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Design Challenge

The many roles of an interior designer

By Laura Bittner
Senior Lecturer, Interior Design
Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance

As an educator of design, my role is to help students become thinkers, communicators, listeners, teachers, researchers, environmentalists, team players, and leaders.

Interior design is an empathetic profession. We design well when we are able to put ourselves in our client’s shoes. 

The spaces we inhabit affect the way we feel, the way we act. They can evoke feelings of comfort, excitement, happiness and relaxation, or the opposite. Good design touches all of the senses.

A designer must be a good communicator. Designers communicate through sketching, working drawings, and presentation drawings. The most critical communication skill is the ability to listen well. A good listener hears not only the spoken word, but also learns to read body language, to understand the emotions behind the words.

Interior designers must be teachers. We often teach through telling stories. Stories are collected from research and personal experience. We teach our clients about the importance of good lighting from the latest research on circadian rhythms.

Designers need to be up-to-date on past and present research regarding important issues such as designing for the elderly, universal design, indoor air quality, and psychological studies.

A designer collaborates with clients to reach a design solution that aligns with the goals of the organization or community. The designer becomes a temporary member of the client’s team.

Designers of today are becoming environmentalists. They design to reduce indoor air pollution, improve energy efficiency, recycle products, and provide natural light. They desire to be “good” for the environment, not less bad.

One of the most important roles of an interior designer is to become a leader. A good leader has a vision and shares their vision with their team, including the client, the contractor, other professional, etc. Team members feel the support of a good leader and a leader puts themselves in the place of others to understand their concerns and solve problems.

This description of the “many roles of an interior designer” is inspired by a speech given to design students at Purdue a few years ago by Ana Pinto-Alexander, a 1986 Purdue graduate.