going into it blind) can be super helpful and save me time. And yes, SketchUp is definitely very useful (both at work and in my personal life–sometimes when friends have design questions, I even use it to make a quick model of what their options could be)!

Was school what you expected? What was surprising about it?

Julie: Cornish encourages the students to take classes outside of their major. I never thought that epidemiology, African dance and existentialism would be things that I would learn while studying interior architecture. I also took an industrial design class where we got to design a bike rack for the City of Seattle, create a pair of shoes, and even design a plate. It ended up being one of my favorite classes because it let me take a break from floor plans and SketchUp but still use my creative problem-solving skills.

Velinda: I’ll reiterate that I didn’t believe projects for each class would average around 15-20 hours a week. PER class. I also didn’t know how expensive the supplies I would need to invest in would be. Drafting supplies, portable boards, and PRINTING adds up, BUT a lot of classes require the same materials (i.e. for Drafting I, I easily spent $500 on supplies, but I used most of them for Drafting II and Drafting III, with a few additions. Printing projects for each class averaged around $200).

Grace: Not exactly. Didn’t think that there were going to be that many sleepless nights (we were basically running on only naps for the entire duration of the program… 6-8hrs of sleep every night?? Don’t know what that was.) There are these assignments called plates for every subject and most of them take a very long time to complete. In the beginning, when we were just being taught manual drafting for the first time, it would take me HOURS to draft an extremely simple floor plan (which was basically already given). Some teachers also wanted a perfectly drafted floor plan (no erasures), so we would spend almost the entire night redoing it over and over again until it was perfect. And then obviously things just escalated from there because as you go further along in the program, you go from learning how to draft a floor plan all the way to designing entire rooms, houses, hotels, and other spaces that take a considerable amount of time to conceptualize and make all the necessary drawings and plans for. But don’t get me wrong, it was THE best – I knew from the very first class that I was finally where I belonged!

Which leads me to what I found surprising: Not all classes will be fun classes about pretty things! Some classes will be about plumbing where you talk about p-traps, septic tanks, valves, etc., hard materials (nails, screws, hardware, etc.), or energy/electricity/power where you talk about amperes, ohm, lumens and light output, etc. These were not interesting classes for me, but I know they are useful because these are things that you can/will come across in projects in the real world, so you do need to know a bit about them or at least be familiar with the terms.

Emily Henderson Design School Advice Hand Rendering

What did you find to be the easiest and most difficult part?

Julie: I was very excited to finally get back to school after a *whispers* five-year break. After working many retail jobs, catering and a short stint as a makeup artist, I had finally felt like I knew what I wanted to do for my career. Being creative has always come more naturally to me than say math or science, so coming up with project ideas or working on a drawing was the easy and fun part of school. The difficult part was trying to figure out how to manage my time between all the projects and a part-time job (it involved a lot of all-nighters). 

Velinda: The easiest part, staying interested. As time-consuming as the projects were, I always enjoyed what I was working on. There was always so much to figure out and keep up with, I was never bored. The hardest part, for me, was learning SketchUp. I had heard learning AutoCAD was incredibly difficult, but I flew through that one (thanks to a great professor and taking an online class that I could watch and re-watch). So, I was pretty sure I was a genius…until the next class. SketchUp is to blame for many boxes of Kleenex that I went through that semester. So many breakdowns! But it’s my favorite that I learned now. 

Grace: Easiest part—my freehand drawing classes! I used to draw and sketch as a kid and doing all of the manual renderings that we had to do at the beginning of our program was so much fun for me—almost as if I was just playing. Also in those early days, some classes were mostly just about designing based on what felt “right” without having to worry about real-world things like structural columns or codes, so those classes were definitely more fun and easy.

Hardest part—having to use the metric system in the beginning of my time at PSID! Since we use the English system here in the US, it was very hard for me to transition to using metric—my brain couldn’t process it or visualize it at first! On a more serious note, keeping myself motivated in those classes that dealt with the not-so-pretty and fun topics was probably actually the most difficult part.

Looking back, now that you’re working in the field, what do you wish you would have learned but didn’t?

Julie: Two words, project management. Shortly after starting work on the mountain house, I became the project manager of both that and the Portland project with no prior experience. I wish that my school would’ve had a semester or a seminar on how to deal with the finer details of the day-to-day business of a project. Things like how to keep a project on schedule, what information you should to tell your tiler (or any subcontractor) and how best to communicate ideas with your contractor would’ve been great information to learn while in school. One thing I have learned is that a spreadsheet is your best friend.

Velinda: Revit with 3ds Max. For my program, students chose between SketchUp and Revit. I opted to learn SketchUp because it’s more difficult than Revit (which is increasing in popularity). I decided to teach myself the easier program down the line as I eventually want to know both. 

Grace: Software-wise, I wish my program had offered classes on Revit! I feel like everyone is transitioning into Revit these days and I wish I had learned how to use it in school. One of my teachers at Otis had already mentioned this all the way back in 2014, but I never got around to learning it even in my own time.

