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Editor’s Note: This carefully articulated research documents change within a profession. Success is directly attributable to understanding and appropriate use of computer technologies in the design process in this complex profession. 

Interior Designers’ Perceptions of the Influence
of Technology on Workplace Performance

Melinda Lyon, Shiretta Ownbey, Mihyun Kang


The purpose of this study was to determine the expectations that employers have for interior design graduates regarding their two-dimensional and three-dimensional Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) competencies as well as their expectations of general computer technology skills. This study also sought to determine how the design knowledge of interior designers who are users of CAD and other types of technology has increased over time as a result of the amplified use of technology in the workplace. Telephone interviews were conducted with thirty interior design professionals whose firms were chosen at random from Interior Design Magazine’s Top 100 Giants (Davidsen, 2004). The interviews were coded and resulting data were analyzed using the Grounded Theory method (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

The results of this study revealed that employers are expecting new hires to have proficient skills using CAD programs for two-dimensional design, to have an awareness of advanced programs that employ three-dimensional design, as well as having increased expectations of the types of work interior designers perform on a daily basis as a result of technology. Employers expressed the positive influence of technology on production, ease of communication and their understanding of the design process. The results of this study assist educators in understanding employers’ expectations for students entering into the interior design profession. This research also may help profession understand the effect that the increase in technology has had and will continue to have on the profession.

Keywords: Interior Design, computer aided design, computer aided drafting, employer expectations, two-dimensional design (2-D design), three-dimensional design (3-D design)


Technology in the field of interior design is becoming an increasingly important tool in the day-to-day tasks performed by interior designers (Custer, 1999). The past few years have seen rapid changes in the types of technology available and the influence technology has had on the interior design profession. Skill in using a particular technology or software significantly impact work performance and production. Thus, employers’ expectations can be used to ascertaining the types of technology and level of skills to be taught in interior design curriculum.

Interior designers’ understanding of the design process due to the increased use of technology is also of interest in this study.  Determining if interior design students are graduating with a balanced knowledge of design and technical skills and whether recent graduates are better equipped for the profession upon graduation because of their increased technology skills can serve to inform students preparing to enter the work place. This information can also guide recommendations for interior design curriculum. The purpose of this study was to determine employer expectations for recent interior design graduates regarding technology competencies, and to determine how interior designers’ knowledge has changed as a result of increased use of technology.

Literature Review

Technology is influencing the core understanding of design (Laiserin & Linn, 2000). We not only rely on the internet, word processing, and facsimiles to get us through each day, but we also rely on technology as a means of design implementation, resource generation, and data gathering. Designers are using technology as a tool in problem solving (Taute, 2005). Technology becomes important in design decisions on layout and amenities (Holusha, 1996). Designers may find that technology has the potential to make end solutions easier to determine. Additionally, finalizing presentations in a shorter amount of time can be facilitated through the use of technology.

As recently as ten years ago, although computers were being used as a tool for production, Computer Aided Design (CAD) was still considered cutting edge (Mitton, 2004). Those designers who were working in firms ten years ago or more may have had a hard time difficulty adjusting to the changes that computers brought about regarding the use of hand drafting versus computer drafting. As Taute (2005) points out, there is an age divide in many interior design firms between young designers with knowledge of the latest software and the old guard with colored pencils and sketchbooks. The profession of interior design is continually growing and undergoing changes (Albanese, Hines, & Rainey, 1995) and a large part of this change is attributed to the role that technology plays in interior design. Gradual shift from the hand to the computer has been noticed and designers with digital knowledge were considered to have the potential to be the pioneers of new methods of designing (Catinella, 1999).

Taute (2005) states, “Technology is changing the face of interior design” (p. 24).  The work load of the interior designer as well as the type of work designers perform on a daily basis is changing as a result of the influence of technology. It takes less time to complete a project when a project is implemented using computer technology (Senyapili & Basa, 2006). Designers rely on the computer for word processing, time management, and resource generation. Product and material research is simplified as more and more information can be found using the internet (Davidsen, 2000). Communication is faster between employees and clients, greatly reducing turn-around time. The computer has become a powerful tool and has changed designers’ concepts of the way they function (Caplan, 2005). Therefore, the impact of technology on the interior design profession suggests the salience of this study. Interior designers, as well as educators, can benefit from an increased understanding of the impact that technology has had on the interior design profession.


