FAQ: On Why to Consider a Master's Degree in Interior Design & More
April 11, 2013
•General, Interior Design
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Why should I pursue a master’s degree in design? What kind of faculty can I study with? What types of projects might I work on? How much time will I need to dedicate to the program?
We shed light on these commonly asked questions and more about our master’s programs in Interior Design in this Q&A with John-Martin Rutherford, Interior Design program chair at Harrington College of Design.
If I were currently working as a designer and considering a graduate program, what three reasons would you give me as to why I should pursue this degree?
Most importantly, it’s because the technology and the style of practice is changing rapidly, and an advanced degree will give you access to this evolving practice information and allow you to gain facility in its uses.
An advanced degree is becoming more and more desirable when seeking employment; with so many people seeking employment, the greater the credentials, the better chance you can have. Lastly, it will give you greater confidence that you are practicing with the latest skills and are, therefore, ahead of many of your competitors. Your marketing materials will be able to identify you as an advanced degree holder, and that will help you stand out even before prospective clients or employers see your portfolio.
Harrington offers master’s degrees both for those currently in the interior design field and those looking to move into a new field. How do these programs operate differently to address the specific needs of their students?
In the MAID (Master of Arts in Interior Design) degree, for those without a first professional (bachelor’s) degree, students first take eight courses intended to help gain a foundational understanding of interior design practice. These are very rigorous courses meant to help students become ready to enter into the MID (Master of Interior Design) curriculum, where they will be joined by students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in interior design. From this point, all students take the same classes together.
The time commitment of school can be a challenge for working professionals. How do Harrington’s graduate programs accommodate the needs and schedules of working professionals? How many hours a week do master’s students spend in class?
Our curriculum enables our design master's degree students to attend as few as one night per week. Typically, part-time students take two courses, each of which meets one evening per week for 15 weeks. These classes last 3-4 hours per week each with a considerable amount of time, in addition, for completing coursework outside of the in-class time.
A full-time student would attend class four times a week, one evening for each class taken. Students range from those taking only one class per semester to those taking four. It depends upon each student’s ability to complete the work of the classes, which depends upon other life requirements such as employment, family responsibilities, etc.
Typically classes only meet Monday through Thursday evenings, although there are lab times devoted strictly to graduate students on Fridays and Saturdays to allow them to get some extra help from those lab assistants who have specialized training working with graduate students and understand the requirements of the graduate classes.
What types of qualities and backgrounds do you look for in the faculty members who lead these programs?
Primarily, these instructors should have high-level expertise in design practices, have worked or may still be working in advanced positions in design firms, and have experience in the classroom. Design practice can be difficult and often frustrating. These instructors know the difficulties of the workplace and have the ability to teach the students the skills necessary to successfully blend into the work environment, survive the vicissitudes of that environment, grow into each challenging role and become a leader of each team in which they are a member.
The faculty is demanding because they understand what lies ahead for the graduates and want them to be the best prepared graduates entering practice. Often, each of the faculty has more than one advanced degree. This is another way that the faculty helps the student: by understanding the practices of allied professionals (architects, landscape architects, planners, mechanics, electricians, construction specialists, and so forth) and helping the young designers learn how to collaborate with each of them successfully.
How would you describe the educational approach you take in the curriculum?
This is simple: We are a practice program, and from the beginning, we teach the skills and the abilities necessary to practice once they complete their studies. Most of the projects are introduced to the students as if they were being introduced to a design team at a professional office. The processes are no different. Each student is treated as a unique individual with unique abilities and backgrounds by allowing them to pursue their own design interests, culminating in a thesis project that illustrates their particular interests and abilities. Electives help the students investigate avenues of design that support their individual interests and those of their theses.
What are two or three of the most interesting/unique courses in the master’s curriculum, and how do these illustrate what makes Harrington’s programs stand out?
Creative Collaboration is a course that includes both Interior Design and Graphic Design students. They work on projects together and learn about each other’s specializations with the broad “design” field. They learn how to relate to each other, enlist the skills each individual may have to help the team and the psychologies to be utilized in working with unique individuals with unique backgrounds.
Media and Communications class is a continuation of group/collaborative projects and explores many aspects of design creation and production. Presentation skills are a large part of most of our classes, but this class explores new methods of marketing the design concepts.
These electives give each student the ability to explore his/her own interests by supporting their thesis concept with classes that offer more in-depth information or add greater depth and breadth to their initial concepts.
Can you share a couple of examples of the types of projects graduate students might work on?
A couple of examples would be a drop in the bucket since each student brings individual interests, abilities and desires into the program. Each student pursues unique interests which may include community centers, hospitals or other healthcare projects, hospitality and retail projects, small-scale or very large-scale projects, rural or urban, technology or theory heavy, residential or commercial or a combination.
We had a student pursue designs for helping lower-income households raise some of their own food with minor interior augmentation. We have had students design entire housing complexes, large community centers, stage-of-life residential environments, retail stores and restaurants, technological advances in design creation and production, presentation and marketing for design professionals, and others too numerous to mention.