Was there anything you wish your program would have focused on more to make you feel a little more prepared for working in the field?

Julie: I felt like my school did a pretty good job of trying to cover all the different areas of information that you need to know for this field. The problem is that a semester or two on any given subject is just not enough time to learn it all. My best piece of advice it to just try to absorb as much information as possible in school because you will really learn a lot on the job. This is why the industry has so many specialized experts—no one person can know it all, so don’t expect yourself to either. 

Velinda: Materials. My program only had one class on materials, which due to the volume of material options, leaves students with more questions than answers in the end. There’s just too much to cover!

Grace: I wish we had more classes about construction. I feel like the classes we had just barely scratched the surface. My very first real-life project after school was a store in a mall that was being constructed from the ground up and my team and I wished we knew so much more about a lot of the construction details and minutiae (stuff that probably gets taught in more detail to architects and engineers…maybe?) so that conversations with the contractor didn’t feel like we were kind of like fish out of water. I say this though knowing that there are a lot of things that you really don’t learn until you’re actually on the job (and from personal experience, this goes for ANY kind of work, not just design).

Emily Henderson Design School Advice Autocad With Text

Emily Henderson Design School Advice Podium Rendering With Text

Emily Henderson Design School Advice Sketchup With Text

What computer programs do you use the most at work?

Julie: In order of most to least used at work: SketchUp, Podium (which is a plugin for SketchUp we use to create realistic renderings), AutoCAD, Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator.

Velinda: SketchUp (with Podium) and Photoshop (I wish we used Illustrator more!).

Grace: SketchUp (with Podium), Photoshop, InDesign and AutoCAD.

For anyone considering getting into the interior design field, what do you want them to know? Is it all just pretty samples and picking out amazing furniture?

Julie: I mean, awesome furniture is part of it but all in all, it’s a lot of creative problem-solving, especially on the big renovations. A project is like one big beautiful Tetris puzzle, one decision will affect each additional piece that comes later. If you love to be creative with limitations like codes, load-bearing issues etc., then this is the career for you. You also need to know how to communicate an idea to a contractor, client or even a coworker so having the skills to draw, create spec sheets and fully render your design is important. Keep in mind, everyone understands information differently so having multiple ways to show your design is helpful. Plus, you get to pick out a lot of pretty tile samples along the way. You know that feeling you get when something is just so wonderful, like a puppy? Well, I get that way over samples. Let’s clarify, though, I also get that way over puppies.

Velinda: There actually is a lot of picking out pretty things and finding creative inspiration involved in the job, but you’ve got to be able to communicate the ultimate vision, so learn how to render, draw, make boards! Beyond these fun parts of the job, you’ve got to be meticulous about details and dimensions, you’d better love spec sheets! You’ll need to learn how much space people take up during a variety of functions and what standard heights of familiar objects are. My favorite professor told us to carry a tape measure and measure things that “work” in your daily life…comfortable chairs, desks with plenty of clearance for knees, countertops…I actually do that now. Hey, if you wanna nerd out over whether or not a bottle of bleach will fit beneath a kitchen sink that has a 16-inch tall garbage disposal attached, then you might be a designer! 

Grace: It’s not an easy job! It’s not all about picking beautiful paint, looking at pretty furniture, or playing with textiles. In interior design, there are so many things to consider and complete before you can even get to the fun part of playing with finishes and furnishings! There are many plans/drawings to make, there are real-world things to consider like plumbing, code, structural restrictions, budget, and even after looking at all those things during the planning/design phase, there are still many things that could (will) come up during construction so you will always constantly be trying to problem-solve. 

And also, designing for the real world with real clients can be tough. You can learn all you can about how to “properly” design spaces, but once you’re faced with a real client with real opinions, preferences, and visions, the process becomes different. You have to address their concerns and opinions. And if they have strong opinions and preferences, you can’t just ignore them and push for what you think is visually “right” because what you think is “right” or looks pleasing is subjective (try convincing a client that’s right because you “feel” like it is).

For those looking into online programs, do you have any recommendations?

Julie: Honestly, I don’t know much about online programs. I’ve never really looked into that before but if you have a public library card, I believe you have access to which is an amazing website with tutorial videos. There are endless amounts of super helpful videos on every program you could ever imagine which is sometimes better than just Googling a question you might have or starting from scratch. 

Velinda: I wish I did. I looked into it myself, but anything I saw that looked promising way exceeded my budget. I really enjoyed the online classes UCLA offered. They were set up very effectively. 

Grace: I don’t really have any recommendations for online programs, sorry! There are probably some good ones out there, but I thought that for my personal learning preference, real life interaction with professors and peers in a classroom setting was the best way for me to learn.

What did you prepare for your job interviews? Portfolio?

