Patti & Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and PerformanceDepartment of Art and DesignCollege of Liberal Arts

What is interior design?

By Anne Marie Yarbrough
THiNK Magazine

Interior design is much more than just picking out pillows and decorations, it’s creating a functional and safe environment for clients.

While Purdue’s interior design students create new living spaces for Westminster Village, they have to consider both the aesthetic and the practical elements of design.

“What we do impacts the way people feel about a space,” said Senior Interior Design Lecturer Laura Bittner, whose students are participating in the redesign project at Westminster Village. “Whether the space is enjoyable or not enjoyable, functional or not functional, safe or not safe is really up to us.”

Interior design can be residential or commercial. Residential interior design is for living spaces such as homes and apartments, while commercial interior design covers everything from airports to hospitals.

In order to be a commercial interior designer, one must first obtain a license. Health codes are very strict, but they’re vital to the safety of the building. Interior designers must always keep them in mind as they design a new space.

“When we’re talking about commercial design, we are talking about the design of every public space that you can possibly imagine,” Bittner said. “Our biggest job, in terms of commercial design, is really to protect the health, the safety, and the welfare of the public.”

It’s imperative that interior designers consider both health codes and the environment during the design process. This can make designing a space slightly more challenging, but it’s crucial to the safety of the public and the surrounding space. Using sustainable products is one way Bittner is encouraging her class to display responsibility through their work, and the students feel strongly about keeping the environment safe.

“There’s always an underlying environmental story as well,” Bittner said. “We feel a huge responsibility to make sure that what we’re doing is responsible. … It’s important that we do the right thing.”

Interior designers have a considerable obligation to keep everyone and everything safe, so the work of an interior designer can quickly become much more complex than someone outside the profession might realize. Bittner wants to prepare her students to be mindful and receptive designers.

“The thing to keep in mind is that, unlike most majors, there’s not a right or a wrong answer, and that’s the tricky thing,” she said. “It’s trying to get the students to become creative by listening to what they’ve heard and understanding who their clients are, and there are multiple ways of achieving that. It’s just getting them to pick the one that makes the most sense.”

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