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Posted 18.12.19

Working for IKEA: Printed Textiles alumna returns to college with top tips for students

By Naomi Girdler

Lily, third from left, shares her experiences working at IKEA with current students

Lily Cumming graduated from Plymouth College of Art’s BA (Hons) Printed Textile Design and Surface Pattern degree in 2017 with a first class honours. We caught up with Lily to hear about her experience working with one of the biggest interiors and furniture brands in the world: IKEA.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience with IKEA?

I had my interview for IKEA during London Design Fair - a hectic time to say the least! I started at IKEA about six months after finishing the course. I now work at IKEA Exeter as part of a team that includes interior designers, visual merchandisers, graphic designers and a carpenter.

What does your role involve?

We create all the showrooms and vignettes (small scenes and areas set up with props) that you see as you walk through the store. 

Not only do we have to refresh the sets every day (there’s a team of three who have around 40 room sets to look after each day) but we have to adapt for seasonal changes, product changes and we also curate the spaces depending on the local audience and the people who live in the area. 

We work closely with sales, logistics and marketing to adapt the showrooms to take the most of our products, and we do everything - painting, tiling; I even do my own wallpapering!

Why did you choose Plymouth College of Art for your degree?

I attended other interviews but I didn’t enjoy them or feel like there was a connection - however, I could really see myself at Plymouth College of Art. I had a cousin who was at Central St Martins and he was really surprised at the amount of contact time we had with our lecturers. He was lucky if he saw his tutor twice a week, whereas at Plymouth College of Art you can always get time with the lecturers! 

I also knew that I wanted to do a course that was print-based and I loved the facilities here. My year was quite a small group, and I remember thinking how great it was that the massive print studio was all ours!

"You owe it to yourself to make the most of the opportunities you have whilst you’re studying - going to university is a big investment, so don’t let it be for nothing!"

– Lily Cumming, Interior Designer at IKEA Exeter

Did you enjoy your time studying here? 

Yes - I remember being in the studio from 9am until 9pm. It wasn’t a chore - don’t forget that this is your choice. It’s what you’ve decided to do, and when you leave you’re going to get a job doing it, so it helps if you love it!

I remember there being a lot of brands and designers coming in to do lectures and workshops, which was really inspiring. We were encouraged to do internships too.

Have you got any advice for current students regarding internships and work experience?

Just do it! I was a bit apprehensive, so I delayed applying for internships and didn’t look for anything until my third year and after finishing my studies. I did get the chance to do a three-week internship with Timorous Beasties though, visiting their amazing studios in Glasgow. 

Also, don’t turn anything down - you never know what is going to end up being an amazing experience, or something that then turns into a job offer.

What about advice for students in their day to day work and projects?

Explore mark-making. Go to the drawing workshops. Don’t worry about anything - it’s a journey. You’ve only got three years and they go by quickly. Try as many different techniques as you can - even though I wanted to focus on print, I tried embroidery, flocking and foiling. 

One big piece of advice for print designers too - DO FLORALS! Even if it’s not your style, get some florals into your portfolio. You need them in there. Additionally, make sure you get your work photographed professionally. Lend a favour to a photography student, or agree a price with them - you’ve got fellow students in the college who are training to do exactly what you need them to do, so make sure you network and find people outside your course that you can collaborate with.

You owe it to yourself to make the most of the opportunities you have whilst you’re studying - going to university is a big investment, so don’t let it be for nothing!

Any top tips for students in their final year?

Get your dissertation done early - get it out of the way, start your reading in the summer. You’ll get busier with Degree Show as the year progresses and you don’t want to be stressing over your dissertation and final major project at the same time. You should try to really push yourself in your final year, as you won’t get this opportunity again. 

The hard work does pay off - after our Degree Show my work was picked up by Brownston Gallery in Modbury, and design journalist Katie Treggiden selected my work to be part of the Plymouth College of Art stand at London Design Fair - a four-day trade event in East London which is attended by retail buyers, brands, architects, interior designers and press as well as the public. Someone even offered to buy my work from the stand! 

My biggest bit of advice for students showing work at external shows is not to rely on visitor interest. Do some research, find the names of journalists and editors you want to meet in your favourite interiors/print magazines, find their contact details and email them the invite for your show.

Thanks for your time Lily - we look forward to seeing where your creative career takes you.

Images by Thomas Mackenzie-Philps, UAL Extended Diploma Art & Design (Photography) student

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