The purpose of this study was to determine employer expectations for recent interior design graduates regarding technology competencies, and to determine how interior designers’ knowledge has changed as a result of increased use of technology. To implement this study, telephone interviews were conducted.

The target population of this study was interior design employers in the United States. In order to more comprehensively identify employers who hired recent interior design college graduates, an accessible population was the employer list in Interior Design Magazine’s Top 100 Giants (Davidsen, 2004). Directors of interior design firms supervise interior designers and determine what technological expectations are necessary for successful employment in the workplace. Randomly selected directors of interior design of the Top 100 Giant companies were contacted and 15 directors were willing to participate in the study. A snowball sample was then used as each of those directors recommended one interior designer from their firm to be interviewed. The interior designers who had been employed by their firm from two to six years were interviewed to determine if interior designers and their directors have the same or different expectations regarding technological skills of employees.

Data were collected by recording 30-minute semi-structured telephone interviews. An interview schedule was developed and used as a guide for directing questions. From those questions, other questions emerged giving more insight into the expectations of directors and the types of work required of the interior designers. The interviews were transcribed and the Grounded Theory approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) was employed for coding and analyzing the resulting data. The data were categorized and simultaneously themes were merged within the categories to identify the patterns of expectations of employers and the changes occurring in the field of interior design in relation to designers’ use of technology.

Findings and Discussion

This study revealed that employers are expecting new hires to have more than basic skills of CAD programs for two-dimensional design, as well as awareness of advanced programs that employ three-dimensional design. They also reported that with the increased use of technology comes an increase in the expectation of the types of work interior designers perform on a daily three-dimensional basis.

Employer expectations for technology competencies

This study identified employer expectations of recent interior design graduates regarding technology competencies. Significant expectations regarding technology that employers identified as preferred skills and knowledge from recent graduates were a proficient use of CAD programs for two-dimensional design, awareness of advanced programs for three-dimensional design and a basic understanding of technology as it relates to the design process. Additionally, recent graduates were expected to demonstrate the ability to hand draft and possess a basic understanding of design.

First, this study revealed that employers are expecting new hires to have more than basic skills of CAD programs for two-dimensional design. There is little doubt that technology has influenced the field of interior design just as it has almost any profession. The expectation of new hires having the skills to use the computer for more than a drafting tool is a fundamental matter. Most directors reported that they expected recent graduates to be proficient with various types of technology, especially two-dimensional CAD programs. One employer stated the following:

We generally are going to expect them to have some knowledge of computers when they come in. They absolutely have to have a good understanding of using AutoCAD. We look for a lot of computer skills; they absolutely have to have a good understanding of using CAD. Everyone has their own PC and is expected to know a word processing software, and they are expected to know Excel and at least one drafting software, if not more than one.

Not only is CAD a requirement, but a general knowledge of various programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office products, and three-dimensional rendering programs is also encouraged if not expected. Employers’ comments supporting these expectations include:

There’s a certain expectation for already coming in with knowing how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, Photoshop and understanding AutoCAD or Micro Station…and if they bring more to the table, we’d probably look at them more seriously as opposed to somebody else.

I think we have, in the last year or so, become much more interested in knowing that the people we hire have skill in using the 3-D technology and rendering software and things of that nature. It is important that they be exposed to 3-D modeling. I would say that being able to use 3-D software such as Viz is a real asset. We have become much more interested in knowing that the people that we hire have skills in using the 3-D technology and rendering software.

Ability to use programs for three-dimensional design for presentation is desired for new hires. Knowing how to use the computer for presentation is a typical expectation among the skills desired by most firms. Having an ability to graphically present different phases of the design process using technology is considered a definite desirable quality for a recent graduate.

