“We speak the language that clients want to hear from designers.”

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We’ve hear you say in the past that the Master’s Degree in Interior Design is like an earthquake.

– It is.

– Why?

– Because it changes everything for our students.

Nacho Juan is a lecturer and the Deputy Director of ESET, CEU UCH’s School of Design, Architecture and Engineering, and he’s also the coordinator for this Master’s Degree, the only official Master’s Degree in Interior Design in Spain. This really makes it stand out from other superficially similar programmes and gives it prestige at a national and international level. In fact, after running for more than ten years now, 40% of students on the degree are from other countries.

What causes this earthquake, this change that students experience when they begin this Master’s Degree?

It’s a very intense year. All the students have a particular background and an idea of what the profession involves, but after they graduate from this degree, they have a much more rounded set of skills, they have new ideas and a much improved vision of their position in the job market. Each student’s initial viewpoint changes and is enriched. The student comes out of the other side as a new person: they have the confidence to take on a job interview, or to approach a client visit, to set project deadlines, give an estimation on cost – to talk about the things clients want to hear.

There’s a clear link to professional practice, then.

The lecturers are specialists in this area. They have real prestige as active professionals and, through them, our students get a real taste of the profession on campus. Unlike other degrees and postgraduate programmes, our lecturers work in the field, have projects in progress and possess national and international prestige.

“Students graduate with a clear view of the directions in which they can take their careers.”

Apart from this this direct line to the industry through their lecturers, how else does the degree prepare students for professional practice?

We have a very clear aim throughout the programme: we want to give our students the best education possible, but, more than anything else, we’re training them to perform at a high standard in professional practice. To do that, there is a wide range of project-based modules in which the student has to deal with many design briefs. These are real projects, such as an exhibition stand, a restaurant, a shop window, a set, a hotel or a house. This enables them to gain an insight into all the possible careers in the field and it trains them to be able to tackle any professional challenge with confidence, whether they are working for a studio or directly for a client.

As well as the projects the students carry out, there’s also a big focus on training them in the use of digital tools.

We spend a lot of time training our Master’s students in communication skills, which are essential to their future careers. We talk about modelling, 3D visualization, and how to create a portfolio. These are crucial skills, as they’re the ones that will open the doors to the studios.

We’ve talked about project and digital tools, but what role does the cultural baggage that students acquire here play?

It’s at the heart of everything. With us, our students build on their background knowledge, the baggage that they may bring from other disciplines, and that helps them to build their projects on a solid foundation and to know how to exchange views with other experts and clients in a professional manner. That’s the motivation behind our approach to issues such as the history of interior Design and of furniture, and the project method.

CEU UCH lecturer Nacho Juan with one of his students.

So, you’ve got culture, projects and digital tools, but the fourth key element of this Master’s Degree is technique. What value does this bring to the educational programme?

It’s the most valuable part. It’s not taught anywhere. We thought that that was something which was lacking elsewhere and that we had to cover on this Master’s Degree. It might be seen as of less importance at an academic level, but is in fact something which is essential to a designer’s day-to-day work. If you haven’t got a good grasp of the techniques required, it’s going to be very difficult for you to bring a project to a successful conclusion. You might have a good grasp of the theory behind a project, but not the practical side.

“Professionals with more than 10 years of experience COME HERE to improve and update THEIR knowledge and skills.”

Clients don’t hire designers for their theories.

The first things that a client is going to ask about is how much is the work going to cost, how long it’s going to take and completion dates. You need to have good technical knowledge to draw up a project plan: knowledge of air conditioning, acoustic analysis, illumination techniques, and health and safety protocols for the work. All this is included in the degree, along with simulations, for example, with town councils regarding how to request permits to carry out work. That is also part of the profession: it’s not just the creative side.

Who is the Master’s Degree aimed at?

It’s aimed both at recent graduates and at active professionals. It’s open to a wide range of people from different backgrounds: people from interior design who want to specialize, architects who’ve never worked at this smaller scale, or people from product design who want to work on a larger scale and use the greater amount of space. There are also those who’ve studied building engineering and fine art students who are interested in this area but need to gain the more technical and project-based skills.

And some are also professionals with experience in this area.

It’s the part of the programme which focuses on the technical side of things that makes the difference. In this way, we attract professionals who’ve never received training in this area and designers who, after 5 or 10 years of professional practice, see the Master’s Degree in Interior Design as an opportunity to improve and update their knowledge and skills. Right now people like that make up around 20% of our students.

How important are student placements to the programme?

It’s an essential counterpart to the rest of the degree: 180 hours of compulsory practical training in active professional studios. It is the perfect way to get your foot in the door and start your career. What we see is that, in many cases, our students end up working at the same studios where they do their placements. The fact that the studios want to retain our students says a lot about the education we provide. At the same time, besides the compulsory practical training, students can also do 800 hours more of voluntary practical training, in the same studio or another of their choice, if they feel like approaching the issue from a different angle or working at a different scale.

And there’s more to the relationship with these active professional studios.

That’s right. Over the course of the year, we go to several studios who open their doors to show us in situ what their day-to-day activity is like. We learn about their organizational structure, the way they handle client visits, how much time they spend on each stage of a project, what their working rhythms are and how many people work on each project, for example. Some of the studios we’re going to visit this year are OAB-Carlos Ferrater, the interior designer Isabel López Vilalta’s studio, and Arquitectura G, in Barcelona; and in Madrid, Madridinlove and Selgas Cano.

What’s the ultimate objective of these visits?

The idea behind these visits is for the students to become better acquainted with the whole process, from the client brief and the presentation of the project and through to the search for the right materials. At the end of each visit, we take a look at one of the studio’s completed projects or one that is ongoing. We see the start and the outcome and everything that goes between, and the students get a lot from that.

Nacho says that the students think of themselves as people with a “real vocation”, regardless of where they’re from. They also share this vocation and passion with the professionals who, in both the lecture halls and the studios, provide them with a unique educational experience.  

Good luck to all of them – and thanks, Nacho!

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