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How to Become an Interior Designer | A Career Design Plan

Work surface of an interior designer.

Interior designers lead a colorful life — working with colors and textures while making inside spaces attractive yet functional. Such work requires consideration of the layout, décor, building codes, and floor plans of a building’s interior. These creative and artistic professionals have been around for decades and continue to be in demand. If you are looking to travel the path of such a colorful career, becoming an interior designer might be a suitable profession for you.

This article delves into what an interior designer does, their qualifications, required skillset, salary outlook, and the steps you need to take to become an interior designer. Let’s get started!

Who Is an Interior Designer?

An interior designer works on the architecture and design of interior space to create aesthetically pleasing, cohesive, and functional designs. Their work encompasses businesses, home interiors, and other built spaces. Some interior designers specialize in specific areas of design, such as:

  • Corporate office spaces
  • Environmental strategies
  • Accessibility standards
  • Home designs
  • Focused rooms designs
  • Commercial interiors

Interior designers enhance the look of an interior space as well as address the functionality and safety of rooms. Furniture, textures, colors, and lighting make up the style factors in interior design. These professionals also plot the location of light switches, electrical outlets, doors, and windows. Interior designers find many employment opportunities in public and private spaces such as shopping malls, offices, residences, schools, and hospitals.

Duties of an Interior Designer

As the name suggests, an interior designer curates or renovates inside spaces to elevate them aesthetically, make them pleasing for a client, and meet design standards for safety and function. For this purpose, they work with elements such as:

  • Wall colors
  • Textures
  • Fabrics
  • Lighting
  • Furniture
  • Fittings or hardware

In addition, they may also work with the structural elements of a room, such as flooring, ceiling design, built-in shelves, stairs, and much more.

An interior designer has many responsibilities. Duties that fall under administrative or customer service tasks include:

  • Seeking out potential clients and bidding on new projects
  • Meeting with clients to understand their needs, budgets, and goals regarding the space
  • Developing mood boards, drafts, and sketches for clients to approve
  • Measuring, evaluating, and surveying how a project space can be used best and formulating a plan layout
  • Creating a quote for project costs
  • Making a thorough timeline for a project and using it as a yardstick for future endeavors
  • Drawing detailed diagrams and designs on a computer or by hand to suit a client’s specific needs
  • Finalizing approved design plans via computer software
  • Submitting finalized drawings and plans to building inspectors to ensure code compliance
  • Following up with clients after the completion of a project and making requested changes
  • Sourcing suppliers of all materials, including interior decorations, furniture, hardware, and paints
  • Communicating with clients, hearing their concerns, and ensuring that they are satisfied

Interior designers are also involved with the execution of their designs. Tasks in this area include:

  • Mulling over materials, fabrics, fittings, color schemes, decorations, environment, furniture, etc., for the best fit
  • Working in harmony with painters, decorators, electricians, fitters, architects, and other construction professionals for the completion of a job
  • Supervising the installation of design elements in the space

Differences Between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator

Contrary to popular belief, interior design and interior decorating are two different jobs. People often think of them as the same because of their goals: making an interior aesthetically pleasing, cohesive, beautiful, and functional. However, interior decorators primarily focus on beautifying an existing space with furniture or adorning it with other means of decoration to achieve a specific aesthetic level. An example of interior decoration would be adding a vivid rug to an otherwise drab room.

On the other hand, interior designers design the space itself instead of merely beautifying it. Interior design is the specialized science and art of comprehending people’s behavior and emotions in a manner that allows the creation of functional spaces within a building. If we put it simply, interior designers decorate, but interior decorators do not design.

How to Become an Interior Designer — Step by Step Guide

Becoming a professional interior designer does not have a standard, one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, you need to follow a few primary steps to get started on your career path. Let’s take a look at them!

Step 1: Developing a Sense of Design

You can educate or hone your eye at any stage in life — from the start of design school to your later years. You can develop a keen design sensibility by viewing your surroundings with a designer’s eye. This means being aware of your surroundings and paying close attention to the details of landscape design, architecture, graphic design, and even clothing. Every element holds immense emotion and meaning if only you look at it from a designer’s perspective.

