If you're trying to jump-start your career in interior design, here are six tips to help you gain the confidence to start working with clients, overcome imposter syndrome, and start designing professionally.
Spoak's mission is to make design easy and enjoyable for everyone — that means empowering the DIY and modern designer with tools to take their interior design passion to the next level... even without a formal degree.
The words "formal degree" have kept me up at night more than I'd like to admit. Mainly because just a few years ago, I found myself questioning what I wanted to do with my life after getting a formal degree in something I wanted to branch away from. After graduating from college with a degree in Communications and Magazine Journalism, I found myself in a weirdly secure-feeling sea of corporate NYC jobs. I landed roles at different publishing, media, and tech companies, but I knew there had to be something else. I was searching for something more, something that genuinely left me feeling happier and more fulfilled. For me, getting closer to that feeling would involve working in interior design.
I've always loved aesthetics and the puzzle of putting things together (I'm a Libra, after all!). I grew up collecting all the design magazines, rearranging the furniture in my room 100 times, and I would always beg my mom to take me to the store with her anytime we needed something new for our house. As I got older, my friends and family members would constantly call and text me to get advice on their design dilemmas. I even started picking up some paid jobs after a few friends insisted that I needed to start charging for my work. But if I'm being honest, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. (Hello, imposter syndrome!) The concept of pivoting into interior design was scary, mainly because I didn't have the "credentials" to back me up. I kept reminding myself of all my favorite self-taught interior designers I watched on TV: Leanne Ford, Athena Calderone, Bobby Berk, and Nate Berkus. I could do this! The reality was that I was starting to become overwhelmed, frustrated, and maybe even a little helpless. That's when I found Spoak.
An online clubhouse and interior design studio for design enthusiasts and professionals offering design tools, business and design courses taught by industry-leading pros, a job fair, and a tight-knit community to support you along the way? Sign me up! I stumbled across Spoak on Instagram and spent the day learning more about the company and its missions, and I knew I had to join. Spoak's design tools allowed me to practice the technical side of creating mockups while empowering me daily to follow my passion. Now I work for Spoak full-time as the Community and Content Director, and I get to share my design experience, tips, and mentorship, with other aspiring designers.
While becoming an interior designer without a formal degree is possible, it still requires a lot of hard work. I hope these tips give you the confidence to put in the work and follow your passion.
Branding is everything. It's how you can portray yourself as a designer and introduce yourself to the world. Don't skimp when it comes to branding.
Social media is a great place to start. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your POV on social media), I've always been obsessed with Instagram and genuinely enjoy sharing my life online. I like to think of my account as my curated diary and visual representation of who I am. Photos of my day-to-day adventures, hand-painted murals, nicely designed spaces I love—all of these things flood my Instagram feed and my saved folder.
Building a portfolio or creating a website that showcases your work is an essential part of the branding process (don't forget business cards!). As a Spoak member, you can set up your designer profile — including your design portfolio and a shoppable storefront with design services — with just a few clicks. Your portfolio includes your photo and bio and showcases all of your recent designs made on the platform. I was honestly surprised by the instant gratification I felt after setting up my Spoak portfolio. It made things feel more official and like I was a part of something bigger.
If you don't have real work to include yet in your portfolio, start by creating mood boards and mockups to show off your design skills. If you aren't sure where to start with building a portfolio, these tips might be helpful for you.
One of the biggest barriers to entry in the interior design industry has been access to design software. Most interior design software (like Photoshop or AutoCAD) can be difficult and time-consuming to learn and comes with a big price tag . That's why Spoak was created in the first place — to break down this barrier and make interior design tools easy, intuitive, and affordable.
Spoak allows you to build mockups through existing room templates, or you can create your own from scratch to make something entirely custom for your project. You can also quickly import products from the web into your project, remove backgrounds in just one click (seriously), skew those images to scale appropriately and create a cohesive mockup to bring your design to life.