Julie: The first and most important step is to do your research about the company and what skills they are looking for, then you can customize your portfolio to the job. When I interviewed with Emily, I made sure to not only include my interior design-based projects but also some graphic design and drawings since she runs a company that does a little bit of everything. I wanted to show that I could be an asset to the whole team and not just the design part. Keep the look of your resume, cover letter, business card and portfolio consistent by choosing two fonts for everything (one for titles and a simple san serif font for body copy), have a color scheme throughout, and if you want to get real fancy, design a personal logo. This helps to create a brand through the graphic design and shows a bit more of your personality. I also think that it is still important to send a handwritten thank you card after your interview and include something you talked about. Have it on you the day of so you can write it, put it in the mail after and fingers crossed you get the job.

Velinda: My portfolio website (a lot of people will ask if you have one to look at, so it’s well worth the time investment). Take a look: (I’ve changed my name since getting married, so not sure how long this link will work. It’s all due for an update anyway). 

Grace: Definitely a portfolio with around five to six of your best works (I had a PDF version for online/email applications and a printed/bound version for in-person interviews). Obviously, a resume and a cover letter. Hot tip: my friend who’s in HR says that less and less companies look at cover letters now, but when I was applying for jobs the week before I got hired at EHD, all the interviews I got were from places that I had spent the time to write custom cover letters for! They’re tough to write, but I think they’re worth it! And since you are applying for a design job after all, make sure that all of these items have a cohesive design aesthetic.

Emily Henderson Design School Advice Looking Over Plans

Best piece of advice when applying for jobs and working your first job?

Julie: Try to get an internship or part-time work with a company while you are still in school. Companies are more willing to give you work with little experience when you are a student. Networking is key, you never know who you will meet at events. You can join organizations like IIDA or ASID for a fraction of the cost when you are a student and go to all of the events to meet working professionals. Through IIDA, they even have a day where you can shadow someone in a larger interior design firm. I did this during my junior and senior year of school and was offered an interview with the company after graduating because of the event. When you do get that first job, put in the hours. Coming in a little bit early and staying later shows that you are dedicated to the work. Having a good work ethic can go a long way. 

Velinda: I was given the advice to get my foot in the door by doing an internship with a small company that would actually provide access to the design process vs file you away among 100 other employees. Intern with a small company that is understaffed; it’s a perfect place to prove your value and end up with a permanent job. At the very least, you look good for having an internship on your resume. Also, aim higher than you think you might be able to achieve…and cold submit. By submitting before a job position is announced, you might end up in a file and then on top of the resume pile. That’s how I ended up with EHD. I submitted to the jobs@ email address back in January, expecting never to hear back. In early March, Brady reached out asking if I was still job-hunting. I just barely was, as I was about to start an internship (with a company I was SUPER excited about…they TOTALLY understood that I had to go work with Emily). That company had never had an intern before and that position only came about because I asked a friend who had hired them before for an introduction. So, ask around.

Grace: My best piece of advice when applying for jobs is to make sure you network and keep yourself visible in the industry! There are so many events, meetups, pop-ups, etc. in the design world that are so exciting to go to if you love all things design…so even if you’re not actively looking, YOU SHOULD GO ANYWAY! Speaking from recent personal experience, you seriously never know who (*cough* Emily *cough) you are going to meet at these events—they could be your next employer!

Best piece of advice for working your first job—not specific to ID: there is no task so small or big / no task is ever beneath you no matter what your age or status is. Do everything that is asked of you without complaints, offer to do tasks that others would prefer to not do themselves, and do everything to the best of your abilities.

***Emily here. I thought it would be fun now that they’ve answered all these questions to let you know why I hired each of them.

Julie: Her school portfolio was impressive, with a lot of skills, renderings and developed concepts that clearly required in-depth thought, creativity and obsession. But honestly, other applicants were strong in that department, too. What is more unique is that she had just gotten back from hiking from Mexico to Canada, by herself…(well, she got disrupted due to an injury) and that showed commitment, a sense of adventure, perseverance and a desire for a challenge. It’s also kinda the opposite of a something I would do (six or more weeks of alone time isn’t exactly my personal heaven) so I thought that she would bring a good energy and focus to the team (“focus” is a huge lack for me). She also happens to be super likable.

Velinda: Velinda was a fast hire, admittedly, due to some Portland problem-solving desperation, so this was a case of really good timing (apply year round, because sometimes we don’t have time to go through the hiring process and might just go to the email and pull recent submissions for an interview if we need a fast hire). She was interviewed on a Thursday and started the following Monday. The reason I hired her was more based on her interview and resume that showed creativity and a sense of humor. She seemed professional but super likable. I just liked her vibe. Since she didn’t have a lot of design experience (or maybe any), I gave her a trial period and realized within a couple days that she was a fast learner, cared a lot and after I took her to lunch her first week, I loved her honesty and she seemed very grounded.

