As many of you know, for my 30th birthday my parents gave me the gift of enrollment in the New York Institute of Art and Design’s Complete Course in Interior Design. I planned on writing a review when I finished it, but that won’t be for a while and a few readers have been asking about it, so I decided to share a bit about it now.
I was pretty hesitant to take the course because I couldn’t really find any reviews of it and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be good, but at this point I feel comfortable saying it’s a great course so far, I’m learning a lot, and I definitely recommend it. I think it’s great for anyone who’s interested in design or becoming a designer but has a full-time job and can’t go back to school for a Bachelors in Interior Design, or anyone who just wants to do it online due to location and the convenience factor. Second, quick point I’ll make is that Lauren Liess, who is now a hugely successful and talented designer and author, took the course and as far as I know that’s her only formal training. If that’s not an endorsement I don’t know what is! I have no idea why the school doesn’t advertise that fact. Anyway, now I’ll get into more details for those that are interested!
What It Is
The New York Institute of Art and Design is an online design school based in New York City, offering online courses in various creative subjects including interior design, photography, jewelry design, and others. They are accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission and licensed by the New York State Education Department.
The NYIAD Complete Course in Interior Design is a comprehensive course covering all the basics of interior design. You have around 18 months to complete it (of course if you need extensions you can get them), and it’s all online. It is not for any sort of college credit. At the end you are eligible for the Designer Society of America’s Residential Interior Design Qualification Certification. This is not the same as being a Certified Interior Designer, which is a qualification you earn by doing a Bachelors Degree in Interior Design. There’s a lot of debate out there over whether or not a formal Bachelor’s degree is necessary in order to be a successful interior designer, and some of the best designers out there (in my opinion) like Nate Berkus, Erin Gates and the aforementioned Lauren Liess don’t have Bachelor’s degrees in interior design…but anyway, that’s a topic for another day!
The entire program cost a little over $1200. For comparison’s sake, the New York School of Interior Design costs $915 PER CREDIT. Their Basic Interior Design program is 24 credits – 24 times 915 = a little under $22,000. Yikes.
There are 6 “Units” in the course. Each unit has several “topics” within. At the end of each Unit, after you’ve gone through all of the topics, you do a project. You mail the project in to the school, and they mail it back to you with a grade and audio feedback. The audio feedback is a recording of your teacher, who has your work in front of you, and she talks to you as she goes over it, offering critiques and insight on how you did. That part is pretty cool, I have to say – it makes it feel totally personalized and it’s great to know an actual person is sitting down with your project.
One thing I like is how they mix up the course content. For example, you learn about furniture styles in the course, and you learn about how to run a design business (among tons of other things), but instead of going through all of the furniture styles in a row, then doing all of the business stuff, they do Early American Farmhouse furniture in one unit, then switch to a business topic, then they do another furniture style and another business topic in the next unit, and so on and so forth – so basically you get a break from furniture styles, and a break from business stuff, instead of all of each topic being chunked together. I like that a lot, as it just prevents all of the information from getting muddled together. It keeps it interesting – just when you’re maybe getting a little tired of one topic, they switch to another aspect of design.
Another thing that keeps it from getting monotonous is how they mix up the format. As you’re going through each Unit and each topic, the main way it’s structured is written content with pictures and diagrams. But there are also videos and audio recordings mixed in throughout, which is a great break from just reading through the topics. It also feels a little more personal, to hear designers talking about the topics and see them doing things like drafting or visiting a space or showroom. Not all of the videos are amazing, but most I’ve really enjoyed so far.
In addition to the online material, the school sends you a bunch of physical materials that are necessary for completing your projects. First they send the graph paper and measuring tape you need for room sketches and floorplans, and the watercolors you use to work on color basics. Next they sent me a huge package that included all of the materials for the remainder of the course, including a stack of reference books, colored pencils, a T-square and drafting board, and all of the other drafting materials (erasing shield, special pencils, eraser, triangles, drafting brush, scale ruler, door template, etc).
Unit 1 Overview
In Unit 1, they teach you how to start from scratch: meeting a client, sitting down with them, doing a “Room Condition Checklist” (writing down details of the room), and a “Lifestyle Questionnaire,” (to help you understand how the client lives and uses their space). They teach you about the different ways designers charge, and talk about having the conversation about price with clients. Then they teach you how to measure a room and do a room sketch, not to scale -which by the way, is harder than it sounds! You also learn about real estate staging, an interesting aspect of design that I hadn’t thought about before, and color basics. They go over some aspects of picking furniture, such as, is it in harmony with the rest of the room? Is it suitable in terms of budget and function? There’s also some talk about determining the mood of the room – is it modern? Is it traditional…and how choosing furniture has to fit in with that.
