Teaching the Next Generation of Interior Designers

The Elsy Studios team

At Elsy Studios and throughout my career, I have had the privilege of mentoring many young professionals and rising leaders in interior design. This past fall, I had the incredible opportunity to take on a whole new kind of teaching role, this time at CU Denver as a lecturer and curriculum advisor for the CU Denver, College of Architecture and Planning (CAP).  

After collaborating with the CAP program’s Dean Nan Ellin, PhD and fellow leaders in the commercial interior design industry, I began teaching Drawing for Interiors. This class was a combined undergraduate and graduate course offering taken by CAP students studying fields such as architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture. 

As much as I hope to have provided lasting knowledge and impactful experiences for my students, through this experience, I found myself taking away nearly as many lessons as I imparted.  

Design Matters 

For years, many have looked at interior design as a luxury market, when, fundamentally good interior design is something that can and should be more broadly accessible. This means more people need to receive the benefit of proper training. This is one major reason I was so inspired to teach Drawing for Interiors. I wanted to teach the students that no matter what market you’re in, design matters. 

Practical Application in Curriculum Matters 

Creating the curriculum for this class was one of the most rewarding aspects of my teaching experience. I was given the freedom to write the curriculum myself, which allowed me to teach in a pragmatic way. Practical applications in curriculum create better results and better designs. 

  • Teaching the fundamentals: 
    Today, most interior design and architecture students’ design on their computers with state-of-the-art design programs, rather than drawing by hand, which is how many of us in the industry today learned. However, there will be circumstances as an interior designer where you may not be able to lean on your computer to show clients a design, which is why I wanted to go back to the basics and teach my students the fundamentals of drawing. One of the projects that allowed me to really teach them the importance of free-hand drawing was the fruit and vegetable exercise.  

    From those who were just beginning in interior design to those who were obtaining a doctorate in landscape design, I had my students draw a floor plan, elevation, and section of a fruit or vegetable. This allowed me to access the student freehand drawing skillset. Drawing organic objects can be more difficult, and I did find I had varied skill levels in my class. This was only a start to them creating their own freehand style of drawing out interiors.  

  • The Power of Public Speaking Skills  
    Just because our job isn’t always in the public eye doesn’t mean that interior designers don’t need strong communications and public speaking skills. In fact, these skills can be vital in our careers. Interior designers need to have the ability to compellingly and articulately present to their clients and speak clearly and confidently about their designs. To teach my students this critical skill, after each project, I had them present their reflections in front of the entire class. This exercise helped build their public speaking skills, created opportunities to receive constructive criticism, and gave them tools they would need to apply it to their next drawing and presentation.  

  • Bringing in Real Interior Design Experiences: 
    During this teaching experience, I was able to bring my students along on real design projects, bring in guest lecturers, and take them on field trips in order to fully immerse them in the world of interior design. It was extremely important to me to keep my students thoroughly engaged, which is why we visited places like the Optiv building, furniture showrooms, mid-century modern homes, and even the Elsy office. Not only was this an exciting opportunity for me, but it was an opportunity for our entire team to get involved and hone our ability to educate the next generation. 

Embracing Change Matters 

While my time teaching at CU Denver has taught me many things, the biggest takeaway from my experience is that despite how much the world of design has changed (and it has changed dramatically), there is no substitute for fundamental skills. Although there was a learning curve in teaching my students to shift their mindsets from relying on computers for most things to being confident enough to create hand-drawn designs, it was amazing to see this modern group of students at work.   

This was such a diverse group – most of whom have never seen or worked in commercial interior design, so it was such a fun and challenging experience for me to discover where they were and to meet them there on their journey. Having a class filled with students who have completely different levels of experience taught me how every varying perspective and attitude toward design matters immensely.  

While design itself evolves over time, the fundamentals that create both good design – and good designers – transcends time. We as design professionals and educators have an obligation to empower future generations through proper training and education. The future of our built environments depends on it.  

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