Top tips to kickstart a design career

The world is full of aspiring interior designers, quite apart from the mass of Sharpie-wielding social media mavens who style themselves as such. But if you want a real job with a real interior design studio doing real work, you need this essential advice from a designer who’s been there and is doing it …


1. Educate yourself

back to schoolDesign is much more than having good taste and eye for style; to have real integrity, a designer must understand the background of certain styles and to know the key players in the industry –  old and new, and how they influence our visual landscape.

It might sound like a lot of ground to cover, but interior designers require a broad range of skills on a daily basis. That’s because your client isn’t the only person you will be working closely with – you need to be able to relate to and liaise with many other professionals involved in the construction of a building including architects, contractors, engineers and government bodies.

The traditional route in the profession, and still the one I would recommend to anyone, would be a degree course at an accredited university or art school. It’s never too late to do this.

The course will provide the foundations to get into the industry – from the history of design (you need to know where your profession has come from) to the software required to translate your ideas into drawings that work.

There are of course, other avenues such as short courses or distance learning, so be sure to check out all your options, but I am a believer in the power of immersion. Surround yourself in the subject and other people with the same obsession as you and you’ll blossom.


2. Fake it

It can be tough to get the break that you need to get your foot in the door. So, between applying for actual jobs or bidding for projects, keep those creative juices flowing: make up your own client briefs and see them just as if they were for real.Fnord_logo

Maybe start with your own house as the plot, and build up the brief from there — go as wild as your imagination will allow you! Conjure up an image of a client and get into their head. Imagine all of the things you would need to ask them: where is your plot? How big (or small) is it? What type of functions do you need to cater for? What is your style?

As part of this you’ll find yourself developing useful questionnaires to home in on what a client needs, plus what-if scenarios that could be deployed as mood boards or project notebooks.

This will not only beef up your portfolio, but will show potential employers just how passionate you are about your work.


shadow3. Shadow or find a mentor

Here’s one of the most valuable pieces of advice I could give to anyone considering a career in design: listen and learn from people who are already successfully doing the things you want to do.

My personal experience has shown me that the most well-rounded and successful designers do not live up to the snooty and stereotypically opinionated designer-types depicted in the media. The good ones have a real knack for listening to their clients, and are able to apply the client’s wants and needs in the context of their space – with added style, of course.

We live in a wonderful time where our role models can be accessed by the simple push of a button on a phone screen. Expand your social media horizons from stalking from your latest crush and watching funny cat videos; tailor your feed to follow the key players, design magazines and industry peers to get a peek of what is going on behind the scenes in the life of an ID.


Asia-Globe-800px4. Be a sensible shopper

If a room is your canvas, the finishes, furniture and even accessories that you put into that space are your paint. It is important to know and understand the background of all of the things you have selected to go into your space.

As a designer, you are intrinsically responsible for selecting products for reasons that go beyond the fact that that they compliment your scheme aesthetically. Be aware that each of the items your choose will have their own origin, designer and story. Think about where they came from and how they were made. Do they comply with ethical and sustainable production standards?

Even the most basic products such as paint can silently make a difference on a space. Good quality, sustainable paint brands can improve the air quality in a space while bad quality, unsustainable products can cause health risks from allergies to developmental problems. It may sound extreme, but research and development departments exist for this reason.

It’s also great that we can source products from all over the globe, but don’t forget to look for local talent. Consider supporting local artists and artisans in your projects – not only does this reduce the impact of your project’s logistics on the global warming, but it keeps your local economy flowing while building up a homegrown creative community.


5. Exercise your emotional intelligence

It’d be safe to say that a person who is pursuing a career within design or the arts has a predisposition not only for visually stimulation, but also for translating ideas into something on paper (or nowadays more likely a computer screen).

There comes a stage in your life – and perhaps this is where you are now – where you want to turn that passion from a hobby into a career. You can take a professional course to learn the technical skills needed every day in the workplace, skills which you will keep working at during your whole career through practice and sheer experience.

But there is another skill, probably equally important, which is often overlooked in the world of design. That is the ability to communicate well and to lead people who understand where you’re going and why. This is what some call emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ), the ability to recognise different feelings (your own and other people’s) and to use that to guide your thinking.

EI is a subject often reserved for HR and management training departments. But it is very important in the world of ID, too. It is not likely that you will ever design a space or building that does not require collaboration with or approval from someone else. That’s likely to be a client, but you also need to be able to work with colleagues, third-party institutions, developers, and skilled craftsman.

Take time to get to know them and understand their motivations. That’s the best way to work effectively with them, because you can adapt your own behaviour to fit their expectations and emotions. It’s particularly important for clients, of course, and it’s the only way to design spaces that truly align with the client’s needs. You’re creating the space in which people will live or work, the places where they should feel confident and at ease.

The best way to deliver the good design is to get close to your client. Be prepared for debate! Design by its very nature is subjective, and there will be occasions when the client doesn’t always love what you have done. Criticism will come in many forms – and from many directions, from those who want to see you do better, even from others who want to make themselves feel better!

Whichever way it comes, let it fuel you, not break you – and just keep swimming.

WORDS Sonal Kotacha

About the author: Sonal Kotecha, Senior Interior Designer at Pallavi Dean Interiors in Dubai, was awarded Young Interior Designer of the Year 2015–16 at the Commercial Interior Design Awards for being “the most promising commercial interior designer under the age of 30″.

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