Grace: Grace was another fast hire. 🙂 As the SketchUp renderings were needed faster and faster for both projects (both for construction and the blog), Julie and Velinda couldn’t possibly keep up with them, so we went back to the jobs inbox and found Grace at the top. She had applied years ago, where apparently I had given her the advice “go to design school.” And she did! Three years later, after school, she came back and sent in her resume when we weren’t hiring (see, it’s a thing). She approached me at an event (smart) and reminded me who she was and because she had studied design in the Philippines, that rang a bell (put something that stands out on your resume). A few weeks later when we did need help, I thought about her and looked up her resume and portfolio, which were great and brought her in for an interview where she seemed so willing, likable and hardworking. Apparently skills + creativity + willingness + likability/positive attitude = what I look for on the design team.

So there you have it. Gems of knowledge from three design school graduates. These guys have a wealth of knowledge to share if you are interested, i.e. how to set up a post-graduate portfolio, what to put on a resume to get a job in design, etc. Just pop into the comments if you’re into it and we can keep going! Oh, and if there are any questions you have that we didn’t answer for you here, ask away. They’ll be sure to answer back with whatever helpful info they have to share.

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5 years ago

Great advice‼️ I’ve spent some time in design school (hoping to go back and finish some day) and I can relate to the cost for supplies, time spent on homework— you can’t finesse it— and the value of learning to draw‼️ I’ve taken some online courses through the Interior Design Institute. I would recommend it to those looking for an online program that gives you the basics and realistic homework. I notice that a lot of interior designers do other things in the design field to get money. If interior designers with technical training are needed, why is the pay so meager? I truly love the design process, so the pay isn’t as important. Nevertheless, it seems hard to make a living doing it. I’d be interested in hearing the designers’ thoughts on this issue. Maybe it’s just me❓❓❓

5 years ago

I’m not in the interior design field, but found this fascinating. I like problem solving and the creativity that entails, and I didn’t realize how much interior design overlaps with my own work. I ended up taking the science route, but I would have loved this information when I was starting school to help me during those years I had no idea what I was doing. Thanks for the interesting read.

5 years ago

Very interesting! Thanks to each of them for sharing their thinking and experiences.

Cris S.
5 years ago

This was great – thanks to each of you for your time and thought. As someone in a graduate school’s career services office, I think these job search lessons are great across fields!

5 years ago

Great info thanks! What types of jobs were you hoping to land out of school and what are your eventual career goals? How are the job/career prospects for design grads in general?

5 years ago
Reply to  Lauren

Hi Lauren! Before I started school I wanted to get a job that focused on hospitality, mainly restaurant & hotel design. After graduating I decided to get some experience in a smaller company since I felt like there was still so much to learn and I thought that a large firm wouldn’t be the right environment to get the hands on work I desired. I would like to eventually either work at a large firm or start my own business with the end goal of focusing on hospitality or small space design. As far as the career prospects, my year got very lucky being that we were in Seattle where they are experiencing a huge boom in construction, most of the firms in the area were doubling their interior design departments to keep up with the work load. There are so many different paths you can take after school so job prospects all depends on location, timing and which part of the field you want to work in. I hope that helps and I am so glad you enjoyed the post!

5 years ago
Reply to  Julie Rose

Thanks for your thoughtful reply Julie, and best of luck with your a big firm or your own business someday!

5 years ago

I loved this post! There are so many people making interior design look like it can just be your hobby and then… poof… it’s your job! For a good, real designer, it takes a lot of hard work. As in other disciplines, there are no shortcuts. So many people are trying to get into new careers quick and fast and it’s just not that easy!

I wish it were- I’d do a quickie design school in a heartbeat. But at 40 with 3 kids and as the breadwinner in a boring, but stable job, it’s not in the cards.

Thanks for sharing your experience, ladies.

5 years ago
Reply to  Emily

I was just thinking that as a mom, how feasible is it to retrain as an interior designer? It had always been my dream job (I used to draw floor plan after floor plan from age 9, I was a bit weird…) but it wasn’t really a career option for me when I went to university. And it sounds like a huge financial and time investment now… argh!
Also I need a UK version of this post, since I have a feeling it is quite different over here.
Fascinating post though, Emily and team. Probably my favourite ever!

Vicki Williams
5 years ago
Reply to  Alice

See my reply above. You can do it! I did!

5 years ago
Reply to  Alice

Hi Alice! Not sure how old your kid is (or how many), but one of my professors in school did this! She went through the same exact program that I did (same school and everything) years and years ago while raising her toddler. Obviously it was a huge commitment to even go through it (both time-wise and financial-wise), but I remember her stories where she would basically try to involve her kid in some of her homeworks and make it some kind of bonding / play time. She’d give the kid watercolor supplies and a copy of whatever she would need to render, that kind of stuff, and now she attributes her kid’s (who’s in college now) creative side back to that time.

Not saying your situation is similar, but your comment just made me remember her story as mom going through design school. It’s doable. 🙂

Vicki Williams
5 years ago
Reply to  Emily

That’s what I thought but when I got a lay off package from my tech job I looked into it. When I walked in the the Design School’s head office, the (famous, BTW) leading designer said, “Well, you look like a designer!” I thought I was too old at 49 but I’ve ended up having a successful 20 plus year fulfilling design career! Don’t give up. Go for it!

