What is an Interior Design Degree?

Education in interior design is available at the certificate level and various degree levels. Students who intend to study the discipline should, first and foremost, understand the difference between interior decorating and interior design.

Interior decorating is the furnishing and appointing of an interior space. It is just one facet of interior design. So, while interior designers may decorate, decorators do not design. Design degree programs teach students how to apply both technical/scientific and creative/artistic solutions to produce functional and attractive spaces within a building.

Program Options

Certificate in Interior Design - Up to One Year Duration
Many certificate programs – which generally last up to a year – are focused more specifically on interior decorating than on comprehensive interior design. These programs typically familiarize students with the concepts of space layout, color, textiles and material, lighting, paint, furnishings, flooring, window treatments, and specific styles.

Associate Degree in Interior Design - Two Year Duration
The Associate Degree in Interior Design is the first level of comprehensive education in the discipline. These two-year programs go beyond decorating and train students in the concepts and skills needed to either enter the field as an assistant to an interior designer or to continue their education at the bachelor’s level. Concepts and skills taught include design theory and principles (line, shape, value, form, texture, color), drafting, presentations and renderings, computer-aided design, residential design and construction codes, lighting, and studio practices.

Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degree in Interior Design - Four Year Duration or
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) Degree in Interior Design - Four Year Duration
Four-year Bachelor of Arts degree programs in interior design 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.

The instructional approach in a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program is not as focused on lectures and discussion as it is in a BA curriculum. BFA programs concentrate on hands-on studio sessions and field study, which provide students with exposure to studio systems as well as experiences in two- and three- dimensional design and space utilization. Simply put, a BA in Interior Design is an academic degree; a BFA in Interior Design is a professional degree.

A BA or BFA in Interior Design prepares students to enter a one- to three- year formal apprenticeship program at a design or architecture firm.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Interior Design - Two to Three Year Duration or
Doctoral Degree in Interior Design - Four to Five Year Duration
These graduate level degrees are considerably less common in interior design than is a bachelor’s. Master’s and doctoral programs tend to focus on formal theoretical and experimental interior design, teaching methodologies in the field, environmental and social issues in design, historic preservation, and human factors in design. Career prospects for students who earn a MFA or doctorate in the discipline include academia and research.

Degrees Similar to Interior Design

There is a clear connection between the work of the architect and that of the interior designer. The architect imagines the larger structure. The interior designer imagines how the interior of that structure will fulfill the needs of the people who live and/or work inside it.

Landscape Architecture
Both interior designers and landscape architects design environments and use technologies like computer-aided design (CAD) software to carry out their work. While the former are focused on interior spaces, the latter are concerned with enhancing the functionality and aesthetic quality of outside spaces. Their objectives are very different, yet very similar as well.

Graphic Design / Advertising
The common goal of interior design, graphic design/advertising is to produce visual concepts. Both disciplines employ layout, color, and other creative concepts to inspire and captivate consumers.

Industrial Design
Industrial designers do for manufactured products what interior designers do for living spaces. The field of industrial design combines art, business, and engineering concepts to achieve new product functionality, aesthetics, and acceptable cost.

Art Direction
Like interior designers, art directors are concerned with design, visual style, and imagery. Majors in the field include the magazine, newspaper, product packaging, movie, and television production sectors.

Fine Arts
In addition to graphic design, industrial design, and art direction, the fine arts provide several other similar degree options to students who initially consider pursuing a degree in interior design. Painting, photography, drawing/illustration, and animation are some examples.

Exhibit and Set Design
The world of set and exhibit design for large exhibitions and movie, television, and theater sets offers yet another option to students with a designer bent.

Fashion Design
The fashion industry allows students to combine a passion for design with a passion for fabric, clothes and apparel.

Floral Design
While a certificate or degree in floral design prepares for students for a career that generally does not pay as well as interior design, the field does call for some related artistic, creative skills.

Skills You’ll Learn

There are some key takeaways from earning a degree in interior design. In addition to the specific hard/technical skills of drawing, computer-aided design and drafting, and understanding of color, textile, and finishes, students gain a considerable set of soft skills that are very transferrable to any field of work:

Communication / Interpersonal Skills
Part of an interior design curriculum is learning how to communicate and work effectively with architects, engineers, building contractors, vendors, and individual clients.

Vision / Visualization
Interior design students learn about proportion and develop visual awareness so that they can see what a space can be and envision how pieces of a design can work in that space.

Creativity / Artistic Ability / Sense of Style
Choosing the right colors, fabrics, materials, and finishes for a space takes an artistic eye and the creative ability to convey ideas and styles that respond to clients’ needs and desires.

Attention to Detail
Correctly measuring interior spaces and creating precise drawings that can be used by contractors and sub-contractors are critical skills developed in interior design school.

The work of an interior designer does not always take place from 9 to 5. It can require traveling to job sites and meeting with clients during untraditional hours or on weekends.

Clients will always look to do as much as possible for as little money as possible. This is where interior designers have to call upon a different kind of creativity: financial creativity. This may involve establishing business relationships with vendors that result in professional and/or volume discounts.

Problem-solving / Troubleshooting Skills
Challenges such as unexpected unavailability of selected materials, construction delays, budget issues, and client indecisiveness are realties that interior designers invariably face. The capacity to manage these kinds of problems is one of the skills that design students must hone to succeed in the field.

Working with a wide variety of people; handling a myriad of tasks; accommodating contractor, vendor, and client schedules – the combination of these demands calls for an organized approach to one’s work.

What Can You Do with an Interior Design Degree?

Interior Design
The attraction of working for an interior design firm is that even while in an entry-level role you are consistently collaborating with colleagues in higher positions and are therefore exposed to all facets of the industry.

Many freelance interior designers start their careers as employees of design firms, and then with the experience gained start their own business. As with any entrepreneurial undertaking, the duties are numerous, ranging from marketing and advertising, sending out sales letters and job proposals, budgeting and negotiating, consulting with clients about space planning and layout, accounting, and subcontracting.

It is not uncommon for architectural firms – especially larger ones – to employ an interior designer. These two design-focused professions go hand in hand.

Real Estate Development
Residential and commercial real estate developers often partner with interior designers who can manage the design for multiple units within their buildings.

Hotels / Hotel Chains
Boutique hotels may contract freelance interior designers to develop design concepts for their properties. Hotel chains sometimes have an interior designer on staff to conceive of and implement design themes that they wish to maintain across multiple properties.

Restaurants / Restaurant Chains
Like hotels, restaurants – particularly higher-end ones – may need interior designers to create a certain feeling or ambience in their establishments.

Green and Ergonomic Design
This is an emerging niche in the interior design sector, concerned with the carbon footprint resulting from design choices. This subfield seeks out designers who know how to select and work with materials that are energy efficient and/or made from renewable resources.

Advertising is as creative a field as interior design. Graphic design is a prominent part of advertising and it shares a visual focus with interior design.

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