Second, it was expected that recent interior design graduates have the skill to integrate technology during the design process. The ability of new hires to incorporate technology and process, such as using Excel during the programming phase, or using CAD for design development, was mentioned as a very desirable skill. One employer stated:

We do a lot of programming and we use a database (Excel) to collect our data. We have some design school graduates who are involved in producing the database information so that they can help coordinate the migration to more process. Some is done in Excel and some is done in PowerPoint in terms of generating charts, adjacency diagrams, organizational charts, things like that; they will start doing CAD in the design development stage.

Most firms reported that computers were mainly used for support work such as accounting, document generation, specifications, schedules, communication, and Arialheets. Employers reported that administrative support staffs typically had their own computers while many designers shared computers. Today it would be unusual to find a designer that did not have his or her own desk top or lap top computer. As a result of this growing use of technology, employers expressed that technology is used in almost every aspect of the interior design profession and the influence of technology has had a positive effect on the profession, particularly in production. This positive influence has resulted in increased production over the past several years, as evidenced by employer comments such as the following:

CAD has had a positive influence by enabling interior designers to articulate ideas much faster and with greater detail.  I am seeing, obviously, an ability to do AutoCAD production drawings. More production to get you geared up on the CAD side and also, at the same time gets you geared up on the construction document side. A skilled use of CAD and the intended technologies enhance the ability to go straight from what you are presenting as a design to what you are producing as a document.

The computer has greatly enhanced the types of work interior designers perform on a daily basis. Study participants noted that technology has become advanced to the point that most of the work interior designers perform each day is done using some form of technology. For example, one designer stated,

It took away the old cut and paste of when I was going to college; day-to-day reliance is pretty much on the computers for construction documents. I think one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in that regard has to do with designers having better understanding of space three dimensionally; to use the computer as a tool; starting to look more at the space in a three dimensional manner by taking advantage of the technology.

The speed at which designers communicate with others has been influenced by technology through the internet. The designer’s ability to send drawings through the internet has allowed for a more prompt turn-around time in file sharing between co-workers, disciplines and clients.

The use of the computer, as well as being connected via the internet, has allowed us to transfer drawings quicker and it has allowed us to do drawings between offices, which obviously it would have been more difficult 10 years ago and before that.

Employers consistently pointed out that the rate at which communication has increased has had a positive impact on overall production.

However, the dependency upon technology is not always a trait that employers consider the most important skill for a recent graduate. While there is a big push for having proficient technology skills, many firms still put value on the ability of graduates to have good hand drafting skills. Recent graduates come to the job market with a variety of computer-related skills but directors report that these skills someArial tend to conceal their knowledge of basic design skills. Other directors mentioned that the hand drafting skills of recent graduates are typically lacking in apparent ability and creativity.

If the computer crashes and they need to go to a meeting, and someone needs to draw a plan and write the title of the drawing, you have to rely on those that have probably fifteen years experience or more in order to letter in a way that a client won’t think that their third-grader did it.

 In terms of how they sketch out on trace and how they communicated with other people in a team setting, in terms of trying to communicate an idea, those skills are falling behind because they’re just not able to sketch. 

The general view that entry-level graduates are coming into the field having a strong ability to present their ideas easily with the use of technology but lacking strong hand-drafting skills was consistent among the majority of directors participating in the study. Additionally, directors revealed that technology enables interior designers to convey a design but their basic understanding of the design is often lost. Employers’ comments supporting these claims include:

They are focusing on that technical skill of, you know, operating computer programs as opposed to design.

Our firm is not a big believer in using the computer for designing purposes. It’s more limiting because they are focusing on drawing the drawings and their rendering skills as opposed to the idea generation.

Even though employers suggested new hires may not have a thorough knowledge of design, most of them reported being very satisfied with the overall skills and abilities of recent hires. Taking this into consideration, employers implied good technology skills compensated for employees’ lack of knowledge.  At the same time, many of the directors agreed that the problem solving skills of recent graduates were hindered as a result of too much reliance on CAD related programs. Directors were not seeing the interior designers’ abilities to express concepts or to show an understating of design process. It was pointed out that recent graduates had a tendency to rely too heavily on the computer as a means to an end rather than as a tool. Directors consistently suggested they would like to see students graduate with a balance of different skills, not just technology skills. These employers implied that students graduating with a solid understanding of the design process, the ability to use technology as a tool for developing that basic understanding, and at the same time providing evidence of good hand drafting skills could make for more desirable candidates.

