2008/03: Ask Me
Q&A 15 years ago No Comments

I am interested in working for a design firm specializing in commercial interior design. My specific question relates how to choose a Master’s degree program. If my options are between a top-ten ranked public university program and a small architecture/design school with a heavy emphasis on internships and "learning by doing," is it easy to identify the pros and cons of each” The emphasis of the public university is research and high academic standards. The focus of the small design school is learning concurrent to practical experience working in a big city throughout the four-year degree. What are some key considerations with regard to: 1) The name of the school, reputation, etc.; 2) The best learning environment to gain the skills required for success in the industry; 3) The top determining factors a firm looks at when considering applications from recent graduates. Thanks for giving me the REAL SCOOP!

(submitted by Jacob L.)

I often pondered a map that took me down the road of attaining a Master’s degree. Life is all about crossroads and deciding which way to go while wondering what the outcome will be. The unknown can be quite unnerving, but if you have an open mind to life’s opportunities, it can lead you to many wonderful experiences.

A few points:

> It is imperative that the undergraduate or graduate studies program is CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) approved program, which you can find here. CIDA accredited programs insure us that the program meets a high level of standards pertaining to the study of interior design. Large or small, this is the common benchmark that sets a worthy program apart. It is also something that firms look for when interviewing job candidates. CIDA is considered a differentiating factor.

> Ask yourself: “What impassions me”” If you decide to go for the graduate studies route, you will be making a substantial investment of time, money and energy. For you to reach the goal, it has to be something that really motivates and interests you. Is it evidence-based design and research” Research CIDA accredited programs that focus on any area the really interests you. Is capital "D" design important to you” Research those CIDA accredited programs that truly focus on design. Large or small, it is the content that you produce and it is you that will sell your skills and credentials to a firm or institution.

> Diverse skill set is an important determining factor. We look for things that set you apart. Does the candidate hold a LEED AP certification” Are their computer and programming skills diverse” Can the individual draw” Do they have a can-do attitude” Diversity speaks volumes. When times are slow, those with a diverse skill set will be retained. What if you also had passion for business and natural strengths in marketing” An undergraduate degree in Interior Design combined with a Master’s degree in business or marketing (or vice versa) is quite an intriguing profile that would definitely peak some interest.

> The best learning environment is true work experience: getting out into the field and immersing yourself in it. To be effective, you have to live and breathe design, so internships are vital. If the program itself doesn’t require an internship as part of the curriculum, then you definitely need to seek one out on your own.

> Sometimes the name of the college or institution matters, but that all depends on what the institution’s focus is. A firm that values high design will value a name. An institution that values research will value your area of expertise and the contributions you can make towards your chosen field. A firm who practices evidence-based design will value an individual who has strengths in research.

> As a seasoned designer who has worked for architectural firms for over eighteen years, I found that attaining a Master’s degree was not a pre-requisite for me to become a leader or shareholder in a firm; however, passing the NCIDQ Exam is a goal that must be attained! It totally validates your skills and experience.

Do not be afraid to think outside the box. I commend you on taking steps on mapping your future. Dream, believe, and you will achieve.