5 years ago

LOVE this post. My husband is an interior designer (commercial, not homes) and I am a high school teacher with lots of kids questioning what comes next. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

5 years ago

Great post! I’m considering getting into interior design, as its been a passion of mine for quite some time. I even wanted to go to school for it when a few years back, but I was intimidated by drawing. I don’t draw well at all. Is this a deal beaker for becoming a designer? How hard is it to pick up as a skill?

On another note, I’m wondering when you guys are going to post the reveals from the Portland house?? Hasn’t it been done for 1.5 months now?? While I enjoy a good round-up, those posts aren’t really why I follow the EHD blog. Also, I love your how old how-to videos on styling, and would love to see more of them!

5 years ago
Reply to  Caity

Hey Caity! Most of the interior design programs will have you take a class or two that focuses on some sort of drawing, I knew other students in my course where drawing was not their strong suit but after taking the class their skills definitely improved. Plus most companies are focusing more on computer skills these days than drafting or rendering a space by hand so don’t feel intimidated, it isn’t a deal breaker at all! As far as the reveal posts for the Portland House they are coming out VERY soon so stay tuned!

5 years ago
Reply to  Julie Rose

I had the same question about drawing / artistic skills as that has consistently felt like my “roadblock” to pursuing my passion for interior design. Great to hear that this isn’t a “pre-req” or deal-breaker.

5 years ago
Reply to  jenny

To Caity and Jenny. I want to further support Julie’s comment.
I don’t have the best skills for drawing. Basic at best. You take classes and that helps. To this day i still can’t draw very well. But if theres something i learned. If you can get your message across and the customer/contractor understands what you want. then your golden. sometimes I’ve communicated an idea i need with simple line drawings, nothing fancy, no shading. Also, pursue software. Its what every company is looking for.

5 years ago
Reply to  Caity

Totally agree with other replies. I graduated in the 2000 with my undergrad in Environmental Design and then got my masters in Architecture in 2005. I was the last undergrad class to take hand drafting. Every company uses cad software and when I left the corporate world in 2009, 3D cad drawings and renderings were all the rage. Hand drawing is a plus, but not a requirement by any means. I’m just starting to teach my kids drawing…check out book “Drawing with Children.” The author says it’s never too late to learn drawing, it’s a skill like anything else!

5 years ago

This post was really helpful, thank you all for taking the time to talk about this in detail.

I’m currently trying to change careers and would love to become and interior designer. I’ve always liked interior design and decoration, and I feel like I really want to do a more creative job where I feel more realised as a person.

However, I’ve always been very insecure about my artistic abilities, or rather the lack of them. I was wondering if any of you ever came across a professional designer or a student who made it work even though they were lacking in that area. I think I’d feel a lot more confident if I knew other people out there overcame this obstacle and landed the job of their dreams.

Alexandra Rose
5 years ago
Reply to  Jimena

Hi Jimena!

I’ve been working in Architecture and Interior Design for about 15 years and, in my experience, most professionals DO NOT have fabulous hand drawing skills. I’ve started to develop mine recently because my current firm values that bit of warmth and life that hand drawn renderings can give to a client but I’ve found that most firms look for technical drawing skills first. In fact, 6 out of 8 of the firms I’ve worked for, never or rarely provided hand drawn renderings to clients. If you happen to be talented at hand drawing then that’s a bonus and can help set you apart but, if not, it shouldn’t stop you from getting a great job in design. That said, if you want to get better at hand drawing, you just have to do it more. It’s a skill like any other that can be developed over time. Good luck!

5 years ago
Reply to  Alexandra Rose

Thank you so much for your answer, Alexandra. I’m going to do my best to improve, but I feel a lot more confident knowing that, thank you!

5 years ago

Great in depth information! I just wanted to note that it would be helpful if you use your team members’ last names at the beginning of each of the articles. I know we woman like to be friendly and casual, but it is important for career building to have full names out there.

Vicki Williams
5 years ago

Wow! Surprised there aren’t any comments yet, though it is still early. Terrific post! I went back to school at age 49, was raising my 9 year old daughter and was newly married. Design as been my passion all my life. (Drew my first floor plan at age 6.) Ended up getting a job as kitchen designer after 2 and a half years of intensive work in school so never finished with the business end of the courses. Absolutely 20 hours of homework per course! Very little sleep, often none, so I can relate with everything above. It is still my passion at 78 years old and I’m renovating an entire home for a friend, if I live that long, ha! No fear, I have pin boards for every room. Masterbath finished at $31K, almost finished with a gorgeous bed and bath en suite downstairs for the oldest daughter, then onward and upward to raising ceilings and doing a new kitchen , German smear fireplace, ship-lapped walls and….well it will be happily complete in a year or so. Clients very happy and I am having a great time. Anyway Thanks Emily for thinking of every kind of learning your readers… Read more »

5 years ago
Reply to  Vicki Williams

This is so inspiring! Thank you for sharing!!

