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When you start the project, you open a blank Vectorworks page, import a building model, intent on creating a stunning interior. You have eyes on first prize, which comes with prize money your classmates desire, too. The deadline approaches and your course grade depends on your creativity. You take a deep breath. Oh, and just before the deadline, your school is endorsed as one of nine Centres of Excellence by the Society of British and International Design (SBID), which has accredited both of your school’s interior design courses — you feel empowered to do your best work yet. In their final year, students at Solent University submit to the Amara Student Interior Designer Competition, an annual challenge for colleges around the UK.  Solent students took 19 of the 21 placements, including first, second, and third. Last year, Solent students took first and second place. Bali Villa Living Room FINAL copy

A Solent student's work on an interior. Image courtesy of Lydia Southwell. 

These students are succeeding in their pursuit of excellence — but how do they do it? We wanted to find out, so we spoke with Lydia Southwell, the Interior Design Decoration Course Leader at Solent. Can you talk a little about yourself and your background? What brought you here? "I’ve been working in higher education for 28 years, originally trained as a textile designer. I’ve been running the course for seven years now. When I first began, I was curious about the word ‘decoration;’ I wanted to define and make it distinct. I thought: why go to an exterior furnishing or wallpaper company to furnish an interior when we could design it ourselves? And so that’s exactly what we’ve done, and are the only course in the country to do so. Which makes us very unique, and very appealing.  We recently had a student from Australia to study for a semester with us and had a great experience.”  How would you describe your teaching style? “We’re very hands-on. The students work through sketchbooks, they create contextual folders, with lots of client research and location research. I’d say we’re a traditional course, but we’re very modern in the ways we present and communicate our ideas. All the students have webpages, blogs and know how important it is to show their work professionally to industry. I think they really understand how to relate to the client. Students get a chance to pitch ideas to the professional industry; they’re constantly having to talk about their work and prepare for these real-world experiences.” Tell us about your experience with Vectorworks. “Because our course needs to show the styling and materiality in the interior spaces we really want the visualizations the students produce to be detailed and very realistic, and not appear flat. From my point of view as the course leader, it allows the students to produce fantastic results. They study Vectorworks all the way through the course, starting in the first year when they learn 2D. It works very well for us. Once they get it, they love it.” Luxury Villa Bedroom copy

A Solent student's work on an interior. Image courtesy of Lydia Southwell.

What does it mean for your students to have done so well in the Amara competition? “I think it’s important to understand context. These students only had four weeks to go from concept to complete design idea, which isn’t long at all. And of course they’re not just doing that, they’re balancing life at university, too. It’s fantastic for the students to see their work recognized and to understand what they can achieve with the software. Using Vectorworks to showcase their ideas really helped — it’s all about communication and presentation at the end of the day.” How important is the university’s SBID accreditation? The accreditation means a lot because it shows that our course is recognized within the industry and our students have the skills and knowledge required professionally. We help students to become independent and creative, thinkers who can go out and make a difference in the world.” What have some of your students done after finishing the course? “Some have gone on to be kitchen designers, interior yacht designers, residential and commercial interior designers, work within retail design, as well as stylists and colorists. That’s what’s so lovely about our course: it’s not all interior design. They might go into visual merchandising and branding, surface design and card design. I recently had an alumni redesign the Bloomingdale’s store in NY for Ted Baker. I had a student post work on Instagram in the style of the watch designer Olivia Burton, and now she works as a stylist for Olivia Burton. They really do find amazing jobs. And they’re confident, too, which is one of the hardest things to teach.”
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