Some great places to start this process include:

  • Museums
  • Art galleries
  • Book stores
  • Vintage markets
  • Furniture galleries
  • Clothing shops

These ideas eventually lead you to determine which kinds of designs and approaches you are attracted to — muted, futuristic, classic, or playful. This step is crucial to becoming a professional interior designer. Only when you have accomplished this should you commence to step two.

Step 2: Earn an Interior Design Degree

The next step to becoming an interior designer is attaining a bachelor’s degree in interior design from an accredited school.

The most common courses an interior design student takes include the following:

  • Textile for Interiors
  • Materials and Assembly
  • Design Theory
  • Business Practices of Interior Design
  • Color Theory and Application
  • Business Practices of Interior Design
  • Drawing and Composition
  • Modern Architecture and Design
  • History of Building Types
  • History of Built Environment
  • Computer-Aided Design
  • Elements of Design
  • Materials and Applications
  • Building Codes and Standards
  • Showroom Protocols and Procedure
  • Quick Sketching for Interior Design
  • Materials and Application

They also need extensive knowledge of more technical topics, such as universal accessibility standards and inspection regulations.

Benefits of a Bachelor Degree

Formal education is not necessary to become an interior designer. Still, most design companies require interior designers to possess a bachelor’s degree. However, others require as little as an associate’s degree. Most firms usually prefer a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Degrees in other domains are generally acceptable if they are relevant to interior design, such as computer-aided design (CAD), architecture, or drawing.

Requirements for several licenses in interior design include a bachelor’s degree and two years of on-the-job training.

Researching the best universities and colleges for interior design before commencing this step is crucial and can decide your professional career path. The top three institutes for interior design in the US are as follows:

  • The University of Texas – Austin: The University of Texas is a highly rated public university and a considerably large institution with about 37,740 undergraduate students.
  • University of Florida: Located in Gainesville, Florida, the University of Florida is a highly rated public university with 31,384 undergraduate students.
  • Virginia Tech: Located in Blacksburg, Virginia, the Virginia Tech institute is a highly rated public college with 26,603 undergraduate students.

Other reputable schools for interior design include:

Step 3: Taking and Passing the NCIDQ Examination

Graduates of an interior design program must undertake practical and experience-building career opportunities to develop a solid portfolio. Generally, designers must have a minimum of two years of full-time on-the-job training and expertise before they can market themselves as interior designers. They can get this experience by looking for entry-level positions or internships at interior design firms.

Volunteering your services early on to demonstrate your skills or opting for freelancing are wise choices. It is alright if you do not land sizeable projects right after graduation. You can work up to them by taking on small projects and gradually building a meaningful portfolio to show potential clients. A detailed and top-notch portfolio is the way to most clients’ hearts.

A portfolio is a digital compilation or printed booklet of relevant information that shows your accomplishments, skills, interests, education, and professional goals. It is not the same as a resume because it visually displays your ability. You can use a well-organized portfolio that showcases all of your best designs and drawings. Such a portfolio demonstrates your skills, expertise, and knowledge to an employer or client.

Skills You Need to Become an Interior Designer

Although most interior designers are intrinsically creative and artistic, there are specific skills that they must have to undertake this profession successfully. These skills include the following:

Active Listening

Interior designers must be active listeners to comprehend their client’s ideas and take them to completion. An interior designer’s ultimate goal is to create a space at par with a client’s vision. Without listening well, a designer cannot accomplish this.

Effective Communication

Interior designers must possess solid communication skills to work with their clients. In writing and verbally, they should communicate productively to ensure that their clients are on the same page in project parameters, budget, and deadlines.

Negotiation

Interior designers need to be skilled in negotiation, especially if they run their own business; this helps them get a fair price for their supplies and efforts.

Problem-solving skills

It is typical for interior designers to encounter several setbacks, deviations from expectations, and obstacles when going about their work. Having good problem-solving skills comes in handy at such moments. It allows them to overcome challenges promptly and stay on track.