For the Unit 1 project you need to make a room sketch of a real living room, which includes all of the measurements of walls, windows, doors, and fireplaces, along with all of the symbols for outlets and light switches and such. You also hand in a Lifestyle Questionnaire for the living room client, a Room Condition Checklist for the living room, and a couple of color exercises where you paint a color wheel and such. You have the option of handing in elevations for the living room, but they aren’t required. The good thing is that they talk you through it all step-by-step, so everything is very clear.
Unit 2 Overview
In Unit 2, you learn how to take a room sketch (from Unit 1) and make a to-scale floorplan from it. Which by the way, is WAY harder than it sounds! Well, for me anyway. You learn how to use all of the drafting materials to do the to-scale floorplan. You also learn about how to make a letter of agreement for working with a client (and how to present it to them), and they delve into the first furniture style being covered: Early American Farmhouse (ladderback chairs, trestle tables, etc). They also talk a bit about antiques and reproductions, and proportion and scale for furniture.
For the Unit 2 project, you build upon your Unit 1 living room by taking that room sketch you did and creating a to-scale floorplan of that living room. You also do a bedroom. So you do a room sketch of a bedroom, along with a Room Condition Checklist for it, and the to-scale floorplan for that. Then you also hand in some more color exercises that have to do with value and hue (really interesting, actually), and you hand in some sort of quiz about Early American Farmhouse furniture (I haven’t gotten to that yet). So as you can see, each Unit builds upon the last.
Things to Note:
When I first started the program I was slightly perturbed to learn that it doesn’t cover any computer programs like Autocad, Sketchup, or InDesign, which as far as I know are standard for designers today. However, it didn’t take me long to understand that to learn those would require courses in and of themselves (and interestingly, NYIAD recently started offering a separate Autocad course). Those programs are beyond the scope of the course, and what they’re really teaching you here are the basics – drawing and drafting a room from scratch, by hand. I think you need to understand those fundamentals in order to function and later move on to utilizing programs like Autocad.
A great aspect of the course is that it deals with both design basics and practical concerns, such as how to charge, how to write a letter of agreement, and how to talk to clients. It’s very real-life, job-oriented, which makes it feel immediately useful, versus just being theoretical.
Another good aspect: Your advisor is just an email away and I found that they answered questions I sent via email very quickly. I also received the feedback for my Unit 1 Project promptly.
One thing I wish is that they didn’t actually grade you. Since the course isn’t for credit, the grade doesn’t matter, and I find it more discouraging than anything else. I like getting the feedback and the constructive criticism but I would prefer not to be graded…that’s just my opinion!
My Feelings on It
So far the biggest thing I’ve realized from this course is how much I don’t know about design, and how much I have to learn! Which is really exciting for me. However, I do vacillate between feelings of enjoyment and frustration while going through this. I love what I’m learning, but I am struggling with feelings of frustration when it comes to the drafting. It’s just really not in my wheelhouse – I have a lifelong hatred of math, and I’m just not good with measurements and numbers. I find the measuring to be a bit boring and the drafting makes me stressed because every line and measurement has to be so precise. I’m trying not to let it get to me though…and not to let it make me feel like this is something I shouldn’t be pursuing. I don’t think anyone gets into design because they love math and measuring, right? I’m looking forward to working on the actual decorating part.
But, as much as I don’t like the drafting, I really appreciate that the course is making me learn the fundamentals. This is the groundwork. You can’t decorate if you don’t have measurements, and you can’t communicate with contractors and other professionals in your field if you don’t understand floor plans and elevations. I think I wouldn’t mind the drafting as much if I was better at it, but practice makes perfect so I just have to keep pushing.
The course is totally self-guided, no deadlines or anything, so it’s totally on me to stay motivated and put the time in. That can be a bit of a challenge as I’m usually really tired after work, but since the course is overall enjoyable (aside from the dang drafting!), it’s not too hard to set aside a few hours on weekends to devote to it. At times, it can feel hard sacrificing time to something when I’m not sure if it’s going to actually result in any positive outcome. But I try to remind myself, there is no guaranteed outcome for this…and that’s okay! It’s more about learning so much valuable information, and less about whatever’s going to happen at the end. Whoever knows what’s going to happen with anything? Trite though it may be, in this situation, it’s true: it’s more about the journey than the destination. No knowledge is ever wasted, and the more I know about design, the better!
Any questions, leave ’em in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer! (2019 update – click here for my follow-up post and answers to FAQS!)
UPDATE 11/2017: The New York Institute of Art and Design recently started a referral program – use code AAAEZBDBBGD when you sign up and save $50!