Amanda Brinkman-Brockman
5 years ago

Thank you for this post! I’m strongly considering changing careers mid life and this is just the kind of clear and honest insider information I was looking for about the world of design.

Sarah Montgomery
5 years ago

These are lucky ladies! Thanks for this post. I’m just starting my own ID business, and grapple with taking classes. I have a design background and 10 years in the industry so my conclusion is that I would hire out the technical things I would learn in school, like CAD. I’m hoping to get hooked up with a very patient contractor and I’ve got open arms for those real life lessons along the way.

Laurel Bern
5 years ago

Sarah, I’ve been in this business since 1988 counting 3 years of interior design school. If you’ve been in the industry for ten years and are planning on doing primarily residential, I doubt that you need to take any courses. Although, I guess it depends what your job was and what your focus is. I’m a full-time blogger now, but until three years ago, I did all drawings by hand and still do floor plans for some of my blog posts– by hand on 1/4″ graph paper. And believe me, they aren’t perfect, (meaning, lots of erasing) but they get the job done. Of course, if you want computer rendered designs, you can farm it out, but I found that doing a simple floor plan on graph paper and then a mood board, online(I use picmonkey which is super easy) was all I needed to close the deals quickly. And, the latter was only the last few years I had clients. Ironically, I can do much more by computer now, but only because of my blog! 90% of what I did in real life as an interior designer, I learned after I got out of school. I spent the first… Read more »

5 years ago

Man, sometimes I think I’d really love to transition into interior design, but have already gone through school twice — once for fine arts (with a focus painting and drawing) and then again for graphic design — so I am not really keen on doing it again. Not sure how to break into that world with no portfolio and only the work I’m slowly doing on my own house with my very limited budget as proof of any skills I might have, haha.

I’m often torn between the various types of design (currently I’m doing ux/ui) because I love it all! But interior design and illustration are the two things I obsess over in my spare time.

5 years ago

Thank you Velinda, Grace and Julie for such an in depth look at design school. I also switched careers and went to design school and now work for myself. Someone in the comments was asking about job prospects. In the design industry, most designers work for themselves. So along with being artistic, creative, a great problem solver, have great business sense (managing many people and product sourcing, ordering, delivery, install) and be able to manage others money (work orders, purchase orders, ledgers) you also need to be a good salesperson. You will be putting yourself out there and finding clients.
There are some firms that hire but most only have a few designers on staff and don’t hire regularly. Also, if you work for yourself, you are likely to make more money. Many designer that start out working for firms start in the $40,000’s/year.
It’s a great field to be in but it is work and not all fun and fluffing pillows like I initially thought. Ha!

5 years ago

such an incredible post!! so much great information. thank you SO much for you and your team putting this together.
I am an interior designer and my daughter in interested in the field too, so many things have changed that I find it hard to advise her, so this was all very helpful. One take away from the article also was being reminded how incredibly hard this career path is, and expensive !! so you have to LOVE it. I also read a list of the top five jobs that cost the most to acquire degrees/certificates and paid the least in return salary wise. Interior Designer was number 3 🙁
so again, you have to love it!!! thank you all for all of the love and energy put in to everything you do and share with all of us!!

Jennifer harrup
5 years ago

I have a degree in interior design and don’t currently practice. For me the thing I wish I had known was the salary. I got a dream job out of school, it was where I interned, they did amazing current and high end interiors. I even neogotiated for a higher salary…but even with all of that I was only making 26k a year which even in Houston Texas (not an expensive place to live) it wasn’t a livable salary. I quickly switched careers and opened my own wedding planning business. I hope the bloggers are able to pay better! I never expected to make a fortune, but I did assume that 30k would be a more likely starting point and that just wasn’t the case…for all the student loan debt I had it was a HUGE shock and honestly I feel like my degree was a total waste of $$

Valerie Hill
5 years ago

How cool – you have some fabulous talent on your team! I was so excited to see Julie is working with you!! I know Julie from a student program of IIDA in Seattle – so fantastic she is sharing her talent at EHD (even is she has to miss the rain)! Go Julie – Go team!

5 years ago
Reply to  Valerie Hill

Hey Valerie!!! I hope you and your family are well and enjoying the rainy/dreary weather for me. Thanks so much!

Paige Cassandra Flamm
5 years ago

These are all awesome tips for budding interior designers. I think as the internet and blogging become more common place, we’re going to see more and more people entering the profession and industry!


5 years ago

This was an amazing read, especially as I’m considering design school as a propellant to change careers. For , @Velina and @Grace, I’m curious what level of natural or taught artistic talent you had going into design school, and whether you feel this is a “requirement” before pursuing the education and field in general?

