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Interior design program ranked among top 10 nationally

January 20, 2012 By Doris Green

The undergraduate interior design program at the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology has been ranked 10th out of 200 similar U.S. programs by Design Intelligence, a bi-monthly report published by the Design Futures Council.

The top 10 list included 15 institutions, with five tied with UW–Madison at No. 10.

Many of the nation’s leading interior design institutions are at private, not public, institutions, making the UW–Madison’s achievement remarkable, according to Wei Dong, Design Studies Department chair. The University of Cincinnati ranked first, followed by New York’s Pratt Institute and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Photo: Wei Dong


Photo: Jeff Miller

The rankings were based on a survey of interior design firms. The survey asked about the firms’ hiring experience and the skill levels of recent graduates. Firms identified which undergraduate and graduate interior design programs were strongest in different skill categories including communication, computer applications, and sustainable design practices and principles.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts growth for all interior design jobs at about 19 percent by 2018. “However, in the area of professional services, which is projected to represent over half of all interior design jobs and which is the main focus of our interior design program, growth is projected to be over 45 percent by 2018,” Dong says. Salaries generally range from $30,000 for entry-level positions to more than $100,000 for firm principles.

“The program has implemented a number of strategies that contributed to the ranking,” says professor Roberto Rengel, interior design program coordinator. The most recent Council for Interior Design Accreditation report in 2010 noted several program strengths, among them:

  • Students demonstrated a strong ability to synthesize information and generate multiple concepts and/or design responses to programmatic requirements.
  • Students worked in teams throughout the curriculum, which led them to develop a thorough understanding of teamwork structures and dynamics.
  • Students masterfully applied the principles of three-dimensional design in their projects, demonstrating a strong ability to manipulate the planes that enclose a space, as well as the spaces between planes.
  • Students’ ability to apply sustainability guidelines is also a strength of this program.

A student, senior Julia Griffith, says, “Our program allows students to find design inspiration and design resources in everything from art history to the sciences … I have so many skills beyond just communicating and creating strong design. I have a real understanding of the field and its impact on the world around us and … the necessary skills to go out and change the world in a positive way.”

This program focuses on an integrated approach to the teaching and practice of interior design, Rengel says. “We seek to develop a strong reputation for having a user-centered approach and aim to foster leadership in the integration of design with social justice, ecological sustainability, financial responsibility, and culture,” he adds.