Answering Your Questions…

For those of you who have e-mailed me for advice, this post is for you. My inbox gets so cluttered every day that I rarely get the opportunity to write back and then I feel like a grade-A ass. The two most common questions I get are about starting out in interior design and starting a blog.  I hope that these answers help you a little and please leave any additional questions in the comments section and I will try to answer them!

Advice for those starting out in design:

Getting into the design world and making a profit is not easy.  I was lucky to not only grow up around design thanks to my Dad and his company but I also landed a paid internship many years ago with a small Boston design group. I was only there a year, but I learned a TON about the business, interacting with clients, knew the Design Center like the back of my hand and experienced the design processes ins and outs. The issue became that in order to become a junior designer I needed to not only know AutoCad (I had taken some classes but that program takes a WHILE to master) but also codes and more advanced stuff learned in a masters program.   I applied and got into a masters program but realizing it would take 4 years to complete I got some advice from my Dad (who did not get an advanced degree in design either)- that I already had a great eye for design and unless I wanted to be doing AutoCad all day I should keep trying to work in the field and learn that way.  Thanks to my husband’s support, I quit my day job and gave myself a year to see if I could get my own design business going. Needless to say, it worked.  But I was very lucky and worked very hard at it!

In this economy not only is it really hard to find paid internships, but even ANY internships at all!  If you are interested in design but have no experience in it I would advise you start by taking a adult education class in it at night or on weekends.  Just to get the lingo, concepts and general business down.  If finding an internship or office manager job with a design firm proves to be difficult, try working at a showroom at your local design center or furniture store.  You meet a lot of designers that way and get your feet wet in the design world. Starting a blog and networking that way is fantastic, but it’s a lot of work and takes a while to get going- so be prepared time-wise (see next question).  It certainly can lead to small jobs here and there that give you a start to your portfolio.

As for getting your Masters, if you just want to work on residences in a decorative manner I don’t think it’s worth the 4 years and HUGE investment. Plenty of decorators do not have their Masters.  If you want to work for a bigger design firm, you probably will need to complete this though.  It gives you all the design knowledge in the world and makes you VERY hire-able, but again, having a good eye cannot be taught!  You need to know in your gut that you have that ability innately. So be honest with yourself about whether you want to pursue it as a career or just as a hobby or passion on the side.  Being a decorator is 20% creativity and 80% paperwork/project management!!! It looks very glamorous from the outside, and it can be when you are in the creative part of the work, but the bulk of what you do is place orders, manage shipping and receiving, coordinate deliveries and installations, run numbers, and manage expectations.  It’s not how it looks on Pinterest. :)

Advice for those starting a blog:

Blogging is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself professionally.  It’s the best marketing tool in the world and got me 99% of everything I have now.  But it took a LONG time and a LOT of work to get here.  Blogging should be treated as a job in order to make an impact- the most important thing is being consistent and posting regularly. Everyday if possible.  Some days I have NOTHING to say and am slammed with work but I always post something, even if it’s just a little photo or piece of furniture I love.  When readers, such as yourself, know that there will be new content daily they tend to become loyal (at least I HOPE so!)  It’s also very important if you have sponsors or want to attract sponsors to post daily.  I also believe that showing your personality and sharing a bit of who you are and how you think is really important in forming a bond with readers.  a blog doesn’t have to be wither business OR personal- I feel it can be a blend of both and be very successful.  I’ve heard from a lot of people that that is one of the reasons they love my blog.  Be sure to reach out to other bloggers, work on collaborative posts, comment on other blogs and be active in the community. This gets harder as you get busier (I am SO guilty of that) but it’s so important in the beginning. Most importantly, HAVE FUN at it! It shows in your writing.

Last but not least social media is CRAZY important- sign up immediately for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest if you have not already!  Utilizing these mediums is so vital and helps spread your blog like wildfire and makes networking that much faster!

Thank you for your e-mails and again, I am sorry if I was not able to write each of you back!

32 comments

  1. Great advice. :) I’m sure many of us will walk away remembering this post when working on our own businesses. I like the emphasis on it taking a long time to get followers/clients through blogging and networking. All the hard work does eventually pay off for those that stick with it through many months and years. I hope so for me someday anyway!

  2. I can not agree with you more about blogging. A newspaper I read just did a piece on how to start a blog and then make money from it. They left out two key points – posting on a regular basis (their test case posted about every four weeks!!) and building an audience, which takes a lot of time. The test case had very few comments, meaning very few readers, which means not a lot of advertising… But the main point they missed that you have to approach a blog like a job – if you only post randomly, people won’t anticipate your posts, and won’t visit your blog. I agree with you, even if I just post an image and a few words, I post… five times a week.

