Ask any student or faculty member about interior design education today and invariably you’ll hear about interdisciplinary collaboration—the merging of specialties—and professional interaction and experience. “Students want real world experiences," says Cindy Coleman, director at School at the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). "And, more and more, students want to connect to a professional community.”
Like some of its peer institutions, SAIC has responded by incorporating project-based studios into its course of study. “In these studios, students from different disciplines work collaboratively and the outcome is often a product, built project, analysis, or public exhibits,” says Coleman.
Interdisciplinary collaborative studios enable students from various departments from around the university to engage in design thinking and creative problem solving, explains Khoi Vo, chair at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)'s interior design department. “These academic exercises prepare students to enter the work force ready to lead or contribute as a team member in real-world, collaborative settings,” Vo says.
Technology is another theme in interior design education—working with, and working around it to create comfortable, smart environments for every activity. California College of the Arts (CCA), for example, recently started to offer courses such as Digital Design Technologies for students in their Master of Advanced Architectural Design program. And it’s not just existing schools updating their curriculum to keep pace with today’s world.
Entirely new programs are beginning, too. “Interior design is a growing specialization because companies need to differentiate their environments in an increasingly competitive market and because human needs and expectations are evolving in our dynamic and connected society,” says Elena Pacenti, director at Domus Academy School of Design, NewSchool of Architecture and Design (NSAD), which will start offering a bachelor’s degree in Interior Design this fall.
NSAD collaborated with Bjarke Ingels Group and Gensler when creating specialized design studio courses, and the entire program is a joint venture with the Domus Academy in Milan, where study abroad is an option, and faculty and professionals from Milan will be part of study in the U.S. Not surprisingly, potential students have expressed interest in the growing global design marketplace. "Today designers work across borders and time zones with teams that reflect a diversity of cultural backgrounds and experiences,” says Pacenti. “Designers must learn how to function and thrive in this changing environment, not only from a design perspective but from a business perspective.”
As the world evolves, so should education. Preparing interior design students for 21st century demands is what the following five institutions do best: