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Attention Interior Design Grads

A while back I spoke at The Art Institute of Charleston to a Business Practices class. I had a pre-programmed talk prepared but when I started speaking, I realized that the things I wanted to talk about most (and what I thought would be most helpful to the students) were the things that you cannot learn in a book! So for all of the young bucks graduating and embarking on the world of interior design, I wanted to offer up some useful pieces of advice from someone who has actually worked in the field. I am by no means claiming to be an expert but I have learned a lot and I have made many mistakes that have taught me a lot! So I wanted to pass along some of these lil' tidbits...

-Never stop learning! Design is a great industry if you appreciate knowledge and especially if you get bored easily (like myself). Go to markets, read shelter mags/blogs, attend educational seminars at your local design center, join design associations, invite yourself to tour manufacturing plants...you get the idea!

-Ask questions! While working with a carpenter, ask how he is going to construct the custom bed he is building for your client. While attending a line showing, ask what the product is made of or where it is manufactured. While remodeling a home, ask the contractor to explain why you can't knock down that wall. As I mentioned before, design is a constant learning experience so learn!

-Always be prepared! Think that is the Boy Scout motto but it still applies. I have a bag (I like LL Bean Totes-I have one in each size) that I carry to appointments with a pad of graph paper, a measuring tape, a digital camera and several Sharpies. I also keep a plastic container in my trunk filled with paint decks, a measuring tape, pads and pens just in case!

-Invest in a good measuring tape! Stanley's FatMax's are the best because they are sturdy (won't flop around) and they won't break or split. And I would go ahead and get at least 40' (most rooms you will work on won't be that big but ya never know!)

-If going to a new construction site, park a few houses down. This is coming from someone who has gone through many tires! Once I had a nail in 3/4 tires. No joke.

-It is alright to say "I don't know" to a client. In fact, it is BETTER to say this than to lie or fake an answer. Just say "I am not sure but let me check with the manufacturer/contractor/whatever and get back to you." Then write it down and actually get back to them with a valid answer. I promise, they will respect you for this.

-Trust yourself! YOU are the professional that people are hiring based on your knowledge, training, experience and taste. So be confident and stand by your opinions, recommendations, etc.

-Work for as many designers as you can before starting on your own business. Learn from all of them! Both good and bad. You will discover ways you want to run your business and ways you DO NOT want to run your business. Both are equally helpful!

-Have fun! You have chosen a career that you are passionate about! If you maintain that passion, you will go far...

-But on the flip side of that...design isn't for everyone. You might like reading design magazines, watching HGTV and enjoy decorating your own home but designing for someone else and running a business is TOUGH work. There are many design related jobs you can get into like rep'ing a fabric line, working at a retail shop, teaching a design class, contributing to a design publication, etc. so don't fret if you find out this isn't the perfect fit for you.


If any other designers are reading, feel free to add some advice, tips, case-in-points in the comments section!

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