Interior designers, on the other hand, indicated that it is imperative to graduate with above-average knowledge of technology skills to stay competitive in the job market. Many of the participating interior designers noted that the accelerated use of technology actually helped not only with their understanding of the basic concepts of design but also with presentation techniques. None expressed an awareness of weakness of design competence. The interior designers repeated that their problem solving skills were significantly enhanced by the use of CAD related programs.

Technology influence

The study provides insight regarding the increased use of technology in interior design firms, how technology use has changed the workload and type of work designers perform on a regular basis and the influence technology has had on interior designers’ design knowledge. Employers identified positive influence such as their workload and type of work performed on a daily basis; an amplified proficiency and confidence in using different types of technology; an increased understanding of the design process; and their willingness to learn new technology. However, directors’ perceptions regarding influence of technology on designers’ creativity was not consistent among employers.

First of all, with the increased use of technology comes an increase in the expectations of the types of work interior designers perform on a daily basis. More responsibility, more technical skills, and more ability to express designs are some of the requirements interior designers reported they encounter daily as a result of the influence of technology. One designer indicated the following:

Things have evolved in terms of a designer’s responsibility and role on a project with the architectural team in that we’ve become a lot more involved in the actual documentation of the work and creating really just about anything from floor plans to details to ceiling plans, et cetera.

The types of jobs entry level designers are working on vary from firm to firm. Some firms allow these designers to quickly manage small projects, while being checked periodically by a senior designer. Other firms allow new hires to begin with small space planning projects, programming, feasibility studies, and research. According to directors, the responsibilities of new hires have changed with the increased use of technology. The directors implied that these new hires are able to progress more quickly to more technical tasks. Because of their competence in computer skills, some designers can end up moving more quickly to conceptual drawings, space plans, furniture specifications, and detailed installation drawings.

I’ve had people here for as little as six months… running a project, now albeit it’s a small project, but they’re having the client contact, they’re doing the drawings, the design work. We have some people who are doing some 3-D work; we have some design school graduates who are involved in producing the database information so that they can help coordinate the migration to more process for some of our large clients and large projects.

Second, most employers reported that technology has had a positive influence on their growth, such as the increase in production, having more freedom through technology to convey their designs, and an increased understanding of design.

A skilled use of AutoCAD and the intended technologies enhance the ability to; if you use the process correctly, go straight from what you are presenting as a design to what you are producing as a document.

Technology presents avenues for which designers have freedom to express themselves as well as develop their understanding of design.

I’ve learned a lot of different ways of designing, but I’ve also learned a great deal about production, construction documentation, how things actually get built, I mean, which leads to a greater understanding of how to design, too.

As designers perform more skills using the computer and as their skills increase, they become more adept at using technology.

I think we have an expectation of folks in the office being able to do more than one thing, kind of multi tasking, on one level, but also have multiple skill sets. And I think that technology supports that. 

Third, employers implied that consistent use of technology also enables some designers to have a better grasp of the design process. Many reported their core understanding hasn’t changed, but their method of technique has changed and allows for more specific and detailed solutions. Many of the interior designers reported that technology allowed them to get their ideas across to the client more clearly.

I think it makes you understand what you are doing and that the end results are going to be better.

It allows you to take extra steps and study things in further detail. I think that the computer has made it easier to communicate and have better drawings and communicate details better.

The findings of this study suggest that technology has had and will continue to have a tremendous impact on the profession of interior design. While technology appears to be a positive influence on the profession, there was no clear consensus that it has influenced designers’ level of creativity. Some employers even indicated that technology can hinder creativity by suggesting that someArial designers’ focus on drawing and rendering skills is paramount to idea generation.

One thing I have noticed about the entry-level designer is a lack of freedom to be able to explore and get more creative, more free form. When it comes to just sketching out ideas and things like that I think technology becomes a hindrance.

