Design Tips

Design Determination: What it takes to be a young interior designer


23 Jan , 2018  

As Dubai grows steadily into a global design destination, so does its diversity in terms of the talent found within the local design community. As our city evolves, so does the design industry; Dubai is no longer merely a stop-over destination for expats to relocate to and work. It has become a sought after destination for seasoned professionals of all ages. We can now see younger, more raw talent fill our workspaces.

We spoke to two members of this vibrant community, Heba Soliman and Stephanie Constantinides, interior designers at GAJ, to get their thoughts on what it takes to become a successful designer in Dubai and what their journey has been like so far.

Tell us about your journey so far

Heba: I was raised in a house of civil engineers. I always liked the idea of building things, and have been fascinated with art and fashion ever since I was a little child. Growing up, I was persuaded by family and friends to pursue a career in engineering, owing to my aptitude for math and physics. Casting those “prompts” aside, I decided to go ahead and follow my dream of becoming an architect.

I eventually graduated from the University of Cairo with a major in Architecture. Right after graduating, I landed a job in a prestigious design firm in Egypt where I worked for a number of years. In 2016, I moved to Dubai with my husband. This proved to be good timing as at the same time a vacancy opened up at GAJ. After taking a look at their portfolio, I realised this was a firm I could relate to, and I’m now a proud member of the GAJ team.

Stephanie: I was born in the UK, but moved to Dubai at a very young age and have grown up in this city. After completing my schooling in Dubai College, I went on to graduate from the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland with a BA degree in Interior Design, after which I completed a Masters in Interior Design in Florence, Italy.

Unlike most young designers, I decided to not immediately join a design firm as an intern or junior designer. I started my own practice, knowing I already had the practical experience and business exposure needed to do so. I had always planned on running the business for two years – a decent amount of time to hone my skills – and then apply them in a large design firm like GAJ.  I’ve always admired GAJ for their vision and professionalism, and it’s been a great past year working with the wonderful team.

Stephanie Constantinides, Interior Designer at GAJ

People are always curious to know what the transition from student to professional is like. Is there anything in particular you would like to highlight from your time at university?

Stephanie: Since graduating, I’ve come to realise so many things about the journey that has brought me here. As a student you might become wrapped up in the idea that everything has to be “perfect”. But it’s important to keep in mind that while at university, you shouldn’t be afraid to fail. That’s how you learn, and that’s how you become a better designer. The real-world will not be so forgiving.

It’s also important to complement your theoretical knowledge with practical experience at good, reputed A+D  firms. University is also an ideal time to take up internships. During my time at university I took up a number of internships in Europe and the Middle East,  as well as worked in our family business which gave me in-depth exposure to running a business.

Heba: During that period, I loved being able to create designs with no constraints whatsoever – it felt like true freedom. However, I did learn over time that no matter how beautiful a space appears to be, its form and function should work together. Creating great design that lacks function is simply useless.

What does it take to become a successful designer?

Heba: Creativity, inspiration and having an artistic flair are core competencies that every designer should have. In addition, good communication skills are a must. A designer must have the ability to work with different personalities, be a good listener, and communicate clearly.

Stephanie: I believe that in addition strong technical and creative design skills, project management skills and the ability to work well with teams and clients are also important. You need to be confident in your design ability and good at managing your time.

Heba Soliman, Interior Designer at GAJ

Talk us through the challenges you face. What difficulties do you face?

Stephanie: Deadlines are always looming and the work often involves working under extreme pressure for long hours.  You have to do whatever it takes to deliver an outstanding product.  I try to manage my time, maintain a reasonable work-life balance, and look after myself mentally and physically by exercising and eating well. In my downtime, I try to socialise as well. It’s all about maintaining balance but it can be hard at times.

 Heba:  Dealing with demanding clients can be challenging at times, especially for residential projects as they are more personal. This is totally understandable. I always try to exceed the client’s expectation, understand what they really need and provide them with a unique design that is representative of their personalities and needs. It’s the communication in-between and delicate strategies that go hand in hand with this process that need careful consideration.  

What advice would you give to young design students?

Heba:  Design has the power to transform people, both on a public and private level. It’s important to understand this value, while taking into consideration concept, function and culture. Every project has its own approach depending mainly on the client, type of project, and location. This means it’s crucial to understand that a good designer should be flexible enough to be able to find the best approach for each project, and adapt accordingly.

Stephanie: Just enjoy the journey. Always remain confident, inspired, and continuously learning. Believe in yourself and focus on your goals. Seek inspiration from people, your surroundings, from reading, and from listening to leaders in your field. The creative experience transforms as you transition from university to work. This can be a challenge, but hugely rewarding if you are passionate about what you do and work hard.

To prepare for the job market, I’d recommend building an outstanding portfolio. Focus on your strengths. Get as much great experience as you can to build your confidence. Get out there and talk to people. Nurture your network. Looking back, the one thing I would change about my approach is to not worry about doing everything perfectly. Just do your work to the very best of your abilities.

Young Interior Design
Mysk Al Mouj, Muscat


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