How are Practitioners Leveraging Technology in the Design Process? Implications for Design Education

Presented by: Connie Dyar and Amy Huber

Technology is increasingly central to interior design. Entry level designers are often expected to harness the full capabilities of Building Information Modeling (BIM), create photorealistic and often moving visualizations, and navigate up to 10 software packages in the process (Waxman and Tarver, 2013).  As one practitioner stated “new softwares every year....can't keep up with it.” The speed at which software is changed, adapted, and discarded can be overwhelming for a design educator (Rose, 2013).  This study sought to better understand what software technology coordinators at large and small firms are currently using, what level of technology readiness is expected of recent graduates, how technology decisions are made and what trends firms identify as important for the future.

Theoretical Framework
Using the underpinning of Expectancy-value Theory constructs (Eccles, 1983, 2002) a survey was developed and sent to participants delimited to members of a professional interior design organization from four states representing the North, South, West and Midwest regions of the United States. Based on the EVT’s premise, achievement related choices of software will be accepted and viewed as useful by educators and students in higher education if it is viewed as valuable by design firm employers.

Using a mixed method model, data collected were both quantitative and qualitative. The questionnaire was administered via Qualtrics, an online survey program and addressed the following research questions:

  1. Section 1 Current Technology Uses
    • RQ1: Which software packages are firms currently using in various phases of the design process?
    • RQ2: What technological processes do firms use in the design process (rapid prototyping; 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC)?
    • RQ3: How do firms make the decision to adopt or abandon a software program?
  2. Section 2: Emerging trends
    • RQ4: What developments have firms identified as upcoming technology trends in the industry?
    • RQ5: What software/technological applications should be REQUIRED of an entry-level interior designer?
    • RQ6: What software/technological applications would be DESIRABLE for an entry-level interior designer?

Responses to close-ended questions were analyzed using descriptive statistics in the form of frequencies and percentages. Responses to open-ended questions were inductively coded seeking similar phrases or keywords and analyzed for themes.

The demographics reveal that the majority of respondents ranged from 5 to 20 years of experience however the largest group to respond to the survey were owners and principles with over 20 years of experience in the field.  In addition the respondents who completed the survey were from small to large design firms with the majority being from larger firms with over 250 designers. The firms engaged in practice that ranged across a spectrum of specialties in design including corporate, education, healthcare/wellness, hospitality, retail and residential (Table 1). 

Summary of Results:
Results indicate that BIM has not completely taken over the design software choices.  AutoCAD and Sketchup are still slightly ahead with indications that Revit is “so demanding that it’s almost impossible to design in” (participant comment). However, both quantitative and qualitative results point to high demand of 3-D capabilities no matter what software programs are used and the Adobe Creative Suites series beyond PhotoShop is being utilized more extensively in the design process (Figure 1).  As can be seen in Figure 1 there are numerous other software programs that are being utilized as well.  The type and size of firm may determine what is most useful and cost effective for them to meet the demands of their clients. 

As for design professionals opinions on what software students should be trained in, practitioners indicated that training should be similar to what is happening in industry (Figure 2 and 3).


  • Eccles, J. (1983). Expectancies, values, and academic behaviors. In J. T. Spence (Ed.), Achievement and    achievement motives: Psychological and sociological approaches (pp. 75-146). San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman.
  • Eccles, J. S. & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 109-132.
  • Elmualim, A. & Gilder, J. (2014). BIM: Innovation in design management, influence and challenges of implementation. Architectural Engineering and Design Management, 10 (3-4), pp. 183-199.
  • Rose, M. (2013, February). Teaching software or teaching with software: Exploring the relevance of interior design courses focusing on the teaching of industry standard computer aided drafting and design software programs. Paper presented at IDEC National Conference.
  • Waxman, L.  & Tarver, E. M.  (2013, October). Early professional practice experiences and perceived levels of readiness of entry-level design professionals: A survey of recent interior design graduates. Paper presented at IDEC South Regional Conference.