  3. Great advice! Design is definitely not as glamorous as some would expect. There’s so much paperwork, accounting, ordering, tracking, following up, I could go on and on! But its very rewarding as well to see projects finished and clients happy! :)

  4. If anyone out there is in fact looking to get a design education, pay attention to CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) programs – you will get the best education from them. I graduated from Kansas State University’s interior design program. Many people think “What does Kansas know about interior design?!” but K-State’s program has consistently been ranked among the top 3 programs in the nation by DesignIntelligence. It’s a VERY tough four years and only about half the people that start the program will graduate from it, but it’s very much worth the stress. This program focuses a lot more on the technical side of design. Like Erin said, you cannot teach someone to have an eye for design so the best programs won’t try. Instead they will teach you all the technical things like AutoCAD, construction and codes that you must know in the field.

    The great thing about these programs is that they prepare you for a job in commercial design. You may not want to work in commercial design but at least your education will afford you the option to choose. I worked for two years at an architecture firm and now I am on my own and I focus mostly on residential. It’s nice to not have to turn down commercial projects that come my way though!

    If you want more info on K-State’s ID program, go here: http://www.he.k-state.edu/atid/programs/ugrad/id/

  5. Erin, thanks for a great post – even though I’m not one of the original emailers it hit home! I love my blog, I love the feedback I get from real-life friends and emails from others, but I’ve always been too shy to post it on FB. I think that might be the next big step for me!

    Megan and Pigtown Design – thank you for your comments too. Feel like I might be coming back to this post since I bet the comments will also add loads of value!

    Have a great day everyone, keep writing, I keep reading!
    /cx

  6. Erin, I’ve been following you since the early days, and although I love the content (and the mix of content — it would be a bit dull if we only knew you as a designer and not as a person), one major reason I’ve stuck with you is because I have such appreciation for the respect you’ve shown your readers by posting every day. You are at the top of my blog roll, because I know that you’re always going to have a post, even if you are in the middle of 100 other things — and that means a lot to your readers. So thank you so much for making that effort — it’s told us a LOT about what kind of person you are. Congrats on your many successes!

  7. Thx for sharing this, I especially appreciated the blogging tips. I just love doing my blog and love to sit down and “get to work”, so of course I am very grateful for your tips. I also agree with you that you have a great balance between personal and business. I don’t think a blog should be only about the writer, I mean people are busy living their own life, but instead be a mix and inspire people in their lives. It would also be interesting to hear more about spreading the blog, e.g is it a good idea to collaborate and have like blog rings or something to help spreading eachothers blogs? Link to eachother with similar target audience etc. Well, I could get stuck in this, it is so fun and so many possibilities! Love C.

  8. Thanks for this great post, Erin! I read your blog first thing every morning and have had these two questions weighing on my mind for some time now. Keep up the excellent work–it’s very inspiring! :)

  9. oh, thanks so much for answering this publicly so that all of us that maybe wanted to ask could know! Do you actually use Autocad to design? or it isn’t worth the learning for residential design?

  10. Thank you for this post! Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start and any advice is always helpful.

  11. Thanks for the candid advice, Erin!

    I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half now, and while I don’t think I will ever be able to make it my full time job (a girl can dream, though right?) it has given me so much pleasure! I have found that blogging gives you a voice, a community, and more than anything, a creative outlet, and I am so happy I started :)

  12. I’ve been following your blog for a good 2+ years now and I am one of the loyal readers that checks in every day. Your blog, style and personality are amazing and I always enjoy seeing your projects. This post was especially helpful for me. I am a mom of 3 young boys and have always been obsessed with design. Before turning into a full time mom I worked at a Hearst style magazine. Once my youngest (who is only a year and a half younger then my twin boys) started a half day program I found myself a great job with an extremely fun and talented interior design family (mom, dad, two of the four girls). My current job has def helped me learn a lot about the industry but I have also started taking courses/ one class lectures at NYSID and FIT. I also started my blog about two years ago- it just started as a way to chronicle all these amazing ideas that I find on the internet and I have now become addicted to posting! It’s so therapeutic for me and I love being a (small) part of this amazing community! Thanks for your encouraging post!

  13. In my previous comment, I forgot to ask my question, which I see another poster already asked–do you actually use AutoCad now or are you drawing everything? I’ve been taking ID classes at UCLA and while I agree that I don’t need a masters, I’m wondering if it’s an absolute necessity to learn AutoCad. Would love to know your thoughts on that (for residential only)!

  14. Loved what you had to say. I, sadly, have zero eye for design – blogs like yours keep my eye away from the uglier things I probably gravitate towards lol.

  15. Thanks, Erin! Honest and all-truth answers! Creative and hard working yourself you are the great example for all of us that just start their career as interior designers or bloggers. Thanks!

  16. I actually do not use AutoCad. We draw plans by hand, which is antiquated but we still like it. Looking for a program like AutoCad that isn’t quite as expensive if anyone has any suggestions!

  17. Erin,

    The answers to how to get started and blogging are spot on. My path into this profession is somewhat like yours in that many years ago I got into this business without a degree in design. I took just enough courses in school my junior and senior year in college assemble a portfolio, come to Boston, pound the streets every day (in a recession similar to this one) with portfolio under my arm and finally got a job. I was lucky, it was with ISD Incorporated, which at the time was a world renowned commercial interior design firm, with a field office in Boston. Subsequently I spent many years in the field of commercial interior design, including launching my own firm. I’m not sure that I finagle my way into a top commercial interiors firm today without a degree and a good working understanding of Autocad or some other powerful cad program. Like you, to this day, I still draw and sketch by hand. It saddens me to see how few recent grads can really draw, sketch and think with a pencil and trace. To me it as integral part of the thinking and creative process.

