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What is an Interior Designer?

An interior designer is a professional whose primary job is to arrange and decorate spaces for maximum utility and aesthetic value. They are employed as independent business people, retailers, members of design firms, and even parts of larger corporations. Independent interior designers also partner with commercial and residential developers to create spaces that are marketable to contemporary clientele. Successful designers come from a wide range of backgrounds

Many, if not most, interior designers have associate's or bachelor degrees in art or interior design, but they can also learn on the job. They will need to master computer assisted design (CAD) software and other design tools, have strong aesthetic design sensibilities that include knowledge of elements such as colors, fabric types, lighting, spatial needs, and current design trends.

Whether they work for families who want a refreshed household or corporations who are designing their newest office space, interior designers help create and maximize the spaces we use every day.

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Steps to Take to Become an Interior Designer

  • Step 1: Is This for Me?

  • Step 2: Degree Path to Become an Interior Designer

  • Step 3: The Self-Made Designer

  • Step 4: NCIDQ Certification

There are several stages to complete before you can become a full interior designer. You must first discover your own inner talent and desire for the profession. Then, you need to find the proper interior design training. That could mean an associate's degree, bachelor's degree, or a self-made apprenticeship. You will likely need a formal degree if you wish to pursue a career in interior design with a corporation, but if you decide to strike out on your own, your path will be quite different. To help build an independent business and reputation, you will need to attain professional certifications or win awards.


Step 1: Is This for Me?

Before you embark on the long road to become an interior designer, you need to make sure that this is the path for you. Most interior designers thrive in art classes and tend to gravitate towards more concrete or realistic painting and drawing. Interior designers also have a tendency to love fashion and putting outfits together in ways that express very specific feelings.

As they grow up, future interior design professionals might start envisioning how to better arrange the household furniture and they spend a great deal of time decorating their bedrooms. Soon, they start to realize that their passions can be more than mere hobbies or pastimes, and that there is a professional path to accommodate them.

Step 2: Degree Path to Become an Interior Designer

A degree is always a safe bet. When you study interior design in a four-year or community college, you will have access to a wealth of resources. As you work towards an associate's or bachelor's degree, your school will train you to use CAD software, which is the standard for design professionals. They will also provide expert instruction, and even help you find internships to provide guided, real-world experiences.

If your intention is to pursue your career as an independent businessperson, you can also take courses in marketing, accounting, and economics that will help you organize your practical affairs. You might also find like-minded students whose talents compliment your own. They might become business partners or simply lifelong professional colleagues.

Step 3: The Self-Made Designer

You could also opt for an alternative path towards your goals. You will have to find other ways to prove that you have the right stuff, however. One way is to work in an interior design firm as an assistant or intern. While you are in that position, make sure you keep your eyes open and ask questions when appropriate.

In your off hours, you might teach yourself design software and take online courses related to design, especially three-dimensional design. These days you can learn a lot for free on YouTube, but there are also affordable courses that are a bit more directed, and which might even lead to a certificate. Ask designers whom you respect for recommendations for the best certificate courses, or for tips on how to select the most helpful one.

Another way to bolster your interior design resume is by seeking experience. When friends or family members mention that they are planning to refresh their homes or specific rooms, volunteer to design the space for them. You could also work as a set designer for a local theater company. In that setting you'll be able to explore your creativity and demonstrate that you can see a job through from conception to final curtain. When you take these projects, make sure that you document everything with photographs and descriptions. Start a blog to highlight your growth as an interior designer.

Step 4: NCIDQ Certification

When you are ready to take your career to the next level, you'll want to add a NCIDQ certificate to your resume. If you have a graduate or undergraduate degree in interior design, you can work towards NCIDQ certification. Your degree, plus two years of full-time experience, will qualify you to sit for the examination. Once you pass and receive your credential, you will immediately enjoy elevated status in your profession. Corporate clients and future employers will recognize your hard work. Plus, additional professional qualifications always add to one's overall confidence and self-esteem.

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What Does an Interior Designer Do?

