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4 Lessons for Your First Design School Assignment

There is no doubt in my mind that the very first assignment I did for my interior design course was probably my worst one. 

Looking back, however, I can see that at least my powers of observation were already starting to be honed due to all the reading I had done on the topic of interior design prior to enrolling.

Design School Diaries

– Post 1

faceless lady with notebook and laptop on floor at home
Notes to self:
1. Your first project may suck, but that’s okay.

2. You might try way too hard, and come off as even more of an amateur. It’s okay, you are one.

3. You might not produce your work the way your professor would like to see. Be prepared to learn new skill sets and vocabulary.

4. You might get knocked down a peg and have to pick yourself and your enthusiasm back up. You will feel enthusiastic again, I promise
This sums up what I explain in more detail in my story below. I will also show you examples of my response to my first interior design assigment

This post is the first in a series which has been at the heart of what I’ve wanted to do online since graduating, and that is:

To give back a little of the rich experience I had learning interior design by making information about interior design available to:

Those who may not have the chance to study formally


Those who are interested in design, but as yet undecided about how to go about becoming an interior designer

I will be sharing some of my student work and projects as an example for those who are interested in what taking a higher education level course is like. 

I will also try to document some of what the experience was like, what mistakes I made and even how I would do it better today.  It is my hope that this information will prove valuable and helpful to those who are looking for it.

Some background

I first got interested in interior design after a minor accident which resulted in a change-up in my workday schedule, leaving me with a two hour lunch break every day of time I needed to fill with something. 

As fate would have it, I wandered into the local library and found an entire wall full of architecture and interior design books. 

I read voraciously over the next couple of years before deciding to look into options for studying either architecture or interior design. 

There weren’t a lot of online courses in 2011 in general, and far fewer interior design and architecture related, to be sure.

person writing on notebook
Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

My online interior design school

I consider myself lucky to have found the UK higher national diploma course offered online by UK interior design school Rhodec.

The school was one of the first pioneers of distance learning education for interior design in the world, and a definite leader in the industry. 

Their program was originally a mailing course using snail mail and students used to send actual material and sample boards in the mail to their tutors. 

At the time that I enrolled the program was fully offered through the mail and online; and then exclusively online.

The school taught about 12,000 students over the course of its sixty year history and though, sadly, it closed its doors for good in 2020, it has been loosely affiliated with the National Design Academy, which is still going strong today.

Studying online in the 20s

The good news for students who wish to study interior design online today is that there are more options than ever before. 

My situation was that I was a young mother working as an ESL teacher in Asia, and I needed to work, study and take care of my kids all at the same time. 

The Rhodec online interior design course gave me the flexibility to work at my own pace, and I will always be incredibly grateful for the wonderful experience I had studying with the Rhodec professors and for the support of the student community.

Design students need motivation and community to succeed

For those who study online, having some sort of accountability, as well as a place to ask questions, vent, bounce ideas off fellow students and get encouragement and motivation when challenges arise is incredibly helpful. 

Personally speaking, without a good kick in the pants from my design group peers, I would have given up just before reaching the finish line, so I owe a lot to them. 

Even after graduating, many of us are still social media friends and stay in the loop on the progress of our design careers.

Interior Design 101

modern interior of restaurant in dark tones
If I could redo my assignment, I would probably pick a commercial space, not a residential one.
But that might have been too ambitious for a beginner.
Photo by wewe yang on Pexels.com

Back to our topic of what to expect from your first project in interior design school

I can only speak from my personal experience and what we did at our school, but I feel that the first assignment was useful for helping the professors to gauge our level of design knowledge, and giving us a practical design task right off the bat. 

We weren’t “designing” anything just yet, of course, but we were “learning to see” the world as designers-in-training.

-Our first module introduced the course structure and specifications, learning objectives, etc. and then introduced the broad topic of interior design and what it is, and what an interior designer does. 

-We were given an initial introduction into design theory and process and we were advised to keep a sketchbook for taking visual notes throughout the course. 

-Our sketchbook for each module was to be turned in to our professor with our final test for that unit and generally consisted of at least 20 pages. 

-My construction test sketchbook was a monster of about sixty pages of hand-drawn diagrams and written notes.

Keeping a sketchbook was incredibly valuable and an integral part of the journey of learning to be an interior designer. 

It documented our discoveries, our interests, our ideas and upon completion summarized our personal study history.  

Keeping a sketchbook wasn’t actually worth any credit, as it was only a documentation of your design thinking and process. The “real (project) work” was the production of a presentation roughly every two weeks.

This design prestentation was in response to questions posed which gave first theoretical, and then real world problems to solve.

They were completed sometimes through writing essays, doing research and preparing reports. We were also tested on new, design-related skills in progressively more difficult design projects. 