    Today, my partner and I do nothing but residential interiors. We walked away from our commercial work, cold turkey, in 2004. Residentail design is a totally different world in so many ways. The diversity of people practicing the profession is remarkable, both as designers and as contractors. Back to our point, in residential design, if you have the innate talent, you have a chance of becoming successful. Schooling will help. Getting a job as an intern or entry level position at at top firm, even better. (Schooling and a portfolio may be necessary to open the door at a top firm). If you go out on your own, be sure you know and understand what it really costs to operate a business and that you know how to calculate what kind of income you need in order to be successful.That means you need to understand margin and markup. What the next guy’s hourly rates are and what their markups are, may not be what you need in order to survive. You can sell a hot dog for 99 cents for only so long, if it costs you a dollar to produce…

    The answer to CAD depends on the kind of work you do and with whom you interact. When we’re involved in projects where we’er collaborating with an architect, or the project has a great deal of interior architectural design work, CAD can be a very useful tool. (We typically hire CAD consultants for production work) I use Sketchup to block out rooms, print an 8 1/2 x 11 and then use trace and pencil to sketch ideas. We’re MAC based (love them) and are looking at Powercad and Chief Architect. Several of the millwork shops we work with use Powercad as well as a number of the architectural firms we admire.

    Networking, social media, etc. Never has it been so important. We thought it would be easy. Even with all those years of experience, when we started over, we quickly learned that we were truly starting from scratch. Some of the relationships we have today have taken three years of hard targeted effort before we have gotten a phone call or a referral. It takes time to develop trust. You have to figure out where and how your target audience looks for and hires designers. In some cases, it goes beyond social media and websites, etc. How can you reach that audience in other ways? It’s a relentless, nonstop challenge. Our blog is still a work in progress.

    Most businesses fail within the first three years. Not only do you need talent, you have to understand some basic business fundamentals and you have to be able to sell and communicate effectively.

    Listen and Learn. Erin is one of those people.

    Sorry for being so long winded.
    Got a little wound up…

    Cheers,
    John

  18. TO EVERYONE ASKING IF CAD IS NECESSARY:

    AutoCAD makes life so much easier once you know the program. It saves a lot of time over drawing by hand. You may think you have the time to draw by hand, but that is billable time and you don’t want to risk losing a client because you are charging too much time to their project due to inefficiency.

    Also, like THOUGHTS OF DESIGN said, AutoCAD skills are key if you are working with an architect. It’s always good to have these skills so that you don’t have to turn down any projects that would require them.

  19. Thank you for sharing this wonderful advice. So many people in the creative industry are sheepish about helping up and comers and I always appreciate and respect designers and artists who are secure enough to share some pointers. Thank you also for pointing out that interior design is 20% creative and 80% business. This is something I have been learning the hard way and I’ve had to do some serious soul searching. I think the best way to learn is through experience, but it’s difficult and so frustrating at times! Thank you thank you for sharing and for all of your fabulous content!!

  20. Hi, thanks for the post, it was great information. I am curious to how to use my project management background to enter this industry. I am considering taking a few drafting and cad classes so I have the technical fundamentals. Any other classes or education requirements I should consider?

  21. Hi Erin,

    I love this post! I am currently in graduate school for interior design (at Suffolk University in Boston.) I recently made the decision that I want to pursue the residental track of the program and subsequently started a blog. When I began, I thought of what I liked most about the blogs I love. Elements of Style was on the top of my list and I enjoy the variety of posts, quality of content and especially the dependability of a daily post. I’ve tried to incorporate all of these into my blog and have been pimping it out on FB daily! Thanks for the encouragement to all of us newbies :)

    ~Danielle

  22. Great advice on both topics Erin. I would only add that is important to respond to comments received on your own blog and visit those with blogs who visit your site….I know it takes a lot of extra time but if your readers dont think you are looking at their comments they will eventually stop commenting and move to a “friendlier” blog. (not saynig yours isnt friendly…just sharing advice I have received)

  23. Erin,
    This took a lot of time. You have been very generous and I’m sure it will help a lot of people. EOS is always at the top of my “must read” list of blogs.
    As a board member for Auburn University’s design school I would be remiss if I didn’t say that our program was ranked #1 this year along with SCAD so if any of you are looking for a great place to learn this wonderful trade I encourage you to google Auburn University and check us out. Or call me. I will tell you more than you want to know. haha
    Blessings.
    Cindy xoxo

  24. What a great, useful and honest post! Excellent, well-considered advice and very encouraging. Confirmed a lot of my suspicions and pointed out some new ideas.

  25. As someone fairly new to blogging, this post meant a great deal to me. I have been reading EOS for about a year now, and your ability to seamlessly transition between personal and professional has inspired me to include the more private aspects of life into my blog. Thank you for all you do!

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