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Student Spotlight: John Niven


At the National Design Academy, many of our graduates decide that they want to go it alone and start their own practice. Because of this, we offer business tips and help for those deciding they no longer want to work for someone else. A brilliant example of this is John Niven, a former Diploma in Professional Interior Design student. John studied the studio version of the course at our Nottingham studio and now works in the North West, styling homes and work spaces across the region and beyond.

John states that he offers “a multi-disciplinary service with a highly skilled team of contractors, architects, tradesmen and an international network of trusted suppliers. From single room makeovers to full turnkey developments, each service package and interior scheme is tailored to the exact needs of the client and designed to make their budget work as hard as possible in realising their property’s full potential.”



What inspired you to do interior design?

JN: There’s always been a heavy design element to what I’ve done in the past, I’ve always loved and appreciated design in many different forms – I think it transcends market sectors and context. There was always a big passion in interiors, architecture and property. Over the years, as side projects from the main business I was involved in developed, friends and colleagues wanted me to be involved in what they were doing, on the property side! Eventually, I was in the very fortunate position of doing something I genuinely enjoyed doing and could formalise it into an actual business and take that forward. And I’m glad to say, it was a great decision!


Where does your inspiration come from when designing?

JN: Well in the first instance when you get the brief, you gain the most information about the client as possible: their lifestyles, their daily routines, their likes/dislikes, hobbies etc. But it’s also important to dig a little deeper. What are their backgrounds? Their memories and future hopes? And from all of that you can take inspiration to implement into those schemes. But, in a general sense? Inspiration can come from anywhere. From nature, from looking around! It could be something you see on the news, something from Pinterest, it all depends where you’re looking. In terms of how I work, I do really like those earthy, warm tones. The natural world and nature, it’s shapes and textures are a pretty big inspiration for me.


What style of design are you interested in?

JN: Well, from a business standpoint, I don’t work with a ‘house style’. We don’t offer a specific style of interior design. The key is to take what the client wants. Granted, you can put your own spin on it, your own signature. But it’s about that flexibilty and really running with what they want to give the optimum result, to not only meet the brief but exceed expectations. From a personal standpoint? I really enjoy moody, dark and masculine themes. Metallics, earth tones, not too minimalist or too cold but I’d say, a classic modern style.



Do you have any advice for those wanting to set up their own business?

JN: The major key with everything is preparation. Do your research, make a business plan. I wanted to give myself the strongest platform to build on so in terms of setting up, it has to be done incrementally, in baby steps. Get everything ready before you push the button on it. It also really is a balance of smaller scale and larger scale clients. Sometimes you do really get that satisfaction from blowing someone away and exceeding their expectations through innovative and creative applications with a modest budget, as well as a bigger budget mansion or penthouse apartment. Also, there is a such a huge focus on social media and digital marketing, but I think people shouldn’t lose sight of the old school methods as well. From my perspective, I found this very successful. Pick up the phone, talk to people. It’s a case of getting the ball rolling! Once you’ve got some momentum and your portfolio is there and you’re starting to increase and add to that, more people will know about you and you’ll get referral business. The key is getting through that initial phase and getting to the place where people know about you, and are coming to you specifically.


What’s the most important thing to you, when working with a client?

JN: I’m there to help them along and give them what they need. To take those initial requirements and ideas, and put them in a cohesive concept which I can communicate to them through the various stages in the design process. From concepts, to presentations, drawings, samples. Communication at every stage is critical, keep them involved all the way through. People get worried when they don’t know what’s going on. Manage people’s expectations – it’s okay if there’s a problem, they happen! Things that can’t be helped or foreseen. But as long as that’s communicated very quickly and efficiently, it stops a little problem from becoming a big problem.



How did you hear about the NDA?

JN: I heard about the National Design Academy through a couple people that had done a course with you and highly recommended it. I did some research online and the feedback spoke for itself. The reviews were fantastic and it seemed like a very professional setup. It was a relatively straightforward and easy decision to study with the NDA. One of the things that made the whole process so much easier was the VLS platform. It was a great method of communication between student and tutor but also in terms of receiving work and submitting feedback. It made the whole duration of the course very smooth and hassle free. For me personally, one of the great things about the NDA course is it formalised certain areas of my knowledge and filled in some of the gaps in terms of the processes and technical elements of the interior design process and also a business.

What’s next for you?

JN: I am currently involved in some pretty significant residential projects at the moment across Cheshire with some commercial projects in the pipeline as well. All I can say is, watch this space!


We’re incredibly proud of all the work John is doing and look forward to see what he does next. If you’d like to study with the National Design Academy and transform your career, you can find all the information on our courses on our website.

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3 Responses

  1. Incredibly inspiring blog, congratulations John on your business adventure! For me it’s really reassuring to see other students grabbing opportunities and transforming their lives. No matter what qualification you have, if your passionate and driven good things will come your way.

    After years in the graphic design industry I’m on a new path hoping to also set up something awesome for myself.

    I look forward to seeing more of your work John.

    Lydia Clark-Betts

  2. Congratulations John!

    I am in my final year of my degree with the NDA and I’m starting to look at job prospects and potentially starting up on my own so it’s very inspiring to see students succeed so quickly after studying!

    Your works really impressive and very professional, so much so I was curious to know which software package you’ve used to complete your render which is displayed above on the blog?

    All the best

    Angela Ferguson

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