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Celebrating 35 Years Training the Designers of the Future

This December, the National Design Academy celebrates an anniversary; 35 years training the designers of the future. When the NDA first opened its doors, hand painted murals and rag rolling were all the rage. Everyone was painting their furniture with crackle glaze before the phrase ‘upcycling’ was even coined. Home decorating shows were just taking over TV channels and everyone wanted to create their own unique living space. Skip along 35 years and a lot has changed, and we’re not just talking about the trends.

The Birth of the National Design Academy

35 years ago, interior designers were something only the rich could really afford. But Pauline Riley saw something was changing. People were becoming more interested in creating unique spaces and home décor was becoming more accessible. IKEA has just opened their first store in the UK and the flat-pack revolution had begun.

Interior design courses were few and far between in the late 80’s. More designed for keen DIYers or hobbyists, college courses were either full-time or meant attending a college in the evenings.

After struggling to find an interior design course herself, Pauline decided to turn part of her home into a design studio. Somewhere people could come and explore their passion for interiors and leave with new skills to help them turn their own, and other people’s homes into spaces with personality.

“I started the NDA because I couldn’t find a flexible interior design course for myself. I had lots of practical experience through our property development company but wanted some additional practical training. I couldn’t attend college or university on campus as I had a business to run, a family and small children. Clearly others would be in the same situation! The short courses I attended contained no practical information. I was passionate about design - but no-one else seemed to be! So as flexible learning was not being catered for, I asked Marianne to run some short pilot courses. 35 years and 35,000 graduates later - here we are.”

Pauline approached local designer and friend Marianne for help…

“When the NDA began all those years ago, interior design was arguably much more about decoration than design, but creativity and quality formed the bedrock of everything that followed.  It was also the practical application of design principles taught by expert professionals - along with real life knowledge of the commercial potential for students within the industry that made it an instant stand out from conventional theory-based courses.  The specialist painting courses I first taught included everything from traditional marbling and graining to murals (and of course rag rolling…) but possibly the most popular and enduring was the colour workshop.  No matter how good you are, nothing seems to work properly in design and decorating if you get the colour wrong…”

We may now have ditched rag rolling from our course content but may of the same principles remain and the colour theory unit of the NDA’s Professional Interior Design Diploma remains a firm favourite

Distance Learning Design Courses

It wasn’t long before the NDA’s in-studio interior design courses took off. But a lot of people couldn’t make it to the Nottingham studio, take time off from work or make childcare arrangements so to fill the gap the NDA launched one of the UK’s first ever distance learning courses for interior design. Course materials were posted out to students who then completed their assignments and posted it back. Totally unthinkable now in the age of postal strikes! The dawn of the internet made the National Design Academy’s courses even more accessible and by the early 00’s the NDA had moved online.

The internet changed the face of education forever. E-learning became the go-to delivery method for businesses looking to provide new skills, training and even something as basic as an induction course. The NDA were early adopters of online learning resources and by 2003 had a fully functioning portal which is now known as the Virtual Learning Studio.

The VLS enabled students from all over the world to access the NDA’s interior design courses. We now have students in over 100 countries but the popularity of learning such a hands-on subject in person never waned and we continue to offer our in-studio interior design courses in both Nottingham and Dubai.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

During the Covid-19 pandemic, online learning became even more important. While other universities and colleges struggled to provide engaging and consistent online content to their learners, the NDA were already ready! The NDA’s Zoom course was quickly developed to fill the gap left by the inability to hold a studio course and it quickly took off. Even now, when most Covid restrictions have been removed, nearly 30% of our Diploma students choose to study via Zoom.

What’s Next at the National Design Academy?

The National Design Academy is now digital by default. We stay on top of the latest trends in online learning to try and make our student experience as engaging and informative as possible. Our tutors and course developers have been busy upgrading all of our courses behind the scenes. Our new Professional Interior Design Diploma launched in September, and a new, revamped version of our degree programme is due for launch in Spring next year. The content of our Professional Garden Design course is being overhauled to include new and up to date resources and our specialist courses for Heritage Design, Retail Design & Design for Outdoor Living will also get a brand-new look.

We also have two exciting courses launching early in 2023, with new NDA tutor Martin Nealon taking lead on our new Short Garden Design Course and resident Curtain Making & Soft Furnishings expert Sarah taking the course live on Zoom later in the year. We’re also working to improve our Resources section and we’ve got some great new SkillsLab content planned for the new year. There’s a lot going on!

Ready to Design Your New Career?

The NDA offers a learning level to suit everyone - from absolute beginners through to experienced designers.

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