Top tips for junior interior designers from industry leaders

Written by: Lucy Painter
Published on: 1 Jun 2017

Studio asked nine leading industry directors who specialise in the interior design sector what advice they would give to a junior designer looking for work, how to make a lasting impression in an interview and what key skills designers need.


What advice you would give a junior interior designer looking for work?

Your Studio creative director, Howard Sullivan: “Try anything and everything. Internships get a bad name but they’re a really good way to broaden your experience beyond your college work. Do your research on the company interviewing you and arrive prepared. Shuffle the order of the case studies in your portfolio to fit with the practice you are presenting to. It’s also always good to relate your work outwards by linking with current influential case studies to show that you understand the broader context of design. And don’t forget to do a couple of dry runs with a friend to get your presentation locked down.”

Fitch creative director John Regan: “Aim high and persist … if you persist it will get you what you want.”

KKD partner Jill Higgins: “Keep covering letters concise and to the point; we don’t have time to read an essay. And double, triple check CV’s for spelling mistakes. We get so many CV’s from graduates that we have to narrow these down in some way. It sounds obvious, but don’t send a sample portfolio which is over 8mb. If you get an interview with a company do your research and that doesn’t just mean looking at the website. If you can, visit a project they have done and form an opinion yourself.”

UXUS chief executive officer and co-founder George Gottl: “Don’t only show commercial projects but show your own point of view. If you feel you have a portfolio that is not extensive enough then I highly recommend you include personal work; do a project for yourself so that we can understand what you represent, your own aesthetic and vision for how you feel design should be manifested.”

Virgile & Partners creative lead Mario Brown: “Maintain and develop a solid knowledge of similar brands to keeping up to date with current trends in communications, experiences and events. Keep abreast of developments in cutting-edge architecture, design, digital, brand experience and associated creative fields, maintaining an inquisitive and passionate interest.”

Dalziel & Pow design director Marcus King: “Try everything. Make sure you get lots of work experience and or internships to ensure that you’re noticed and build relationships with people in the industry; recommendations are important. Utilise all your avenues to get an interview, from asking your contacts, to going through agencies and networking at events. Always make sure you stay in contact with people even if they don’t have a job offer at the time because businesses requirements change day to day.”

Shaun Clarkson ID founder Shaun Clarkson: “Keep your focus succinct and directional. Show thought process, show you understand and can execute projects from start to finish.”

Dexter Moren Associates associate interior designer Lindsey Bean Pearce:  “Make sure your portfolio is up to scratch. A good balance of interior plans and layouts, a good Furniture, Fixtures and Other Equipment (FF&E), selection and coloured graphical elevations are key. You should be able to tell a story with how you got to the end product. Sometimes the story is far more interesting than the end result.”

HMKM associate director Richard Greenleaf: “Be flexible, try short term freelance if it is offered and be prepared to try new things. But most importantly, do not take a job unless you think it will progress your career in the direction you want to take. Don’t work for an office design specialist if your passion is fashion retail as you may find yourself pigeonholed. For your next career move, you may find it difficult to jump out of office design into retail without a relevant track record.”

What do you look for when interviewing a junior interior designer?

Your Studio creative director Howard Sullivan: “A sense of passion and connection with what you’ve done and an eagerness to learn and develop. Junior team members are vital to the energy of a practice so it’s good to get a feeling that they’re switched-on and connected in their interview.”

Fitch creative director John Regan: “Eagerness … a thirst for learning … a thirst for design and wanting to be a designer. I would never expect young designers to come with all the ‘tools on their belt’ finely tuned ready for industry life, so an eager ‘sponge like’ design brain is key, the rest can fall into place after.”

KKD partner Jill Higgins: “A strong and varied skill base, enthusiasm and passion for design, initiative and intelligent thinking,  willingness to get stuck in and show the same level of enthusiasm for both a mundane task and a more interesting one, a balance of confidence and modesty. Someone who will bring and add something to our studio (from a personality and social perspective).”

UXUS chief executive officer and co-founder George Gottl: “We look for the designer’s ability to express a concept or story in a physical environment, whether it’s a private or commercial space you always need a big idea… for designers who are able to take an idea, and translate that into an atmosphere and a physical environment, to create a powerful overall look and tell a narrative through the space.”

