CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an interior designer.
Is becoming an 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:
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Start preparing for a career in interior design by looking for inspiration in everything: books, magazines, the internet, 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’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree
Most design firms require designers to hold at least an undergraduate degree. Students wishing to enter the field should verify that the program they are considering is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation.
These 10 U.S. 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’s and Bachelor’s Degree programs in interior design:
Two-year Associate’s Degree Programs
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.
Students who earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree can generally enter the field in an assistant role. An Associate of Arts Degree prepares students to continue their interior design education. The Associate of Science Degree is often pursued by students who intend to further pursue education in architecture or industrial design.
Common coursework includes 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
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
Four-year Bachelor’s Degrees
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, 3-D imaging, space planning, project management, marketing, sales, and business development.
Coursework includes the following:
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
Several U.S. states and jurisdictions and seven 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)] (https://www.cidq.org/) exam. The NCIDQ is the most recognized interior designer credential.
Build an Online Portfolio
A professional online portfolio that showcases your credentials, vision, and work is crucial to your success as an interior designer.
This article presents 12 Carefully Curated Interior Design Portfolios * and a Build Your Portfolio* template.
Some interior designers choose to specialize and become an expert in a particular design area. The following are among the most common specializations:
Residential Interior Design
• Kitchen Designer
• Bathroom Designer
• Accessibility (special needs) Designer
Restoration and Preservation
• Landmark Design Preservationist
• Historic Residential Designer
• Museum Consultant
• Healthcare Facility Designer
• Corporate Office Designer
• Government Building Designer
Many organizations that serve the interior design industry offer conferences, workshops, and summits which provide members with continuing education and networking opportunities. Some offer professional designations, as well. These credentials, however, do not meet the same regulatory requirements as the NCIDQ. Other organizations offer specialty designations in areas such as healthcare, residential kitchen and bath, remodeling, and green building.
The following is a list of some prominent industry associations:
• National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD)
• Interior Design Society (IDS)
• American Society of Interior Designers
• British Institute of Interior Design (BIID)
• Designers Guild
• Designer Society of America
• Society of British and International Design (SBID)
• Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC)
How to become an Interior Designer
While a formal post-secondary education is not mandatory to work in the field, most interior design firms prefer to hire job candidates with an interior design degree. Major colleges and universities, as well as specialized art and design institutes, offer degrees at the Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s levels.
Students considering a career in interior design should verify that their chosen program is accredited and/or recognized by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and/or the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).
Depending on the level of degree, coursework in programs endorsed by the industry may include technical drawing, 3-D graphics development, computer aided drawing, drafting for interior design, survey of interior design, lighting design, textile and color principles for interior design, spatial planning, architecture, environment layout, ergonomics, and presentation techniques.
Upon completion of at least two years of university education and a total of six years of work experience and education combined, candidates become eligible to sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) examination. NCIDQ certification is required for the practice of many types of interior design in various jurisdictions throughout North America.