Introduction to an Education in Interior Design

Introduction to an Education in Interior Design

For this piece on Interior Design, interviewed Mr. David Sprouls, the Director of Admissions at the New York School of Interior Design in New York City. His experience with interior design students should speak volumes for those interested in pursuing an education in the field.

As Director, Mr. Sprouls sets the policies and standards for admission into the school, represents the school and recruits students, interviews prospective students, reviews applications and awards scholarships. He previously worked as an Admissions Counsellor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) of the State University of New York.

Mr. Sprouls received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Restoration from FIT in 1997, where he specialized in the study of interiors and decorative arts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and he also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and American Studies from Rutgers University.


Benefits of an Education in Interior Design

Why should someone pursue an education in Interior Design? What are the benefits of a formal education in the field?

In the last decade, numerous states in the United States have passed legislation recognizing interior design as a profession. Standards have been set and licensing processes are in place, meaning that, in many states, you must have an education in order to legally practice in the field. An exam has been developed by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), which is required to become state-certified; in order to sit for the NCIDQ exam, one has to have at least two years of an interior design education, and work experience is required beyond the education.

An education in interior design involves decorative elements, such as color, textiles, furniture. It also includes architectural and space planning aspects, including building codes, materials, and systems, as well as methods of construction. This is a profession that directly affects the health and safety of the public. An education is imperative for the understanding of this.

What kinds of careers will a formal education prepare them for?

Many opportunities are open to graduates of interior design programs. One may choose to work in an architecture or interior design firm dealing with residential spaces. Or one may like designing interiors for offices, hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, retail shops, museums, or even cruise ships! Lighting, furniture, and fabric design are options. Another choice is working in the publishing industry for a shelter magazine. The options are almost endless!


Testing & Assessment

How can prospective students assess whether this is the right field for them?

A good Interior Designer has interests in many different areas. Inspiration can come from fashion, graphics, photography, textiles, etc. Anywhere really. So if an individual loves the arts, or architecture, or furniture design, or space planning, or whatever! Interior Design is a good field to explore.

There are no specific tests to assess one's ability that I know of. One just has to have a love of good design.

How important is raw talent, and how much can be developed in school?

Creativity is necessary in order to become a good designer. But one should not be dissuaded if they feel they do not have "raw talent." What is "raw talent?" Do you produce fantastic renderings? Do you have a great eye for color? Are you a whiz with CAD programs? Are you unsure?

Education is about discovering your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses. If one has a passion for design, then the learning process is about developing your talents.


Interior Design Education

What should prospective students look for when evaluating and comparing Interior Design schools and programs?

It is important to do the proper research when deciding on a school. Here are a few things to look for and questions to ask:

  • Find out who the faculty are and what their background is
  • How current are the facilities?
  • What access will you have to showrooms, museums, galleries?
  • Who are the alumni?
  • What type of students does the school attract?
  • Is there a liberal arts component?

What are the most popular specialties within the field of Interior Design?

The biggest "specialties" that most interior design students will distinguish in the course of their education is between Residential and Contract/Commercial design. Every program is different, but I am not aware of any that specializes in only one of these areas.

There are also specialties, such as kitchen and bathroom design, textiles or colors, etc. - but there aren't majors in these fields, per se. Rather, they're just part of an overall program which interior design students may choose to study through required or elective classes.

The biggest accreditation body for the visual arts is the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). It is an organization of schools, colleges, and universities that offer art and design studies. Besides having and setting high standards, what makes NASAD important is that the United States Department of Education recognizes it as the agency responsible for the accreditation of all art and design curricula.

As I already mentioned, the accreditation body for Interior Design schools and programs is FIDER. Graduating from a FIDER-accredited program means that you have received an education that has been recognized by the interior design profession as meeting educational requirements for entry into the profession.

There are interior design programs located around the country. The FIDER website lists those that have met their accreditation standards.

What other credentials and/or recognitions (such as school rankings) are important for schools to have? Are there any academic credentials specific to Interior Design programs?

There is no ranking of interior design schools or programs. But there are directories and websites that rate schools according to their competitiveness. Another important indication of a program's success is the how its students do in design competitions that are sponsored throughout the year by a various firms and organizations. The best place to look for information regarding the quality of Interior Design programs is the FIDER web site.

How important are the credentials of faculty at any given Interior Design school? How should prospective students evaluate the faculty?

A student's education is only as good as the person passing on the knowledge. The credentials of a program's faculty are very important when one is evaluating schools. Check the school's catalog for a listing of faculty and their education, and determine:

  • how many faculty members there are in relation to the number of students
  • how many of them are actively involved or working within the industry;
  • what is the educational background of faculty members.



How difficult is it to get into a good Interior Design program?

Applying to an interior design program is like applying to any good design program. If you have the drive, the grades, and a fine portfolio, then your chances are high that you will be admitted. Depending on the school, certain aspects of an application weigh more heavily than others, but basically they will all take into consideration your previous academic work, your essay, recommendations, and your portfolio. Keep in mind that some programs have very specific portfolio requirements, while some schools have options other than a portfolio.

What do prospective students need to do when applying to Interior Design school? Who do they contact? Can you walk us through the process?

The first thing one should do is contact the school for their promotional literature or visit their website. Generally the Admissions Office is the place to start.

Is there some way to consolidate the application process for multiple schools, or is it different for every college? How important are portfolios?

Consolidation of applications may be the way of the future, but it's not here yet. It is too difficult and depends too much on the varying portfolio requirements from school to school.

Most design schools do require a portfolio for admission, but there are some that don't. For example, NYSID does not require one for its certificate program. It's hard to advise students regarding portfolios for interior design because the field is so different. A good foundation, though, would be to have a strong fine arts portfolio. From there, you can probably meet the requirements and produce work that the individual schools require.

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