On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of students about careers in interior design and share personal stories of my professional experience. I still consider myself an interior designer, even though what I do is much more specialized. However not a day goes by, when I feel like I do not use my design training. When I was a student, I didn’t realize that there were other jobs in the design community, until I saw a job posting for a Material Librarian. Based on the description ( I would be floating to different commercial architecture firms), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn about materials and also learn about different firms in and around DC.
When I was in school I had a very different vision for my career and thought there was only one path for me, Interior Designer. Over time, with my experience working in different firms, I realized that commercial design wasn’t for me. Healthcare wasn’t where I belonged either. High-end Residential was an amazing experience and to actually work on projects, from concept to installation was invaluable. I’m a people person and to really get a feel of how people lived was amazing. I began to understand that trusting relationships with contractors and vendors was a necessity as they were more like team members. While a designer’s style may be the reason for the initial contact, I learned design is really client-driven. Also, I loved the mix and level of materials that I got to work with on a day to day basis. In contrast to my commercial job, this experience taught me about the high-end materials that I would reference everyday in my current work life.
Seven years later after my first job in design, I didn’t think materials would be my niche, but I am always thankful for the experience. It helped me survive the recession when many designers were being laid off and an already competitive market became VERY competitive. It helped me get a very unique job in a specialized sector of design. And you know what? , Even on the most stressful days, I feel like I belong in retail design.
I say all of this to you because, in design it is really important to try it all. See where you fit; see where you don’t. If you are a career changer (I was), you can bring your strengths and previous workplace experience to a design job. It’s invaluable, because you may already how to work in a team environment or address the unique things that come up in a work environment. However, by far the best thing I did was find a niche. I found something that made me unique in the architecture and design world. Of course specializing in materials, may not be for everyone, but it worked for me. For instance, I’m not cataloguing materials everyday. I have to know who to call when I need something beautiful produced. And, while my knowledge of materials continues to grow, I know way more about glass, natural stone and textiles than I could have ever imagined in design school.
Mostly what I believe, that you, as a future designer, have unique talents. Over time, a combination of those talents and experience will direct your career path, which as I know well, isn’t always a straight line. Just be open to trying new things and your design life will be better than you imagine.