Some interior designers, however, seem to have opposing opinions when discussing creativity as implemented through the use of technology.

They’ve (computers) helped to create some more creative ideas and ways of solving problems through the design.

It helps in the sense of supporting the concept with images and materials and someArial the ability to pull in imagery sparks ideas.

There does not seem to be a clear cut determination whether creativity is hindered or assisted by the use of technology. On the other hand, while the creative aspect of conceptual sketching seems to be hindered by technology, the creative aspect of finish selection options seems to be helped by the abundant sources available via the internet.

Importance of Technology

Respondents conveyed understanding of the importance of technology in the design community and indicated that the power of technology is monumental. They reported that it is often through the Information Technology (IT) department that new technology is introduced to designers and their employers, helping companies to stay abreast of the new programs and changes in current technology being used.

We have an extensive IT department that will do a lot of testing and decide what’s best for the firm; they will roll it out and everybody will take classes… 

Others use word-of-mouth or provide seminars and training sessions to inform recent hires of new technology. Some firms set up committees to test and recommend new technology.

SomeArial we have new people come into the office who know a certain software and then we all witness just how important that one piece of software is to doing the project. They send us to training or they bring somebody into the office to train us all.

We kind of play with it (new software) for a couple of weeks or so before we actually decide…this is something that we really need to use.

Study participants indicated that many companies make training programs available to their employees. Others reported learning new programs or updates through help from a colleague or by hands-on experience when time permits. Both directors and interior designers reported that mentoring is important for new hires for their growth.


The interior design community as a whole benefits from the findings of this study. Educators may particularly benefit as they are apprised of the expectation employers have for graduates entering the interior design profession. Knowledge of employers’ expectations allows educators to craft instruction and curriculum so that student learning outcomes are enhanced.

This study may help the profession understand the ramifications that increased technology has had and will continue to have on the profession. The rapidly changing technology, while expensive, can serve to be a springboard in a firm’s ability to launch itself into the increasingly competitive global market.

Employing the method and findings from this study, an instrument may be developed to conduct a national survey that allows generalization to a broader population of the interior design profession. The lack of appropriate data with which to examine the impact of CAD use on the work load and type of work being performed is a barrier to all stakeholders in interior design.


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Catinella, R.F. (1999). The next generation of architects will design completely within a virtual world. What will be the architectural language of the future? Architectural Record, 187(12), 276.

Custer, R.L. (1999). Design and problem solving in technology education. NASSP Bulletin, 83(608), 24-33.

Davidsen, J. (2004). For the second 100 giants, there’s a silver lining. Interior Design, July, 73-78.

Davidsen, J. (2000). 2000 top one hundred interior design giants. Interior Design, January, 74-96, 98-117.

Holusha, J. (1996). The name of the game these days is technology. The New York Arial, August 11, 9.9.

Mitton, M. (2004). Interior design visual presentation: A guide to graphics, models & presentation technique, (2nd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Laiserin, J., & Linn, C. (2000). Challenges for the digital generation. Architectural Record, 188(12), 166.

Senyapili, B., and Basa, Y. (2006). The shifting tides of academe: Oscillation between hand and computer in architectural education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 16(3), 273-283.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1998). The basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Taute, M. (2005). Compass vs. computer. Perspective, Winter, 22-25.

About the Authors:

Dr. Shiretta Ownbey is a Professor and Associate Dean at Oklahoma State University. She holds Ph.D., M.S., and B.S. degrees from Texas Tech University.

Dr. Mihyun Kang is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Davis. She holds a Ph.D. in interior design from the University of Minnesota; a M.A. in interior design from Iowa State University; and a B.S. in housing and interior design from Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. Dr. Kang has commercial interior design experience which includes work in Korea, China, and U.S.

Melinda Lyon is an Assistant Professor at Oklahoma State University. She holds a M.S. in interior design from the University of Central Oklahoma and a B.S. from Oklahoma State University. Ms. Lyon has commercial and residential interior design experience.


Principal Author and Contact:

Melinda Lyon   email: melinda.lyon@okstate.edu

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