Design is unlike math and science. There is not one formula, one right answer, or one way to solve a problem. Working through a design challenge is by no means a linear progression, and critiques and teamwork are critical. The creative process is difficult to describe but essential to experience. As designers, we create, and therefore, we learn by doing—be it in a classroom or at an internship.
Like many students studying interior architecture, I understand the technical skills necessary to be an interior designer. We learn the software, understand codes, build our models, and challenge ourselves to make decisions that reinforce our concept. We know that design impacts the life, safety, and wellbeing of others. However, we rarely have opportunities to work on real-world projects. After graduation, adjusting from hypothetical to real applications can be intimidating. We remember the stages of design, the classification of materials, and the different types of construction documents, but we have not yet practiced them outside of the academic setting.
For these reasons and more, internships are imperative. Though we may not realize it, we learn so much through observation. By interning, we see design concepts evolve from conceptual drawings into three-dimensional spaces. In school, students present a final project and move onto the next one. We are not able to experience the phase of construction. In the real world, a “final” presentation is not really the end, and construction may not begin for a couple of years. Furthermore, firms do not just work on one project at a time. Instead, they juggle several simultaneously—all of which are likely in different stages of design or construction. Interns begin to understand the pace at which people must design in a professional setting. Perhaps it took a couple of days to select finishes for a school project, but in a real work environment we must make decisions more efficiently. Since design firms function as a team, everyone must submit their contributions on time so that the project can move forward. If possible, no one wants to be responsible for a project falling behind its deadline. After all, time is money. This is essential to understand upon entering the workplace after graduation.
Having been an intern at SR/A Interior Design for several months, I appreciate the benefits of an internship first hand. Due to its size, I have gotten to interact with everyone on the team and observe the true collaborative nature of design. When I am assigned a task, someone explains what I am doing and why. I am always learning something new. Every week, representatives visit the office and present their products. I took a materials course in school, but these meetings—in addition to working in the firm’s design library—greatly enhanced my understanding of materiality. In fact, many of the finishes that I selected for my graduate thesis were discovered while interning. SR/A also has a gallery filled with local art, and it has been great to see how a design firm is passionate about all aspects of design—be it the amenity spaces in their multi-family projects or displays throughout the gallery.
Now that I am wrapping up my graduate studies, I cannot imagine preparing to enter the design field without this internship experience. Supplementing your education with real-world applications from people interested in your training/development is imperative. DC is such a great design community, and I am excited to have gotten to work with such an amazing team at SR/A!
Jessica Whitehurst is a Design Intern at SR/A. She is graduating later this month with an M.F.A in Interior Architecture + Design from George Washington University.