Before starting my freshman year at art school, my biggest question was what the classes would be like. Coming from a strict high school schedule of Math, Science, History, English, Spanish, and Band, I didn't have much experience with art classes. For this reason, I had a million questions. What would me homework be like? What if I am not great at drawing? What if I have never used gauche before? What is gauche? Why does my school supplies list include an Xacto knife? You get the idea.
This post is written especially, but not strictly, for curious high school seniors and would-be transfer students. It is intended to give an inside look at what getting a degree in Interior Design is actually like. I'm sure other schools are set up a little bit differently, and I can really only speak from my experience, but hopefully this post will shed a little more light.
For us, during the first two years of design school, all work was done by hand. This means hand drafting, learning to draw, rendering perspectives, and understanding basic art and design principles. Junior and Senior year was when we learned to design with software and create digital work. I think it is so important to learn how to hand draft and sketch, it teaches you to think from an entirely different perspective. A lot of students find this frustrating and want jump into CAD the first second they can. The importance of sketching is a topic that deserves it's own post and I won't get into that now, but trust me, learning to do things by hand is important. Which is why they teach you how to do that first.
The main structure of a semester consists of one big three hour long Interior Design studio class, a few supporting design classes (also three hours), and one or two short general education classes (1 hr). I didn't include the gen ed classes I took in the list below, because they are pretty self explanatory. For example, I took one math class in all of college, and it was exactly what you would expect it to be at an art school (read: it was pretty easy). On average, I took fifteen credits per semester and had enough time to have a job or internship in addition to that. To be honest, I don't totally remember the order that I took all of these in, or what classes were pre-requisites to what, but hopefully this gives you an idea of general content and progression.
- Intro to Interior Design - This class allows students to dip their toes into the world of Interior Design and get an idea of what it's all about. We spent a lot of time talking about the big ideas of the industry and the different types of work that Interior Designers do. I think the biggest project we did in this class was a kitchen, and it took us a few weeks. Which is crazy when you think about the amount of work we accomplished in the same amount of time three years later.
- Drafting for Design - Like I said before, the first two years of design school require everything to be done by hand. This is the class that teaches you to draft with an architect scale, use different lead weights, and hand letter. I never took a drafting class in high school, and remember being a little bit behind the other students who had. However, by the end of Freshman year, I caught up and everyone in the class was pretty much at the same skill level.
- Design Drawing I & II - This is a drawing class that all graphic, furniture, interior, and industrial designers were required to take. Unlike a regular drawing class with figure drawing exercises, this class taught us how to sketch in perspective and draw from our imagination as opposed to drawing what we see. Though we did start off with still lifes to understand perspective, we moved on shortly after.
- Digital Foundation - Technically I didn't take this class, but a few of my classmates did. It actually wasn't introduced until our Junior and Senior years so I used another digital class to cover that credit. Basically, this is the class that teaches Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. I already knew Photoshop from high school and had already taught myself Illustrator and InDesign so I opted out.
- 2D Design - This class teaches design fundamentals and principles and allows you to explore them through various projects. I'm pretty sure everyone in the school has to take this class at least once. There isn't really a major that doesn't use this information. Typical projects were compositions of shapes and figures (instead of portraits or landscapes) that expressed whatever principle of design we were studying at the time.
- 3D Design - Another class that the whole school had to take. I loved this class because it was all about making 3D sculptures out of foam core, wood sticks, etc. It was in this class that I mastered the art of the hot glue gun, a skill that has served me well time and time again.
- Art History I & II - Of course! Everyone has to take these classes, and for good reason. You have to know where you have been before you can move ahead. I loved Art History, and even though it required a lot of studying, I had really good professors that made it interesting.
- Studio I - Our first real studio class! This semester we did a whole condo project with a rendered floor plan, elevations, reflected ceiling plans, and two perspectives, all done by hand. We met with a real (fake) client and presented our projects to her at the end of the semester.
- Studio II - Our first commercial project! In this class we designed an office using a specific furniture brand. At the end of the semester, we presented to representatives of that line.
- Design History I & II - All interiors, industrial, and furniture designers had to take this class. Instead of studying paintings and sculpture (like in Art History) we studied architecture and iconic furniture pieces. The nerd in me LOVED this class.
- Drafting for Construction - Another drafting class, also done by hand. In this class we learned how to create construction drawings and details.
- Visual Presentation Techniques - A quasi-drawing class that taught us how to draw interior perspectives and render by hand.
- Studio III - This semester's project was our first partner project and while we did a few quick bistros in the beginning, most of the semester was spent designing a large restaurant with one of our classmates. By this time, we were learning Sketchup and CAD so the final product was all digital.
- Codes - UGH. Codes is the worst, but it's so necessary. This is the class where you learn about building codes, means of egress, and accessibility.
- Color and Light - I loved this class, it was all about color palettes, color psychology, lighting methods, and proper illumination. We did a bunch of finish boards and some small scale, quick projects.
- Materials - Materials is where you learn that wool is one of the most durable natural fibers, and vinyl is so bad for the environment. This is one of the most practical classes there is, and is so underappreciated! I use the information I learned in this class every single day.
- CAD - Finally! After 2 years of hand drafting and lugging around and arsenal of drafting tools to and from school every day, this is the class where we learned CAD!
- Sketchup - I have said before that Sketchup takes 5 minutes to learn and 5 years to master, and this class was the beginning of that journey. We had one small project in this class, but it wasn't anywhere near as big as a traditional Studio project.
- Studio A - We did another office in this class, but it was much bigger, way more advanced, and yielded a much more mature design. I still have this project in the back of my portfolio to this day.
- Studio B - This project took the place of a "Senior Thesis." It was a group project (3 people per group) and required more than all other projects combined. We built our model and rendered in Revit, but some people did it in Sketchup and used Vray to render. This project required a lot of research and a lot of detail. We presented to industry professionals as usual.
- Revit - As more and more architecture firms switch from CAD to Revit, taking this class in school should really be required. At the time I took it, it passed for a "digital" credit, but everyone took it anyway. This was a really hard class. Revit is a beast and it's impossible to teach yourself.
- Professional Practice - In this class we learned to write contracts, not get sued, and how to bill a client. It is also the class where we learned how to write resumes and behave in an office.
- The Business Side of Design - This class was a little bit of everything. We talked about marketing, branding, and the advantages and disadvantages of working in a large, medium, and small office.
- Portfolio - This is the class where we put together and assembled our portfolios. Taking this meant that by the time we all graduated, we had a killer resume and portfolio ready to go.
You make be wondering what the homework or finals situation is like. Unlike high school, the bulk of the semester is working on one big project, or several little projects. Homework meant making progress on those projects. Throughout the four years, I wrote a few papers, and took a few tests (mostly in Art History), but that dwindled as I progressed through the program. In most cases, the "final" meant the presentation date of the project. Usually there were industry professionals there along with our professor and classmates, but not always.
Is art school hard? Yes and no. No because it is not intellectually hard to grasp the concepts (unlike an engineering degree or something), but when people ask me this question, I usually do answer "yes". My senior year, I practically lived at the school and became my senior project. I worked around the clock and poured my entire being into it. There is something very personal about creative work, and in a lot of ways, what you create is a part of you. It is not something that you can memorize, and it's not something that you can be tested on. Going to design school pushes you as a person and designer and constantly reshapes the way you think. I firmly believe that it is the best place to learn, grow, and be nurtured to set yourself up for a successful career in design.