There's nothing more frustrating than having a design idea in your head and not being able to show what you're envisioning because of a lack of technical skills or access to design tools. I struggled with this constantly until I found (and fell in love with) Spoak. Using Spoak has been a complete game changer and has saved me hundreds of hours on my project.
Keep in mind that practice makes perfect and the best way to learn is by doing.
Organization is critical for any design project (and any designer out there knows the struggle to stay organized!).
There are a myriad of things to keep track of when it comes to designing personally or professional — product and furniture selections, paint color choices, budgets, timelines, the list goes on. When designing for yourself, you might be able to get away with organized chaos (I'm looking at you, 30 tabs open, multiple Google docs, notes in one place, images in another.) But this system (or lack therof) won't cut it when designing professionally for clients.
Thankfully, with Spoak, you can keep all your design details in one place. Project Editor organizes inspirational photos, shoppable product lists, color palettes, floor plans, budget tracker, and renderings into beautifully organized lists by project, room, or client. Plus, you can share Spoak projects directly in a presentation view with your clients where they can comment.
I love this tool because it takes a lot of the organizational burden off of me as a designer and eliminates the need for me to make a separate presentation for my design projects.
If you're thinking about pivoting careers into something more creative like design, you've probably already found yourself debating whether or not you should go back to school to study it formally. I'm not here to make that decision for you because everyone's situation is different—but for me, I knew I needed to explore alternative options.
One of the many Spoak perks is the opportunity to further your education online with BeSpoak School, a curriculum of design and business courses (and exercises) created by pros to help you sharpen your knowledge in the space. The classes are fun and digestible, which I love! And you can take them at your own pace. Topics range from spatial planning, color theory (think how to use a color wheel effectively), to how to price yourself and grow your brand. Some of the more popular BeSpoak business courses include how to communicate with clients and how to come up with your personal design rates. I found it so resourceful to have honest breakdowns of these topics because they covered all the burning questions I had when I started.
Mentorship is such an essential piece of the puzzle in any creative career path. Unless you know an interior designer personally, meeting a real-world mentor in the industry can be difficult. The good news is that your mentor doesn't need to be a designer to help you with career advice. My mentor, for example, is someone I met through my first marketing job in New York City. When I started, I relied on them for personal advice, salary negotiations, and navigating tricky work situations.
Look at your existing network and see if there's someone you admire who would be willing to take the time to help you grow. Think about the areas you want to develop most in — business, branding, work-life balance, etc — and seek out a mentor (or mentors) who can help you in these areas.
I saved the best for last: find your people and hold on to them! There's nothing more special than having a group of friends cheer you on in your creative journey. A design support system is crucial.
At first, I struggled to find a sense of belonging in the design industry. There was an element of gatekeeping that I couldn't seem to push through until I found the community at Spoak — and for that, I'm forever grateful. Spoak members get access to a private Slack group, where you can chat with members in real-time, get design advice, and generally spend your day laughing at the fun banter there. We also host community meetups and workshops, so you have the option to meet both virtually or in person too. I've met countless incredible people through the Spoak member community who have become good friends. To put it in perspective: You know that feeling when you meet someone really cool who you know you want to be best friends with, but you don't want to come off too strong while you're just getting to know them? That's how I feel every time I meet a new Spoak member.
Photo Credit: (Left) The Wander Shop; A design project by Daniela Araya
After putting myself out there and joining Spoak, I've completely changed how I feel about myself as a designer. (It's taken me this long even to feel confident calling myself a designer.) Spoak not only helped me overcome my imposter syndrome and gain the confidence to start pursuing my passion, but it also taught me lessons on the design and business process I couldn't find elsewhere. As a result, I now proudly have a list of clients I work with, a portfolio filled with projects, and confidence I didn't previously have. Don't get me wrong, I still have so much more to learn, but I'm here for the long haul. By sharing my experience with Spoak, I hope you feel a little more empowered to take the leap in making your dreams come true.
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