Bookkeeping

It is essential to keep records of finances, equipment, tool orders, and such to pay suppliers and get paid for their work. Excellent bookkeeping skills are imperative to keep your finances organized and prevent ambiguities.

Computer-Aided Design Technology

Computer-aided design, also known as CAD, aids the work of interior designers. These professionals must be well-versed in software programs that create two-dimensional floor plans, layouts, and dimensions.

Creative and Technical Skills

Every interior designer is responsible for visualizing a client’s needs and transforming those abstract ideas into functional and attractive interiors. This process requires both creative and technical work:

  • Applying the concepts of color theory
  • Balancing sensory elements with visceral and visual experiences in an interior
  • Creating two and three-dimensional design techniques

Customer Service

Interior designers must have excellent customer service skills to attract clients and retain them.

Project Management

Time and project management skills are crucial in an interior designer’s daily functioning. They may be dealing with more than one task simultaneously. Thus it is imperative to develop the ability to stay organized and multitask well while staying on time.

Certification for Interior Designers

The first step in becoming a certified interior designer is researching the rules and regulations in the state you intend to work. Once you ascertain what is required by your state, you can list your potential employers and look into any additional requirements that they may have. Most states that offer licensing, certification, and registration for interior designing require passing the National Council of Interior Design Qualification ( NCIDQ) examination. You need to meet specific educational and work experience criteria before taking it.

Certification can:

  • Embellish your resume
  • Teach you essential design principles and elements
  • Provide industry tips and tricks
  • Introduce you to the latest technology used in interior design

Certification holders are also more likely to qualify for better job opportunities as they stand out from other job seekers. Interior design certification programs typically take a year or less to complete. Factors that influence this timeline include:

  • The flexibility of your schedule
  • Your skillset
  • Amount of time you have to devote to the program
  • When the courses are available

Do You Need Certification to Become an Interior Designer?

Interior designers do not necessarily need certifications to work in residential spaces. Some areas require interior designers to hold accreditation if they work unsupervised in commercial design. Other states only necessitate certification if designers use the title of “registered” or “certified” interior designers. About half of all states provide the option to become certified. However, regulations vary by state, and you should look at state laws to get a better idea.

Interior Designing Licensure

No US state requires licensure to work as an interior designer. However, there are always exceptions. Locations such as Florida, Washington DC, Louisiana, Nevada, and Puerto Rico necessitate registration if designers intend on working in commercial spaces. Such spaces include shopping malls, office buildings, hotels, medical centers, restaurants, sports facilities, and even shared areas within apartments and condos like rec centers, laundry rooms, and lobbies.

Unlicensed interior designers can provide their services in these locations if they work under the supervision of a building professional with licensure. Such professionals include licensed architects, interior designers, or engineers.

Most states, however, do not have any restrictions on residential properties. Both unregistered and registered interior designers can work unsupervised without limitations on houses.

Essential Tools for Successful Interior Designers

Several software programs or apps can help an interior designer become the best in the game. Here is a list of some free tools that can help you in your work:

  • Houzz
  • SketchUp
  • Planner 5d
  • Home by Me
  • Colormind
  • CSS Drive Colors Palate
  • Generator
  • Colorjive
  • Olympic Paint Visualizer

Which Degrees Qualify For a Career In Interior Design?

Individuals looking to become an interior designer through a college degree most often graduate from programs in:

  • Interior Architecture
  • Interior Design
  • Spatial Design
  • Art and Design
  • 3D design

You can also move into interior designing after studying fine arts, textile or furniture design, graphic design, or architecture.

Those with formal training in architecture can also pursue a career in interior design. Architectural degree holders are, in fact, present in a significant number of interior design firms and are quite sought after as well.

Sometimes civil engineers with expertise in the construction and design of buildings also possess the essential skills applicable to a career in interior design. These necessary skills include craftsmanship, architecture, engineering, curtain, and window display design, and designing floor space or rooms.