Virgile & Partners creative lead Mario Brown: “An excellent communicator and influencer, team oriented, be enthusiastic, tenacious, resilient and influential to turn ideas into tangible and practical plans. A creative problem solver who can approach client issues in new ways.”

Shaun Clarkson ID founder Shaun Clarkson: “Ability to adapt and move from one job to another is essential.”

Dalziel & Pow design director Marcus King: “There is a lot of competition in the market between businesses like ours to find the best talent and between graduates who are looking for a first opportunity to get into the industry. It is increasingly important that designers can demonstrate their interests and initiatives in order to stand out and differentiate themselves from the pack. For instance, I’m looking for graduate portfolios which are not just filled with the same projects as their classmates but show they have other work, interests or practical experience to give them an edge. They need to ask themselves whether they are showing they want this enough and what makes them stand out.”

Dexter Moren Associates associate interior designer Lindsey Bean Pearce: “A portfolio showcasing their best and most interesting projects. When we interview we want to see that person excited and passionate about design, so always start with your favourite project, give it some animation and tell us the story behind it.”

HMKM associate director Richard Greenleaf: “Personality! Are they sparky, fun, outgoing and ambitious? Do they talk well about their work? Are they passionate? As a junior, we are not expecting experience and depth of knowledge, but we are looking for someone who is ambitious and willing to learn.”

What are the key skills junior interior designers should be demonstrating in their portfolio?

Your Studio creative director Howard Sullivan: “An interview is essentially a pitch, your portfolio is your key tool, so edit, structure and present it in a way that projects the best you. I love seeing how a project translates from brief to concept to final design. Conveying this well and succinctly is a good skill and will bring energy to your interview.”

Fitch creative director John Regan: “We always look for good sketching ability. It is the quickest and most instant way to convey an idea beyond words.”

KKD partner Jill Higgins: “Graphic design sensibility – ability to layout a page nicely with white space and control while showing a good range of 2D & 3D computer skills. Hand sketching (if you have good skills). If you don’t have strong skills it is better not to include anything than weaken the overall standard of your portfolio. Use materials and colour.”

Virgile & Partners creative lead Mario Brown: “Candidates should be able to support multiple design projects concurrently. An understanding of brands and communication of brands is essential with good ability to sketch, visualise and communicate ideas fluently.”

Shaun Clarkson ID founder Shaun Clarkson: “Illustrate your technical ability. Don’t gab on too much, keep it short and let the work speak. Expect to show your portfolio in 20-30 minutes.”

Dalziel & Pow design director Marcus King: “Creativity is key. I am always on the lookout for creative concepts full of ideas and original thinking and am especially interested in seeing how concepts are brought to fruition with style and relevant materials. Problem solvers are equally valuable. It is important to see that a designer can not only identify a problem but has a hunger to solve it.”

Dexter Moren Associates associate interior designer Lindsey Bean Pearce: “A portfolio should be clearly set out, simple layout and good typeface used throughout. Look on Behance at other people’s portfolios if you’re unsure, you’ll get lots of ideas on layouts and fonts to use. Make sure to have a good mix of CAD showcasing layouts, plans and elevations and some key sections.  Photoshop is essential, use it to enhance your plans and to apply materials, shadows and lighting to elevations to produce a really great graphic. If you are good at free hand sketching then use it and include it, it’s important to show all your skills and methods. Select your best projects to showcase, an interview shouldn’t be long or boring and you should feel comfortable chatting about your work and engaging us with your ideas.”

HMKM associate director Richard Greenleaf: “Good standards of CAD drawing and 3D modelling are essential, but most important for HMKM is an ability to communicate design ideas through sketching, so we like to see sketches or sketch books. All designers should be able to do a good CAD drawing or render; this is an expected minimum standard, so sketches are the only way a designer can demonstrate their personal design process, methodology and thinking.”

Studio would like to thank all of those who contributed to the article. There were a number of reoccurring messages captured which we hope will be invaluable to those starting their career journey