Being a designer can be one of the most fulfilling and engaging careers, but it is so much more than colour consultations and furniture selection. Thinkform’s Designer & Project Coordinator, Jen Suljak, sits down with Thinkform's Co-Op Student, Genevieve Merz, to deep dive into life as a Designer. We'll discuss the pros, cons, and overall experience of working in such an innovative industry. Let’s get started!
How did you first get started in the industry?
I was 13 years old, I attended a career fair at my middle school. One of the speakers was an interior designer. After listening to her speak, I thought to myself “huh, that sounds fun”, and went for it. I thought interior design, and design in general would be something I will be good at. When I started the process of applying to university, I was debating between fashion design and interior design, and something about interior design really called to me. I actually first started with a two-year interior decorating program but regretted not doing the full 4-year interior design program initially, so after graduating from the first program, I went back to school to do it. I am now taking my official exams so I can legally be called an “Interior Designer”.
So you're in the process of completing your professional exam? Could you walk me through what this exam entails?
I am yes. Much like an architect or engineer, interior designers have to take an exam before they can call themselves an "Interior Designer." Writing the NCDIQ exam is required to become an Interior Designer within the United States and Canada. It is a three-part exam consisting of the Fundamentals Exam, the Professional Exam, and the Practicum Exam. All three sections focus entirely on public health, safety, and welfare. You need a degree in interior design to take the test, and approximately 3,000 hours of work experience before you can take it. It’s definitely a lot of work.
Sounds like it. What does your day-to-day look like?
My daily life is definitely not what you think. Right now, with the number of projects we have on the go at the firm, I am taking on a lot of project coordination duties. I’m always coordinating with the client, and then in the background, coordinating with the various engineering disciplines and stakeholders for projects. This means a lot of emails back and forth to make sure all of our projects stay on track. I also assist in leading meetings, present design concepts to clients, In terms of other jobs I take on, prepare proposals for prospective work, and ensure all decisions needing to be made are made in a timely manner. A lot of work takes place in the office, so on days when I get to go to the site to check progress, it's a nice change of pace. Today, in particular, I am doing a lot more of the “design” aspect of my job. I’m rendering and doing elevations for a residential project that should be done soon. But in all honesty, it’s only around 15-20% of what I do. Picking finishes, colour palettes, and creating moods for the clients are only a small portion of my day-to-day tasks.
As someone who knows little about this field, could you explain what prospective work is?
Of course, I can! Preparing proposals for prospective work is no small feat and takes a lot of time. Essentially, we prepare a document that outlines who we are and what we can offer to the client that sets us apart from the other firms. A residential project is simple, with a one-page proposal and quotes. When dealing with larger projects, like institutional or commercial projects, these require a lot more. Usually, it’s a 20-page proposal with an overview of our firm and our qualifications, consultant information including their fees, projected schedules, to name a few key aspects. The proposals we prepare for large projects are essentially a “one-stop-shop” option for the client.
It sounds like being a residential designer and a commercial designer are so different! Since you do both, what are the pros and cons of working as an interior designer?
There are definitely a lot of pros to working as a Designer. I am a people person, so I love that it’s such a client-facing job. I get to meet lots of people and work on so many projects with unique designs. I also love making spaces look aesthetically pleasing, and interior design lets me do just that. In addition to creating a space that’s also functional and efficient. Getting into the industry is also so rewarding because I learned to notice things that others wouldn’t. In terms of cons, there aren’t any really, just certain things you have to learn to love. For example, you need to be overly meticulous and pay attention to detail. You can’t just throw some drawings together and call it a day. You really have to cultivate purpose with everything you do.
So there is definitely more to interior design that meets the eye. What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your job?
The single most rewarding thing about being a Designer is when the client is happy with what you’ve presented and designed. It is very rewarding. The most challenging part of it all is time management. Having ten projects in ten different stages at one time can prove to be a challenge if you're not managing your time effectively. As the Designer, you are the Prime Consultant responsible for everything and everyone. It’s a lot of work.
What would you say to someone wanting to go into Interior Design?
Honestly, just take it all in and learn as you go. Make sure you have strong time management and organizational skills because you’re going to need them. You also should try your best to get hands-on experience wherever you can. The learning aspect of a co-op placement or working as an intern in a firm is so much more rewarding than anything you'll do in school.
This has been such an insightful interview! The last question I have is more of a fun one; do you have a favourite project?
It has been my pleasure! My favourite project to date was one of the first big projects I helped complete. I was completing a work term at an architectural firm that was responsible for designing a 300,000 sq. ft. casino. I had the opportunity to source and select both furniture and materials, space plan dining areas, and even design a feature wall. I was only there for four months for co-op, but in that short time got to help with some really cool things. One of the aspects of the projects that was so interesting to me was that we hired a Feng Shui consultant to advise how the space could elicit feelings of luck and joy. We used lots of reds, pinks, and purples throughout the space to enhance the feeling of prosperity. It was really interesting to see how important the little details are within a design.
If you would like to learn more about Jen Suljak, contact us through our website, Instagram, or blog!