5 years ago
Reply to  jenny

Hey Jenny! I was always interested in drawing as a kid (I would go to art workshops when I was a kid and was a part of my school’s art club), but I absolutely do not think that this is a requirement for pursuing a design education / career. It’s a skill that can definitely be taught. I wanna say that maybe half the people in my class didn’t have any drawing / artistic background, but we had multiple classes on freehand drawing, watercolor, rendering, etc., and while not all of us will ever be Matisse or whoever else, you will be taught enough for you to be able to communicate your design vision. Plus, you can always explain it with words as well (hand drawn stuff is just one of the many tools). And speaking of tools, you will also have softwares at your disposal (make sure you learn some of them)!

Torre Lisi
5 years ago

This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been working in real estate for a few years & know a little SketchUp, photoshop, etc., but just enrolled in the same UCLA Interior Design program. I am SO happy to hear you had a good experience! Even if I have to trade my Sunday Fundays for SketchUp Sundays… well, it certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it. Anyway, THANK YOU!

5 years ago
Reply to  Torre Lisi

Ha… ‘SketchUp Sundays’! That’s exciting! It was definitely a good experience. If you get a chance, take David Alvarez’s class. It’s insanely challenging, but probably my favorite/one I found to be most useful.

5 years ago

I am thinking about switching career and I absolutely loved this post. It has great insight into the field. I think I’ll look into the UCLA extension/ certificate program. Thank you for sharing all of your experiences!

5 years ago

Amazing info for anyone and congrats to the entire EHD team / recent hires for their hard work! Kudos to EHD team in general for thinking of this unique perspective, the thought put into each of the questions (you asked each team member )and that you put value in your teams perspective to create this post!

5 years ago

Love love love this post. If I were still teaching, I would make this required reading in all my classes.

5 years ago

Hello! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this post. As a recent grad of an accredited interior design program, I am a huge advocate for the value of our degrees and the important skills that can be acquired through a formal education. There is a place for everyone in design, which is a beautiful thing! However I truly admire those who take the time and energy to go beyond the visual eye candy we see on HGTV and Pinterest – there is a world of technical, life safety and maticulious skill that goes into this profession as well. There is a time and place for beauty, but one equally for the important detailed drawings that make projects come to life! Kudos to you ladies and the EHD team for highlighting the techinal side of the professsion, as well as shedding light on the wide range of careers available within the interiors industry! Cheers and best wishes. 🙂

5 years ago

Love this! I am going into my final year at the Savannah College of Art and Design (also a 4 year Bauhaus-style program). One of my favorite things about this industry is how everyone seems to come into it in a different way. It’s so encouraging to hear feedback from designers who have “made it to the other side”. There is always so much to learn. Thank you for sharing!

5 years ago

Amazing advice! I’m currently studying a diploma of interior design in Melbourne, Australia so it’s really interesting to see how different/similar it is studying and working in different places around the world. Any advice on putting together a post graduate portofilo would also be really helpful! I’ve found teachers tend to just say that you should put in your best work from projects…. I’m wondering if this is true or if you would recommend something different?

5 years ago

I went to school and majored in Architecture, with a minor in landscape. At the time Revit 2010 was the newest edition. I recall the several projects that we did, and 95% of the time the students in the class would pick sketch up, because it was much easier to use, navigate the UI, and create very organic shapes. I always opted for Revit,a nd i sure did struggle with it. But when it would all work out, i had some of the best renderings ever. Granted this is about 8-10 years ago. So sketch up was barely starting to have the huge amount of plugin capabilities for renderings.

If i can give an option from a fellow arch student, to interior designers currently, or those in school. Try to squeeze in revitalizing practice whenever possible. Revit has come a very long way from when i first started using it back in 2005. It allows for much more organic models, plus you get elevations, plans, and renderings all within the same program.

Rylie Duncan
5 years ago

Thank you so much for making this post! I am currently in the first semester of my interior design degree and this is awesome advice. I am excited to learn and hopefully I will be able to cope with the stress of the program like you did. You are all so inspirational! I wish you the best and I hope to have the same experiences in the future ❤️

5 years ago

It’s like you all are IN my brain sometimes. I also majored in business, but my current career trajectory just isn’t doing it for me. I’m 36, so going back to school feels a little intimidating after being out for 15 years, but I started researching design schools here in LA last week. I RSVP’d for UCLA’s ARC+ID Open House to learn more about their certificate (and maybe Masters) program, and I’m really happy to hear the program is good (helps with the sticker shock). It makes me even more excited to learn more!

5 years ago

Thank you so much for this post! All of your answers are super thoughtful and detailed, I appreciate it!
I’m currently in accounting and planning a career change (Hey, Grace!), starting with design school. It’s very encouraging that two of you did a certificate program instead of an additional bachelor’s or associate’s degree. Have you ever received feedback in your job searches or interviews that they would prefer a candidate with a BA or AA degree in Interior Design?