The keeping of a sketchbook was a required “extra” and not optional, so I always did work on my sketchbooks, but I sometimes dreaded filling in all of those blank pages.  

crop woman with samples of textile
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Early on I didn’t really know what to include in my sketchbook, so I tended to draw little sketches related to the course subject matter, as well as interiors that I found inspiring. 

Labelling my drawings helped me to practice and develop my design vocabulary. 

The language of interior design is what really sets amateurs apart from the veterans in the design world. 

Design has its own language, and if you want to be a successful designer, you will need to learn it and use it. 

This is something people don’t really talk about, but this is something I learned in the first few weeks of the course: there would be many terms I did not completely understand. 

  • It behooves you not to skip over the things you don’t understand
  • Use your dictionary. Yes, it’s one of the most boring things in the world, but like anything you start to get the hang of, it’s the beginning that really sucks.  You’ll be looking words up a lot in the beginning, but as time goes on, you won’t even notice that you aren’t having to anymore. 

Yes, my friends, it gets easier.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and if it’s a designer you want to be, be a great designer!

The elements and principles of design are your ABCs

stylish sitting room with colored walls
The elements of interior design are all present here, but the principles could have been ignored.
Photo by Max Vakhtbovych on Pexels.com

The study of these in any design field is foundational, and no interior design course would be without an explanation of the founding theory of design: elements and principles. 

Like learning your ABCs or 123s, the elements and principles should be hammered into your consciousness, because whether you are cognizant of it or not, you will use them every day of your design life.

I should add that sustainability and the continuous attention to the properties of materials was emphasized at the beginning and throughout the course.

Part of my site is dedicated to answering questions from the public as related to general questions about interior design that I feel equipped to answer. 

More information on the elements and principles of design will be covered here in future, but for now, a simple google or pinterest search will suffice if you are new to the concept or want to refresh your memory.

The first assignment in interior design school:


  • Students are asked to select two images of interiors: one the student likes, and one the student dislikes
  • The images are to be studied and the differences between the interiors are to be noted and examined in further detail
  • Suggested changes are to be made for the interior which is deemed to be inferior

For my assignment, I chose two interiors which were from different countries and cultures. 

They were also rooms with different functions: one was a living room, and the other was a dining room.

My first example of a room which I admired was from an international design magazine, and showed a beautifully designed Mexican home

The example of an interior which I didn’t like was from a local magazine and was representative of cheaper design

What I did right:

Choice of image

Although I would probably go back and change these images if I had to redo it, they aren’t bad choices considering that I at least knew what I was looking for. 

Both images offered as their premise a kind of fantasy or escape from reality, and I felt that the one met its objectively incredibly well, while the other was a dismal disappointment, even for an amateur like me.

What I did wrong:

Using the lingo

I was keen to use the design lingo I had learned from a couple of years of reading interior design books before starting my studies. 

However, in my need to impress, I ended up sounding a little robotic and made some basic word usage mistakes. 

This actually resulted in my professor asking me to switch my language preference on my word processor and advise her as to whether I was a native English speaker.  Ouch!


There is nothing else to say about it than that it was all over the place. 

At best, before this I had only written essays and newsletters, so I had no idea how to include and deal with graphics in MS Word. 

The result was that I was also corrected on my approach to laying out my assignment and advised to fix it.

Drawing perspective

If the table and chairs look like they are sliding off the floor to the right of the image, it’s because my dimensions lines were way off. Lots more drawing and my drafting unit and later CAD helped to change that.

I got a B+ on this test, which doesn’t sound bad, but I was kind of devastated to have gotten so much correction and advice on my first assignment.

This “knocking me down a notch” was 100 percent for the best.  By the time the next test came around I proved that I was pretty good at taking advice, and I got an amazing mark on my very next assignment.

If I had known then that I would one day share the disastrous first test I did in interior design school with the entire world, I would never have believed it. 

I do think, though, that it might encourage someone who’s just starting out. 

This was not the only bad test I did, and there are plenty of assignments I’m proud of and then others that I think I missed the mark on.

It’s all good. 

Mistakes are how we learn.

Keep going.

Making mistakes and doing things wrong is the processs of how we learn. 

It was often after a setback of some sort that I went on to produce MUCH better work.

As a creative, you aren’t always going to get it right. 

When things go awry or you find yourself in uncharted territory, you have to do your best and then be willing to learn from the experience which results. 

To do this you’ve got to develop a tough skin, learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and move on. 

You haven’t failed. 

Like Edison, you have only discovered yet another way that doesn’t work. 

This leads you ever closer to what will.

If nothing else, a failure works toward the process of elimination and hopefully also final illumination!

I hope you enjoyed this post on my first assignment in interior design school. 

Let me know in the comments what you learned from it and whether or not you’ll be replicating this early design assignment for yourself. 

It’s a great one for getting started on your own design journey.

Bon courage!

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