An interior designer works with an employer or clients to discover the best way to design, or re-design a space. Once you determine what is possible and desired, you can get to work creating the plans for the interior design job. Interior designers might need to source special materials, as well. For instance, if a client wants to use reclaimed materials for their house you might need to track down the exact right boards, hardware, etc. You could also provide them with resources and have them select and purchase the materials. Along the way, you will need to consult with the client to ensure that they are pleased with the progress.

If you work for a large retailer, such as a chain of furniture stores, you might spend endless hours designing bedroom suites, bedroom configurations, and more. You may work alongside the furniture designers to keep the company's product line up to date and in line with current trends.

Yet another possibility is work with a developer. If they are building apartment buildings, you might be in charge of purchasing and installing the drapes, carpet, and paint for the units. You could also be charged with designing offices for the apartment managers.

Interior Designer Skills to Acquire

  • AutoCAD
    This software package plays a major role in the life of a designer. Whether you are an engineer, architect, or interior designer, you’ll need full competency with this tool. Though many interior designers work with hand drawn plans, if you can create plans on your computer, you can easily share them with other members of the design team, including your clients.

  • Listening
    Interior designers need to be able to do more than just match paint, carpet, and furniture. You should be able to listen to your clients and understand their needs. After all, you are helping them create a space that they will live in. It should reflect their personalities. Further, the more you listen to your clients, the more ideas you'll have. You might uncover some things they weren't unaware of.

  • Organization
    This skill will come in handy in many ways. This is because, over time, you are sure to amass lots of pieces or ideas that could be used on client projects. For instance, if you spend time every month scouring antique or resale shops, you will amass many items that can be used for projects. You'll need some system of organization so that when you mention a special candelabra or decorative sconce, you'll be able to locate it immediately.

  • Aesthetic Flexibility
    This is something that is difficult to learn. Essentially, you will need to be able to shift gears between clients that prefer mid-century modern design schemes and those who prefer pure, stark, contemporary design. When you fully understand and can implement a variety of styles and aesthetics, your client base can grow, and your reputation will improve.

  • Knowledge of materials
    You will need to become an endless resource for your clients. You should not only know how certain fabrics or building materials look, but how they feel and function in a space. For instance, your clients might desire certain fabrics for their sofas, but if you know that their growing family will likely damage those fabrics, you can help them avoid that issue.

  • Construction Savvy
    Interior designers need a working knowledge of building codes, local construction ordinances, and safety matters. For instance, if you are helping design a new space, such as a basement refinishing job, you should be aware of the recommended number and spacing of electrical outlets. You can also advise on items such as installing egress windows and doors, ceiling height, and effective lighting.

  • Project Management
    Once a project is underway, you may need to oversee the work. You may need to coordinate painters, carpenters, and even plumbers, in addition to upholsterers, furniture deliveries, and electricians. You should also be able to track multiple projects and still seek new clients. Effective time management and scheduling savvy will ensure that you realize your artistic vision.

Alternative Paths

Interior designers don't necessarily need any special degrees or certifications, so there are many different ways to become one. For instance, you could find work as an assistant or intern for an interior designer in your area. Make sure you keep your eyes and ears open and be a sponge for knowledge. Take time in your off hours to study the craft and keep interior design magazines and books in your hands whenever possible. Your dedication will show and soon you'll be consulted on new design projects. You could also approach the field from a less direct angle, such as that of a set designer for theater spaces.

Set designers might have the most direct, yet alternative avenues available. That's because they not only design spaces, but they are actively involved in building the sets they design. When you have that sort of construction skill and experience, you can easily transition into interior design. Further, set designers must interpret information from a script, a director, and a producer. Your communication, project management, and management skills are on public display during every show. If you take good photos and display them on your website, your theater portfolio could help launch your interior design career.

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Interior designers Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Interior designers are found in a range of working environments. Wherever spaces need to be arranged for aesthetic or functional purposes, they can be found. Most often we think of interior designers working as sole proprietors or as owners of one-person LLCs, business people who work with residential or commercial clients.

