Keeping Tabs on Technology

Sept. 6, 2006
By Caroline Hill, Peter Dedek and Carl Matthews
A survey of current technology trends and practices in interior design education.

The impact of technology can be rapid and profound. At the Computer Dealer's Exhibition (COMDEX) in 1982, Autodesk introduced the world to AutoCAD, and the long-standing tradition of hand drawing and rendering design presentations was replaced virtually overnight by two-dimensional computer-aided drafting (CAD) software.

As technological advances continue, the once innovative CAD drawing is being eclipsed by the digitally rendered three-dimensional model of a space complete with a wide range of design elements such as lighting and material representations. Moreover, technological tools are increasingly being integrated into the early stages of the design process rather than being used exclusively to generate final presentation drawings.

While there appears to be a consensus among interior design educators as to the importance of technology (computer-aided drafting software in particular) dating back to the early 1990s, the type, quantity, and format of technology instruction varies considerably among academic programs … even today.1

Students need to be aware of how their own professional goals align with their chosen institution's pedagogy to some degree in order to be adequately prepared to seek employment upon graduation. For some students, particularly those more interested in small-scale residential projects, time spent learning advanced technology skills may not be well spent. In contrast, students interested in large-scale commercial projects will likely find it difficult during the job search process unless they have mastered a basic set of technology tools. Studies have indicated that 50 percent of recent interior design graduates reported that they did not received adequate CAD instruction as part of their interior design education.2

For interior design educators, the integration of technology into the curriculum is always a balancing act between teaching design fundamentals (e.g. design theory, history, space planning, manual drafting, model building and perspective drawing) and teaching the use of digital technology to adequately prepare students to enter a profession increasingly tied to technology. While opinions may vary as to how much and what type of technology should be incorporated into a curriculum, there is an agreement among educators and practitioners alike that technology skills should not be advanced at the expense of hand drawing skills.

Keeping apprised of current technology trends and opportunities is vital for interior design educators who are working to make timely and informed curriculum and policy decisions in order to better prepare students to enter the competitive marketplace.

Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to determine the current state of CAD instruction and other types of digital technology being used in interior design programs across the United States. Not only does it provide educators with a snapshot of existing technology trends, but it also gives practitioners a glimpse into the current practices in academia.

The survey instrument for the present study was derived from instruments used in previous studies.1-3 The online survey was disseminated via e-mail to 141 faculty representatives of four-year interior design programs, 90 percent of which are Council for Interior Design Accreditation (formerly FIDER) accredited. Fifty-seven faculty members responded to the online questionnaire (40 percent response rate). Summaries of some of their responses are listed in the next column.

Preferred platform for technology applications?
PC - 93.9%
Mac - 6.1%

Number of CAD courses required in curriculum?
0 - 7.5%
1 - 24.5%
2 - 39.6%
3 or more 28.3%

How important is it for students to be proficient in CAD upon entering practice as a commercial designer? Extremely important - 94.4%
Important - 5.6%
Not important at all - 0.0%

Software programs utilized in curriculum for 3D modeling? (Note: respondents could select more than one program) 
AutoCAD/Architectural Desktop - 49.3%
Autodesk Viz - 36.8%
NuGraf - 17.5%
truSpace - 10.5%

Software programs used in curriculum for rendering and/or image manipulation? (Note: respondents could select more than one program) 
Photoshop - 45.6%
Illustrator - 31.6%
formZ - 15.8%
IntelliCAD - 10.5%

Where and how to implement technology into the already full interior design curriculum is a daunting task for educators, but motivation to rise to the challenge may be found in one survey respondent's comment that, "Our migration [to a digital desktop pedagogy] … has proven to be a significant factor in student recruiting, accreditation, student achievement, faculty development, course content development and graduate employment."

  • Caroline Hill, M.S., is an assistant professor at Texas State University-San Marcos and a member of IIDA and IDEC. Peter Dedek, D.A., is an assistant professor at Texas State University-San Marcos and a member of IIDA. Carl Matthews, M.S., is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of IDEC.

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