Rebecca Sumina: Student placement story

BDes (Hons) Interior & Spatial Design student Rebecca Sumina shares how the SACI placement allows you to build relationships with people, whilst experiencing an enriching learning environment.

Can you tell us about the placement opportunity you were involved in and what your role entailed?

SACI Student Rebecca SuminaI completed my placement at Let's Talk – Young People, a community whose purpose is to reduce inequality and support young people in Edinburgh and Scotland. My role was to look at the interior of their building, paying particular attention to the cafe area. The goal was to keep the design consistent with the style and vision already present in the Let’s Talk project. Some of the responsibilities I had as a design student were to contribute towards creating an environment where visitors are surrounded by a welcoming space that inspired serenity, tranquillity, and trust. Using Biophilic Design, I created an approach inspired by the natural environment.

What key skills did your placement teach you?

The placement has taught me both practical and communication skills. While creating the cafe, I worked with another graphic design student also on placement. This part of the project was helpful in learning to collaborate with professionals from other fields. Moreover, working for a real client can be intimidating at first, but over time it strengthens your confidence and decision-making ability. In the end, you realise that you have skills and qualities that you didn't know about previously.

What were your highlights and key successes of your time on placement?

One of the first successes was the creation of murals. When we finished painting them, we realised that we were going in the right direction. The decision to have a landscape on the walls opened the space, letting the room "breathe" with the help of design. Another great moment was when we put the Festoon lights on the ceiling. They connected well with the birds that we painted previously, adding a three-dimensional effect to the space. During these moments, we started to see the café taking shape after a lot of effort. This was a nice motivation booster.

Did you face any challenges during your time on placement?

The biggest challenge was certainly budget cuts. We had a very low budget, which initially limited the creative process. I then realised that there will always be obstacles and you need to get used to thinking of alternatives, whilst trying to avoid panic. Forward thinking is always a good idea, as there will always be a solution. In our case, we managed to create a suggestive environment by recycling materials and re-adapting items.

How do you feel that your studies at Edinburgh Napier University prepare you for this placement?

The Interior & Spatial Design course makes you an independent thinker from the very beginning. The lecturers' guidance was useful in pointing us in the right direction, but at the same time, we were allowed to develop ideas independently, instantly achieving a degree of autonomy as a designer. This was useful during my placement, as I no longer had weekly one to one’s with the lecturers and had to make decisions on my own.

Do you think your experience(s) from the placement affected your future career plans or last year of university?

Having to prepare a micro-session as part of the interview was a very good way of preparing us for working in a school. Due to our responsibilities differing widely from lesson to lesson, there is not a lot that we can be prepared for. Perhaps the only thing that could be done to prepare us more for a teaching career would be to add a question to the interview, asking us to comment on a relevant issue in Scottish Teaching. This question comes up (in some form) in every PGDE interview so it would give an introduction to a key component of a very important interview.

Do you think your experience(s) from the placement affected your future career plans or last year of university?

Since my second year, I have been interested in nature as an inspiration for built environments. This topic is linked to how these spaces influence people's mental and physical state. I believe my placement has opened up more options for a hypothetical topic of my thesis. I'm thinking of further developing the theme of sustainable spaces, potentially aimed at children.

Would you recommend doing a placement to others?

A placement allows you to put your skills into practice by working on real projects. Moreover, seeing a physical space taking shape from your creative research and efforts gives a certain sense of fulfilment. 

What advice would you give to someone considering doing a placement at university?

I think it's important to understand whether the experience is offering what you need as a designer and as a future professional in the field. I would advise not to be afraid of making mistakes because this is why we have the opportunity to take part in the placement. Testing yourself out of your comfort zone and new sides of your role as a designer is crucial to understand your qualities and what you should focus on.