However, interior designers can also work with larger real estate development companies. They might help create attractive schemes for homes in a new subdivision, or offices in a new skyscraper. Some might be employed by, or contract through, property management companies and thus work with commercial tenants to create the most pleasing and functional spaces.

As for your actual workplace environment, you could sit behind a desk using AutoCAD all day, designing retail or other space for far-flung locations. You could also spend time on construction sites or in clients' living rooms, consulting on upcoming design projects. Many residential designers also spend a great deal of time perusing resale shops, hardware stores, and other sources of unique details to add to their client's homes or offices.

Potential Career Paths

This profession is concerned with designing all sorts of structures. From tract homes in subdivisions to skyscrapers. Architects also create plans for add-ons to existing structures and home remodeling projects. To become an architect, you will need many years of school and a state issued license.

Art Director
This occupation is most commonly found in advertising agencies, as art directors conceive and oversee the creative work for ad campaigns. If you are a graphic designer or a copywriter who has design skills, you might find yourself in this position at some point in your career. Art directors also work in film and television to create the overall aesthetic for a show.

Fashion Designer
If you love couture, this is the field for you. Fashion designers create clothing lines for a wide range of audiences. You might have a high-end boutique that caters to very wealthy clientele, or your designs might be for a mid-range retailer. Some also create special costumes for theater, film, and television.

Floral Designer
Flower shops are known for their signature floral designs. You could create specialty bouquets for weddings and special events. Some floral designers work for large florist companies and their designs are shared with stores nationwide. Your skills might also be called upon by catering companies who need flower designs at their events.

Graphic Designer
Whether it's a technical document or a flashy fashion magazine, a graphic designer has probably had a hand in its creation. Many graphic designers now also work as web designers.

Industrial Designer
These professionals work to design the items we use every day. Your cellphone, steering wheel, and mouse were all created by the mind of an industrial designer. To be successful, an industrial designer considers aesthetics, functionality, and material cost to create the optimal item.

Landscape Architect
We frequently see landscapers trimming hedges and mowing lawns. However, the landscape architects have already conceived the design scheme of the lawn or garden. Landscape architects often work on golf courses, corporate campuses, and even bring greenery into urban streetscapes.

Interior Designer Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Interior Design $40,000 $56,000 $60,000
Interior Design Project Manager $41,000 $65,000 $97,000
CAD Designer $39,000 $55,000 $82,000
Landscape Architect $45,000 $60,000 $83,000
Art Director $51,000 $70,000 $75,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

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Career Outlook

The career outlook for interior designers is good, if not rosy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field will grow by 4% through 2026, a rate they note is slower than average. The reasons for this are unclear, but this could mean that you have an opportunity to differentiate yourself in the market. In 2017, the median salary for interior designers was $51,500 and 20% them were self-employed. This is a great field to pursue if you are artistic and independently minded.

Advancing From Here

Once you establish yourself as an interior designer, you have many possible avenues to pursue. If you are an independent designer, you might branch out and work with contractors. You could act as a commission salesperson who can not only sell the service but consult on the overall design. If you work in a corporation, you could return to school and graduate with an MBA then rise into upper management.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is computer aided design?

Computer aided design is the use of computers to create, modify, analyze, and optimize design. Computer aided design is used to increase productivity and improve the quality of design. Computer aided design improves communication and creates a database for manufacturing.

What do interior designers do?

Interior designers work on making interior spaces functional. Interior designers produce designs that follow building codes and electrical and partition layouts. Interior designers read blueprints and follow building permits to create practical design elements.

What is the difference between licensed and unlicensed interior designers?

To be a licensed you must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a Council for Interior Design Accreditation program and 3,520 hours of supervised work experience. If you want to become a licensed interior designer you will need to apply for a state license after you complete the education requirement. To maintain licensed status, interior designers need to complete 20 credit hours of Continuing Education Units each year.

Do you need an interior design degree to be an interior designer?

Interior designers will need to have a minimum of an associates degree.

What does the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design do?

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design evaluates a buildings environmental performance and encourages transformation toward sustainable design.

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