Q&A with Steffi Backhouse, GA Design – Student Clinics

Back in June and July the BCFA held the ‘New Designers Student Clinics’ in which advisers from all over the contract design industry came and talked to the students exhibiting at the event, hoping to assist them in the transition from pleasing universities tutors to pleasing industry professionals.

We spoke to Steffi Backhouse who assisted us at the event about the student clinics and what her advice for students would be.

Here is the Q&A session in full:

First off, tell us a bit about yourself…how did you get into design?   – At 16 it was suggested to me to go to college and do a GAD Datec foundation course for two years instead of A’ Levels. I then went on to Manchester Polytechnic to study Textiles at Degree level. On leaving I wasn’t able to get a position in a textiles company so I worked for a soft furnishing company learning to upholster, make curtains and all types of soft furnishings & eventually helped run the company which gave me more client contact, quotation experience and overseeing production and installation. I then moved to The Crown Suppliers, a part of the Civil Service, to run maintenance contracts for the MOD in Aldershot where I ‘tinkered’ with Interior Design renovating Officers Residences before applying for a jobs  in London as a designer. I worked with Thistle Hotels as a Junior Designer for four years gaining immense knowledge and experience as part of the  In-house design team. Having never planned to work in this field, the job offer gave me the biggest career opening and subsequently  I have travelled and worked in the far east and middle east doing the same work. The opportunities have been far reaching and allowed my love of colour and textiles as well as the experience of running competitive tenders, client handling and financial control to take me to where I am now.

How did you find the concept of the BCFA student clinics?I really enjoyed being able to talk to the students and give them confidence to follow their dreams and ambitions and also try avenues which they might not have considered. I wasn’t given this opportunity when I graduated and I think we should all give something back to the next generation. I wasn’t sure what I message I might be able to pass on but each time there was something relevant from my experience and current position which I could let them know about and even offer contact details from my suppliers and acquaintances.

How were the students?  – They were nervous to begin with but the best thing to do to break the ice is to get them talking about their work.  Many of them had not any real information about industry and how you can move from one field to another. They were all very techy and knew how to use social media to their advantage. One or two had a business plan and one had a job offer, one was heading to an interview after our chat.

What most surprised you?I was very impressed with the use of technology in their portfolios and design development during their courses. They are technically well equipped to get out there and work.

How well do you think universities are preparing students for the next step into a career in design?   I believe there is still more to do to give the students a full picture of what goes on out here. Not all the courses seem to require industry placement to fulfil the course and this really should be an integral part of their education.  Maybe more of us need to go into the colleges and talk about our experience especially where we have moved from one discipline to another. It’s so much more acceptable now too – changing direction from one type of work and moving into a completely different sphere.

Lastly, what was the biggest theme in your advice that you gave out during the clinics?  – I hope what came over in my talks with them was to try as much as you can and don’t turn something down just because it’s not part of your plan. Goals are good but flexibility is better. It’s early in your career and it’s the time where you can give anything a go and see where it takes you if you like the look of the offer. Finance is obviously a major constraint here in our economic climate.


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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