Friday, 29 January 2021

So you want to be an Interior Designer...

OR: How to cut through the BS to find the right course for you! 

(OK, it not my normal sort of topic as its not jewellery related but I think you could utilise the steps I took to find ANY creative course that teaches you what you need and gets you properly qualified for the industry!)

Interior Design is a pretty popular pastime.  With all the home renovation shows that have come across our screen in the past 20 years, since Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen flamboyantly decorated someone's room in the UK to shows like The Block where couples go up against each other renovating and decorating apartments in Australia.    

I watched avidly 20 years ago,  I am still interested but I don't go out of my way to watch them these days.   I have realised that my forte is limited by about about 24 inches square and you wear it ;)    My youngest daughter however has a natural eye for design and by the time she was 16 her bedroom was already looking like something from a home magazine.   For Christmas presents one year she asked for particular black and gold light shades...

After school she spent a year in Italy as an au pair and took note of a lot of modern Italian design.  She returned home with plans to study design, maybe back in Italy, but Covid-19 and the ensuing international border lockdown put all that on hold.   She got a contract job in an office and finally during her Christmas break, I sat down with her to sort out where she was going in life!

She had looked at Interior Architecture in her final year of school and applied but didn't make it in so we looked at that again as she could certainly sit an entrance exam.  We found, by the description of subjects it was theory heavy, so we tried to find a suitable interior design course.  And this is where things got complicated!

If you do an online search for courses in Australia, the first pages of results are going to be the businesses that ADVERTISE.   They have an advertising budget and they USE it.   Perhaps this is to get new enrolments who pay up and may or may not complete the course.   Some have swept up websites and great video presentations and its easy to get excited about it all.  Many offer online only courses so you can do it 'at your own pace' (so you might never get it done unless you're motivated to do so).   

I created a shortlist, spoke to some of them (some don't have phone number only emails, hmmm, not so good).  Some were reasonably priced, some were pricey, some were exhorbitant.   Some clearly charged according to their name.   They offered various levels - Cert IV, Diploma and a couple offered an Advanced Diploma.  Some offered modules.   One or two offered degrees (mostly in Interior Architecture). Most were private colleges, a couple were private universities, a few were offered by regular universities and institute of technologies.  It became pretty overwhelming!   We thought the diploma would be sufficient and were tossing up online vs in person classes.  There were ALOT of choices.

I needed to speak to someone for advice.  If my daughter was going to move away and all the costs and organising that entailed then I needed to get this right!   

After trawling the web for reviews (not many of them had them, although one had them in such abundance that I came to think they asked every student at about week 6 to write them a review which automatically made me question their validity!), I started to look at some interior design businesses to see where their employees or principals had studied - many were qualified in Victoria and as we are in NSW and Victoria spent most of 2020 locked down that didn't seem a good option.   


I turned to social media and found a couple of Interior Design Australian groups on Facebook that I joined.  I searched for mentions of my top two or three and found little if any mentions.  I posted questions and was very grateful to receive some clear advice from an Interior Design company. 

This information therefore is hard won! Here is what you need to know to make your decision easier:  

1.  Historically you didn't need ANY qualification to work as an interior designer in Australia, BUT Victoria now has a minimum standard and its likely that the rest of Australia would follow suit shortly.

2.  If you want to work in the trade, the institution you select should have nationally recognised qualifications.   Check the Design Institute Australia website for a list of institutions that meet their criteria.  The Design Institute also offers professional membership depending on your qualifications/experience (including a student membership).

3. To be an Interior DECORATOR, you can complete a Cert IV  (approx. 6 months) or a Diploma (1 year).   An Interior Decorator is given a room to decorate - floor and window coverings, furniture, soft furnishings, accessories, paint etc.  Their aim to spruce up a room and they don't work with contractors or architects.  The Cert IV appears to be more interest-based (eg you are planning a home renovation and want to decorate it yourself) or for those wanting to be stylist readying properties for sale or rent etc.   The Diploma covers the information in the Cert IV but goes into more depth and goes a little further along the path.    

4.  To be an Interior DESIGNER, you need to complete an Advanced Diploma (2 years) or Degree (3 years - see Architect below).   An Interior Designer is given a whole floor to play with.  This includes everything the Decorator can do along with the layout, flow, how things work with the rest of the space and comprehensive work on specific areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.  It also considers internal walls and windows, lighting design, commercial and office spaces.  Designers can draw up the initial floor plans, enhance the look and function of the spaces and work with contractors to achieve the look the client desires.   The Advanced Diploma covers all the information in the Cert IV and Diploma but goes further, is more in depth and usually includes some professional experience.

5. To be in Interior ARCHITECT, you need to complete a Degree (3 years).  An Interior Architect designs the structural and technical aspects of a building, placement of windows, airflow, lighting, electrics and plumbing etc.   (If you complete the Advanced Diploma of Interior Design you can get recognition of prior learning at University for the Interior Archtecture Degree and complete it in another year of study).

6. If you plan to do this professionally you need to know if the graduates of any of the institutions on your shortlist (that you have compiled from the DIA website) working professionally in the industry?  (Apparently many report that 90% of their graduates are employed within 6 months - but is that as an interior designer!?)   

7. Utilise Linked In - search for Interior Designers who have studied at your shortlist of institutions.   (This virtually selected our choice as I could find only ONE school that had a number of people listed and working in the industry.   This was getting easier!    I wrote to 2 of the graduates on spec, one replied within an hour and the feedback she shared was brilliant!  All systems go!)

7. When you have narrowed down your choice, according to your personal parameters, call the school and then ask to speak to the department that teaches it and ask your questions.  (I phoned student services - almost everything she told me was wrong!  (eg. this is the fee (no it wasn't), yes she can start in Semester II (no she had to start in Semester I (2 1/2 weeks away from the phone call, necessitating resigning from her job and organising accommodation! ) you have to do Cert IV (6 mos), then the Diploma (1 yr), then the Advanced Diploma (2 yrs) a total of  3 1/2 years (no, you enroll in the course you want and you don't have to do the others!).

In our case, three days later we travelled 6 hours to the campus, met with the assistant in the Design department who gave us all the information required, showed us the classroom and equipment, showed us the previous year's graduate's showcase and offered to enrol my daughter on the spot.   10 minutes later she was enrolled, Semester I fees paid.  10 minutes after that she had her student card.  And a week after the first phone call to them, we had secured her a spot in campus student accommodation.

Should you be interested in interior design, either for interest or a career, I hope this will help you 'cut through the BS' and find somewhere you will love to be, learning what you need!  

Til next,

FYI we chose the Advanced Diploma of Interior Design at Canberra Institute of Technology.  Exciting times ahead!

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