Why Designers Should Consider Making the Leap to Teaching

Sept. 23, 2020

This op-ed piece discusses why you should consider making the switch from design practitioner to design educator.

The rewards of an academic life are many. As a design educator, you have the opportunity to shape students’ initial understanding of design, and how it can enrich a professional life and contribute to solving societal needs. You can learn alongside your students exploring evolving issues and new approaches. As in practice, you can be a generalist teaching across the curriculum, or a specialist focusing on particular tracks like history, technology or practice issues.

Whichever path you take, you will witness students struggle, absorb and finally succeed. You will likely find new colleagues who have similar research areas and have the opportunity to network with them at professional conferences. If you teach in a graduate program, you can involve your students in your research and mentor them to develop their own areas of interest. Interior design programs reside in all types of academic settings, from private art and design colleges to large public research institutions.

Hiring qualifications will be determined by the institution and needs of the program. A Master’s degree is typically the minimum academic requirement, with a Ph.D. required for positions at research institutions. Credentials like NCIDQ, LEED and others are sometimes required and always beneficial. There are various types of positions and most, but not all, schools have some form of tenure, which is attained after meeting criteria over a proscribed period of time, (typically seven years).

Faculty success is measured by three factors: teaching, scholarship and service. While superior teaching is always of prime importance, scholarly work and service are all a part of a professor’s life. Depending on the mission of the institution, the balance between these three areas will vary. Scholarship will also be defined differently, with a heavy emphasis on original research at research institutions. At some institutions, creative activity is equated with scholarship. Service activities will give you the opportunity to use your expertise for your institution, community and professional organizations.

The Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC) is the professional organization for interior design academics. Its membership includes faculty, administrators, and allied professionals in the U.S., Canada and abroad. If you are interested in pursuing a career in academia, IDEC can provide assistance and mentorship. Contact the organization at www.idec.org in the Career Center for more information or to request a call from a member.

From Practitioner to Professor

Do you love working with interns and recent graduates in your office? Do you enjoy critiquing at your local design program? Do you wish you could study a design topic in more depth?

You might want to consider transitioning from design practice to design academia. Making this move can introduce you to a new culture, language, and objectives. It helps you develop new skills, and the skills that have made you successful as a professional designer—creativity, problem solving, good communication, and the ability to organize information and people—can easily translate to your new career.

I recently talked with a couple of faculty members who madesuch a journey in the last few years. Their stories were different, yet similar as they were both pleased with their decisions and noted that working with students is the prime reason for their contentment.

“Not a doubt in my mind I am doing what I should be, training the new generation of interior designers.” Shelby Hicks, IDEC, ASID, IIDA (pictured)

After raising a family and establishing a 20-year career as a practitioner and design-build firm owner, Shelby Hicks returned to school to obtain an MFA in interior design. “Being in school after being in practice was challenging,” she notes. “Graduate school typically focuses on theory, less on practice, more on abstract thinking.” Hicks has taught at South East Missouri State, Boston Architectural College and Mount Ida, and is now an assistant professor in the School of Art and Design at Western Carolina University.

“When I was in college, I never thought I’d pursue teaching; after all, I loved design. That said, when I was asked to teach some design technology courses at a local community college, I agreed. There was something so fulfilling about helping others to reach their goals.“ Amy Huber, ASID, IDEC (pictured)

After five years of practice in a large international interior design firm, and three years as an adjunct faculty, Amy Huber began work on her Master’s degree. Balancing part-time work, coursework and a teaching assistantship created in Huber’s words “… a hectic schedule for two-and-a-half years, but it was worthwhile.” She is an associate professor in the Department of Interior Architecture and Design at Florida State University.

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