Design Students: Don’t Suffer in Silence 7th September 2011 | IN DESIGN ADVICE | BY SBID

As students head back to university this September, Frazer Macdonald Hay, Director of Big Stone Collective Ltd & Educational Panel Chairman of SBID, gives interior design students a bit of advice.

‘Design education is similar to the practice of any construction activity [architectural or cerebral] in that all processes from the past to the present, modern or traditional require a firm and reliable foundation from which to build upon.

Within the context of education, assessment systems are part of an academic foundation, from which educational structures are built. If these assessment systems fail or crumble in any way, cracks appear in the learning process. When cracks show, the integrity is lost. Once flaws appear, doubts surface, trust is lost, communication breaks down and the whole process unravels.

Within the Process of assessment it is incredibly important to fully understand and support needed within a student cohort with regard to its make-up and the different student’s individual needs.

Student support is such an important element to an Interior programme. In many instances the student cohort is regularly made up from a complicated mix of traditional and non traditional student background, such as, mature, international and first generation students, all individually creative and often have particular issues such as dyslexic [which is often overlooked, stigmatised or seen as an affliction suffered by the creative mind].

A student’s educational career is difficult and complicated. In order to be successful and productive within design and architectural education [and beyond] the student must overcome many conflicting emotions. The student must by creative and passionate, however, they are also required to structure, timetable and contain their expression and creativity. The students must be confident in their design solutions, however, it’s very helpful [and natural] to be insecure about it too, the student should always question themselves [and others] as to how to improve their designs and should never be completely satisfied with the final outcome [complacency is a real pitfall to designers in my opinion] . The students need a strong character that promotes individual style, design perspective and interests, however, they must also be a team player and work well within a studio environment adapting themselves and their designs to the rules and hierarchy of studio life, [whilst constantly thinking outside the box].

Education is truly an emotional rollercoaster, once a student has created a piece of design work, it is often extremely confrontational, in that the work often exposes weaknesses and strengths but equally promotes their interests and passion [which have often been suppressed throughout their school years due to bullying and social exclusion]. It is now imperative however that the student learns to embrace that which makes them individuals and show their talents in a structured and passionate manner.

To complicate matter still further the student whilst addressing these conflicting set of emotions and skills, they must embrace their competitive nature. It is very useful [not always necessary though] to be competitive and is often useful in the future. The design profession is structured around competition. The winner of a competition will build their design, the best graduate are quicker employed, the best designer will get paid more, the best design will make the media and so on…

Whilst studying Interior Architecture and design it is essential that the student and their tutors are aware of these issues and understand the support that is available to them. However more importantly, it is the ability of the academic staff to sensitively, recognise and deal with the potential problems inevitable in such an emotional and complex environment.

To help successfully manage a group of creative students, an academic should quickly recognise the potential issues and the warning signs, should communicate clearly and fairly and understand their student’s support structure whilst recognising their own professional limitations. It is also equally very important the students realise that this process is difficult and full of contradiction and pit falls but that they are not alone and that we [designers and academics at all levels] have been through the process and continue to face the challenges that this incredibly difficult  but wonderful profession puts our way, so please don’t suffer in silence…..

The necessity to become a little mad is not part of an Interior education but it helps. To dare to put forward ideas, to offer up visions to realise the unexpected requires pushing the imagination. But how crazy should we get? Not too much: people still have to use the costly stuff that we produce. Not too little: let’s be less boring in the future.

The design imagination should be a combination of utility and philosophy. It responds to the specification and utility and philosophy. It responds to specific needs and situations, but keeps in mind that interior design and architecture is also a thought about how we want to live in our world. These two, utility and philosophy, should not drift apart. The secret is to unify them and to always let them be mutually enforcing. How do we reconcile deep thinking with utility? Be curious, always ask “do you have an idea for us?” Be interested in other philosophies and in fantasy, play and experiment. Extend and deepen reality. Be prolific. Keep churning out the works so as to get better and so as to grow in your own thinking. Above all, know the world in which we are living and being skilful at developing combinatorial models to get the most out of every technique, effect and idea…

Design education is a slippery process, the topic is complicated and has a diverse method in which, it is hoped that the student leaves after three to four years with the confidence to create and manage an innovative response to their clients brief. The student must learn to facilitate the clients brief whilst on one hand adhering to the rules and regulations of the construction industry and on the other responding to current cultural and aesthetic issues, ever conscious that the public and their peers will critique the end product…’