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:
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.
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.
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).
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 Lynda.com 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: velindagodfrey.com (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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.