5 years ago
Reply to  Anna

Hey Anna! I can’t speak for Velinda, but I didn’t come across that as an issue while applying / interviewing. My impression is that here in the US, for certain jobs in the creative field, people seem to be more interested in seeing what you are capable of (design-wise and software-wise) based on what you’ve shown in your portfolio rather than which school you came from or what sort of degree / non-degree you have. (Not the case in the Philippines where I feel like they are a little bit more hung-up about it. Not sure if that is an Asia thing.)

Obviously there were companies that I didn’t hear back from, so I don’t know if that was an issue for them. But I heard back from enough companies that I like for me to think that it’s probably not that much of an issue. I’d say go for that career change! I don’t regret having my accounting background and experience, but I feel much happier now…?

Mallory Guraya
5 years ago

This is such a helpful post! I guess my biggest question is for Grace: I’m from LA but moved to Sydney Australia and I’m currently in a 1 year interior design program to receive my diploma (similar to what you did Grace). How did you find the transition from studying interior design in another country and coming back to the US? Was your diploma still readily accepted in the US? Did you find trends, process, and styles were still applicable to what you learned abroad? I’d love to hear and see more about what you put in your design portfolio when applying for jobs! Thanks for the great article!

5 years ago
Reply to  Mallory Guraya

Hey Mallory! In any of the interviews that I’ve gone to (I’m talking small ID firms owned by 1-2 people instead of large corporate firms), none of them have actually asked for my diploma. I can’t speak for everyone but I feel like once you have a portfolio and can show that you can do the work, then that’s pretty much all they care about. Not sure either if the fact that I’ve had years of prior experience in a different industry affects their non-interest in my diploma in some way. As far as trends, process, and styles go, I feel like this wasn’t really an issue for me because of how global we’ve all become. With all the social media that we have now and easy access to internet, learning and seeing what people and the industry are leaning towards is so much easier. Also, because I had come from here and was already influenced by what we see here / other designers from the US that I’ve already been following, I was kept up to date. In a way, my earlier designs for my projects were very US-like in a way and then it kind of just evolved… Read more »

Carly Waters
5 years ago

Question for Emily – where are you finding the best candidates ?? As a business owner, Munoz biggest challenge is finding good people with the right skill set.

5 years ago

What a great article. I always wanted to work in Interior Design but life led me in other directions. However, an international move made me re think my goals. I decided to train online with National Design Academy based in the UK as they are accredited and you can earn a Degree. It took me awhile and there were a few stops and starts but eventually I succeeded. The upside of a distance college is the cost is cheaper and you can be flexible with your study times. The downside is there is no real interaction with other students or Tutors on a personal level. You also need to be prepared to learn many things on your own such as software skills.

By the way, I often get asked if Interior Design is all about “picking paint colours and pretty fabrics”. I always say that is the last part and you need to get the bones of the space right – I call it the “non sexy stuff” such as the overall floor plan and lighting plans. I may now refer people to this article to show what it really involves!

Keep up the great posts!

Sara C.
5 years ago

Super accurate and interesting post! I graduated from design school a few years ago in Seattle and this was spot on. You’ve hired some gems!

Lynn Zmuda
5 years ago

Thank you all for this amazing amount of information! I am a professor at a college as well as a working Interior Designer. I will definitely share with my students the many points made throughout the topics written here.
Thank you Emily for your transparency and the sharing of your office staff.
You are a true professional.
Lynn Zmuda

5 years ago

Just to say thank you for this post – thought provoking in the very best way, and much appreciated!

5 years ago

Great post and very inspiring! I’ve thought about changing careers for quite a while, but would definitely have to do an online degree. Can anyone speak directly to online programs that are creditable and worth the time / money? There’s so much info. online; it’s hard to know what’s what. thanks 🙂

5 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

Im in Florida and I’ve been looking for an Interior Design online certificate program for some time now as well. These are that Im looking at now and Interior Design Institute SanFran. Would like to know if someone can recommend one or more from personal experience. Thank you!

5 years ago

LOVE this post!!! I am an artist and I love to dabble in a ton of different areas. I always wonder what it takes to become a full time, do one thing and one thing well, kind of professional artist/designer/etc. This is definitely one of my favorite posts of all time and I’ve been around since 2014.

5 years ago

Just wish to add to the list of readers offering thanks for this very informative topic. Somewhat design obsessed over here and always wondered if it should have been a career choice or still should be considered an option. This content was spot on in providing answers to questions that I did not know enough to ask. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

Debby Katz
5 years ago

I went back to design school in my early 40’s, having studied exhibit design in my 20’s while living in NYC. I had 3 kids ages 11, 9 and 6…it was hairy but worth it. I now have a small ID Business I started in 2015, but my main issue is that while I’m good a drawing and drafting, I’m weak on the computer skills. I have a basic knowledge of CAD for simple floor plans and elevations, but I found SketchUP so difficult and haven’t tackled anything else. That I need to hand draw/render my design concepts (super time consuming) is a hindrance when communicating ideas to clients…would you suggest I look for someone with these skills to hire (maybe on a freelance basis?)