The Value of a Degree in Interior Design

Many people believe that a degree in interior design is the easiest to pursue. Others think they would do well in this career simply because they are good at decorating their home. However, it is crucial to remember the higher responsibilities of becoming an interior designer than being a person with an aesthetic sense. Idea, inspiration, creativity, and devotion are essential to designing work, and it is not always a bed of roses. Interior designers often face strict deadlines, need to complete a task within a specified budget, and deal with a wide array of artisans or contractors.

Although these points may seem daunting, a career in interior design is worth it if you have the skills for it. Interior designers are free to express and channel their creativity and individuality in their work and attain satisfaction by receiving a client’s appreciation.

Where Does an Interior Designer Work?

Interior designers work in a variety of settings. Most work in real estate, architecture, furnishing, or infrastructure. They may also work for retail stores, design firms, or design departments of significant institutions and industries. Their typical work environment is an office setting.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most interior designers work for large firms in well-lit and comfortable office-based environments. However, they may also meet with clients in their homes or places of business.

Often, interior designers have their own business, whereas others specialize in hospitals, hotel rooms, houses, banks, or other specific domains. In the infrastructure industry, they may be in charge of:

  • Developing the interiors of a building using software such as CAD
  • Modeling interiors of buildings
  • Checking for compliance to building and structural codes
  • Rooting out safety issues

When working with architecture firms, they are responsible for designing buildings according to a client’s request or collaborating with other designers to materialize a client’s vision.

Interior designers can also find employment in real estate. For example, they advise customers on decorating their newly-bought houses to make them a home. Another way interior designers work with realtors is by staging an empty home with furniture and décor. Staged homes help potential buyers visualize living in that home.

Interior designers also work with companies that develop furniture for offices and homes. They guide furniture designers to create innovative designs and concepts for furniture. Similarly, they can work for companies that produce or sell construction materials such as wallpaper, flooring, lighting, etc.

Interior Designer Salary and Growth Outlook

The Occupational Handbook by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states the median pay for interior designers to be $57,060 per year. Although the typical entry-level education for this position is a bachelor’s degree, the salary increases with additional specialization and experience. The compensation may also vary based on the project size and geographical location. Some of the estimated wages in the highest paying locations for interior designers include:

  • San Francisco, CA — $82,781
  • New York, NY — $72,275
  • Columbus, Ohio — $73,021
  • Los Angeles, CA — $68,536

According to BLS, the number of jobs for interior designers in 2020 came to around 87,000. The job outlook for interior designers will see little or no change between 2020-2030.

Get Started With Your Interior Design Online Program

Experts expect the employment of interior designers to remain steady or even grow over the next ten years. There are several outstanding job prospects in high-income areas for interior designers because wealthy clients are more likely to hire them for remodeling and renovation. Suppose you are an artistic and creative person and want to direct these qualities into your work. In that case, interior design is your best fit.

Several institutions offer online interior design programs with courses on par with on-campus classes. You can launch them right from the comfort of your home! Let GetEducated.com help you learn more and make an informed decision about your future.

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How To Become An Interior Designer FAQs

Question: Is interior designing a promising career?
Answer: Interior design is emerging as a booming career in today’s increasingly sophisticated world. In 2020, The US showed 87,000 jobs for interior designers.

Question: What are the disadvantages of becoming an interior designer?
Answer: Clients can be quite demanding in interior design. Designers usually have to work long hours and follow deadlines to meet the client’s expectations. They also have to deal with last-minute changes, prompt decision-making, tight budgets, unwelcoming or rude clients, and projects that may not go as planned.

Question: How many hours do interior designers work?
Answer: Interior designers working for large design firms or corporations typically work about 40 hours per week. However, many interior designers work from the comfort of their homes as freelancers or manage their own companies that may require longer work hours.

Question: Which careers can you choose with a bachelor’s degree in interior design?
Answer: Graduates of interior design can choose several careers, such as interior architects, interior design course instructors, set designers, interior designers, concept visualizers, etc.