Is becoming a commercial interior designer right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do commercial interior designers do?

Still unsure if becoming a commercial interior designer is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a commercial interior designer or another similar career!

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How to become a Commercial Interior Designer

The path to becoming a commercial interior designer often starts with an early interest in design, followed by formal training in the field, professional qualification, and continuing education.

Here is a snapshot of the common pathways to the career:

High School
As you earn your high school diploma, start preparing for a career in interior design by looking for inspiration in everything, including books, magazines, the internet, and store displays.

Practise your math skills – because they will be useful in completing scale drawings and understanding measurements, both of which are part of the interior designer’s work.

Associate Degree or Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design
Most design firms require designers to hold at least an undergraduate degree. An associate degree is not typically enough to begin a career as a professional interior designer, though it may prepare you for an assistant position or other related roles in the industry. Students wishing to enter the field should verify that the program they are considering is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. Some programs may offer specializations or coursework and studio projects focused on commercial interior design.

These 10 US schools are renowned worldwide for their interior design programs:

  • Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York
  • New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury
  • University of California, Berkeley Extension
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas, School of Architecture
  • Florida International University
  • The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • International Academy of Design & Technology, Tampa, Florida
  • West Valley College, Saratoga, California
  • Interior Designers Institute, Newport Beach, California

Here is a summary of the curricula covered by most associate and bachelor’s degree programs in interior design:

Two-year Associate Degree Program
The first year of Associate level programs generally covers the fundamentals of design and basic skills in both hand drawing and digital drawing. The focus of the second year is typically on more specialized topics such as architectural lighting, color theory, furniture history, and introductory business and marketing concepts.

Common coursework and target skills include the following:

Modern Architecture & Design
A review of designs of the last two centuries, highlighting the emergence of specific design theory and stylistic elements; traces modernization of style back to origins

  • Foundational knowledge in design history and different styles
  • Ability to adapt past designs for present and future use
  • Understanding of the connections between interior and exterior design

History of Building Types
An overview of how specific purpose-built spaces have evolved over time; examples often include corporate spaces, museums, hotels, government buildings

  • Recognition of the evolution of common spaces
  • Grasp of what has and has not worked in past designs
  • Framework for understanding modernization of existing buildings

Color Theory
The cultural, social, and psychological implications of color use; the effects of color, including productivity and tranquility; examination of varied theories, optical illusions, the Bezold Effect (how our perception of a color is affected by its surrounding colors), and contrasts

  • Awareness of how colors affect the human brain, moods, and emotions
  • Guidelines for use of colors in particular spaces

Various drawing techniques and how to translate an idea into a reality by hand or using digital drawing practices and tools

  • Familiarity with multiple drawing techniques
  • Architectural drafting and digital drawing software skills, including computer-aided design (CAD)

Four-year Bachelor’s Degree Program
These programs comprise courses that address the aesthetic, technical, and business skills required of the well-rounded interior designer. Students are immersed in several topics: drafting, design, 3D imaging, space planning, project management, marketing, sales, and business development.

Common coursework and target skills include the following:

Design Theory
Examination of the literature and portfolios of leading designers of the past, including William Morris, Claude Perault, and others; analysis of how their theories informed contemporary designs and how they can be used in modern design

  • Understanding of historical influences on design approaches to various projects
  • Insight into the mindset of influential practitioners
  • Understanding of how to renovate existing spaces and create designs relevant to present and future use

Textiles for Interiors
A survey of the historical production and use of fabrics throughout significant decorative arts periods; a review of how various kinds of fabrics are produced

  • How to estimate yardage and how to select fabrics for specific projects
  • Knowledge of historical code requirements for outfitting protected properties and maintaining fabric properly

The Business of Interior Design
An overview of the practical skills needed to succeed in the field, including project management, research and problem solving, client interviewing, client presentations, and contract negotiation

  • Effective handling of clients and negotiations
  • Ability to develop client proposals and pitch ideas to prospective employers
  • Communication skills to ensure proper translation of clients’ wishes

Materials and Assembly
Examination of the use of both hard and soft materials in developing spaces, creating partitions, and changing environments; review of materials’ historical applications

  • Knowledge of how to use hard and soft materials such as room dividers, drapery, and furniture
  • Theoretical knowledge to inform design decisions
  • Developing personal aesthetics for design implementation

Alternative Degrees
A degree in a field related to interior design, such as interior architecture or environmental design may also open doors to a career as a commercial interior designer.

Qualification Exam
Several US states and Canadian provinces have laws that require professional designers to hold an interior design license. To qualify for licensure, candidates must pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam, which tests competency in areas such as building codes, space planning, and health and safety regulations. The NCIDQ is the most recognized interior designer credential.

Practical Experience
Gaining relevant hands-on experience is crucial in the field of commercial interior design. Look for opportunities to intern or work as an assistant with established interior design firms, architectural firms, or construction companies. This practical experience will expose you to real-world projects, industry practices, and client interactions.

Build an Online Portfolio
A well-curated online portfolio that showcases your credentials, vision, and best design work is crucial to your success as a commercial interior designer. Include a variety of commercial projects to demonstrate your abilities to work on different scales, in different industries, and in different design styles.

Start Your Own Business or Seek Employment
Decide whether you want to work for an established design firm, start your own business, or work as a freelancer. Each option has its own pros and cons. Starting your own business requires additional skills in marketing, project management, and business development.

Continuing Education
There are many organizations that serve the interior design industry, offering design resources, conferences, workshops, and summits which provide members with continuing education and networking opportunities.

These are some prominent industry associations dedicated to supporting and connecting commercial interior designers:

  • American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) is one of the largest and most recognized interior design organizations in the United States. It provides support specifically tailored to commercial interior designers, including specialized commercial design-focused events and initiatives.
  • International Interior Design Association (IIDA) is a global professional association for interior designers, including those working in commercial design. IIDA conducts design competitions and promotes the value and importance of design in commercial spaces.
  • International Facility Management Association (IFMA) is a global association that represents professionals involved in facility management. While not specific to interior design, IFMA offers resources and networking opportunities for commercial interior designers who work closely with facility management teams. It provides certifications related to facility management and workplace design.
  • Retail Design Institute (RDI) is an international organization which brings together professionals involved in designing retail spaces.
  • National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD)
  • Designers Guild
  • Designer Society of America
  • British Institute of Interior Design (BIID)
  • Society of British and International Design (SBID)
  • Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC)

Voluntary certifications like the following validate designer skills, knowledge, and commitment to professional standards. They can also enhance career opportunities, build client trust, and demonstrate expertise in specific areas of commercial interior design.

  • The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is not specific to commercial interior design but focuses on sustainable design and environmentally friendly practices. LEED certification is offered by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and demonstrates a designer's knowledge and commitment to sustainable design principles.
  • The WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) certification, administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), focuses on promoting health and well-being in interior spaces. This certification is relevant for commercial interior designers working on projects that prioritize occupant health and wellness. It covers aspects such as air quality, lighting, thermal comfort, and other factors that contribute to a healthy environment.