Shop Talk: Placing Photoshop in the Interior Design Curriculum

Presented by: Susie Tibbitts, Roberto Ventura

Motivation As interior design becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, Adobe Photoshop has become an important tool for many practitioners (“What is happening…,” 2015). Because of its complex range of image manipulation capabilities, Photoshop is used in disciplines from photography to graphic design. In interior design specifically, Photoshop is valued among students and professionals for its ability to modify, intensify, and hybridize design communication. As far back as 2003, Watson, et al, noted the importance of Photoshop and other secondary softwares in interior design practice. A 2012 survey of seventy current and recent graduates in interior design indicate they value Photoshop as highly as they do AutoCAD, SketchUp, and BIM during early design phases. Problem Despite this value, scholarship on how Photoshop might be integrated into interior design curricula is non-existent. A survey of the archives of the Journal of Interior Design revealed no articles discussing how to integrate Photoshop into Interior Design studies. Over 1300 abstracts have been included in the Proceedings from IDEC Annual Conferences since 2000, but none addressed the integration or establishment of an interior design-specific Photoshop curriculum. For interior design educators, the question becomes how to introduce a maddeningly complex, ever-evolving and rich software in such a way that is valuable to interior design students. In order to maximize the time and investment for students and faculty, this introduction must be surgical. If students can learn the basics of Photoshop in context of the interior design discipline, then two learning goals can be achieved. First, students would be able to manipulate Photoshop to serve their goal to become better designers. Second, students with this knowledge could then use it as a gateway into deeper, more independent, and more sophisticated explorations of Photoshop. Method Educators at two schools sought to tackle this dilemma by reverse-engineering a curriculum for Photoshop based on common professional uses. Through professional experience within collaborative practice environments, the educators identified some of the most common Photoshop operations used by professional designers: orthographic and three-dimensional renderings; entourage preparation and integration; refinement of manual and/or digital renderings from other platforms; hybridization of visual communication; texture mapping; lighting corrections; image preparation & adjustment; photo compositing; and color palette development. From this point, the educators identified the methods, algorithms and best practices associated with these typical uses. Among the critical topics were: file management; file types; resolution and image size/ quality; layer operations; selection methods; transparency; gradients; transformations; brushwork; tool constraints; pattern editing; and filters. Chapters presenting these Photoshop practices were designed and integrated into introductory graphics sequences at two universities. Photoshop learning activities included the development of collective entourage and pattern class resource files, renderings; and hybrid visual communication. Results + Conclusion Educators have documentation from beginning students to senior design work confirming a significant increase in dexterity and confidence in graphic communication. Testimonial evidence indicated that students were able to bring technical expertise into their professional experiences by demonstrating new means and methods to established practitioners. Independent experimentation and hybridization using Photoshop was observed in upper level studio projects where Photoshop was not mandated by project requirements. In addition, students independently developed and shared techniques and innovations with each other. Therefore, incorporating Photoshop learning specific to interior design in curriculum is effective, important, and highly beneficial.


  • What’s Happening with Design Software: TVS Design (2013) Retrieved on 2 October, 2015 from
  • Watson, S. A., Guerin, D. A., & Ginthner, D. A. (2003). Educators and practice: How to stay current. Journal of Interior Design, 29(1-2), 97-103.
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