Want to become an interior designer?
From lighting fixtures and furniture placement to color schemes and materials, interior designers work on every aspect of a room’s design. They’re involved in everything from choosing the right paint color for a wall to deciding whether or not to install a fireplace.
If you’re interested in creating beautiful spaces that people can enjoy, being an interior designer might just be the perfect career choice for you. Before you begin your journey toward becoming an interior designer, though, it’s important to understand what it takes to get there. Here are three steps you can take today to start preparing:
1) Earn a Degree in Design
The first step toward becoming an interior designer is earning a degree in design. The exact requirements vary by school, but most programs require at least four years’ worth of study. Most schools offer both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in design as well as degree completion programs for those who already have some experience in the field but want more education.
2) Get Your Certification (or Licensure)
In addition to earning a degree from an accredited program, aspiring designers must also acquire certification or licensure before they can practice their craft full time or call themselves professionals
Interior Designer How To Become
From color schemes to floor plans to building codes, interior designers do it all. If you’re ready to dive into the interior design industry—whether you’re designing a space for a client or working on your own home—here are some steps to get you started.
What Is an Interior Designer?
Interior designers work on architecture and interior space planning, creating cohesive and aesthetically pleasing designs for home interiors and businesses for a variety of clients. Many interior designers specialize in particular design fields, such as home design (even as focused as specific rooms), corporate office spaces, commercial interiors, environmental design, or accessibility standards.
What Does an Interior Designer Do?
An interior designer:
- Listens to clients’ needs, including the clients’ goals for the space, interests, and budget
- Sketches design plans of layout, considering how people will use the space
- Chooses and orders furniture and materials that are cohesive and within the budget
- Finalizes design plans using computer software
- Estimates and anticipates all project costs
- Makes a timeline for the project
- Supervises the installation of all design elements in the space
- Sits down with clients to ensure they’re satisfied
- Seeks out potential clients and bids new projects
What’s the Difference Between an Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator?
Interior design is often confused with interior decorating, but they are very different jobs. While they both want to make spaces feel cohesive and beautiful, interior decorators are all about beautifying an existing space using furniture and other home decor (for instance, dressing up an outdated room with a new rug), while interior design includes designing the space itself.
What Qualifications and Skills Do You Need to Become an Interior Designer?
If you’re looking to become an interior designer, here are a few of the qualifications and skills you should expect to seek out:
- Schooling, experience, and licensure. Many states in the United States require prospective interior designers to pass an interior design certification before they can start work—and in order to qualify for the test, you need an interior design degree (or something similar) and around two years of work experience. Once you’re eligible, you’ll take the exam, called the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam (or NCIDQ exam, for short), which tests your knowledge of things like building codes, building permits, inspection regulations, construction standards, contract administration, design application, professional practice, and project coordination.
- The “design eye.” Interior designers often talk about the “eye,” or the way they pay attention to and interpret different designs—for instance, seeing a particular painting and recognizing how it affects mood through color, subject matter, or style. Developing your design eye is a crucial part of becoming a great interior designer and developing your sense of style, so pay attention to the world around you and start thinking critically about designs you see, from homes to clothing shops.
- Project management skills. Interior designers are in charge of a design project from start to finish, so they need keen project management and communication skills to get the job done, including keeping the project organized, hitting deadlines, and communicating with clients, vendors, and building contractors to ensure everyone is happy and understands expectations.
- Computer-aided design skills. While sketches and drawings are part of the interior design process, almost all professional-level interior designs finalize their project blueprints in software programs called computer-aided design programs (CAD). Aspiring interior designers need to have a good grasp of the basics of these programs to complete any design project.
How to Become an Interior Designer in 5 Steps
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a professional interior designer, there are a few steps that most use to get started on the career path:
- Educate your eye. You can hone your eye at any age, whether you’re just entering design school or coming to interior design later in life. The most important thing for developing a keen design sensibility is being intimately aware of your surroundings: pay attention to graphic design, clothing, architecture, and landscape design. Everything has meaning and emotion. Bookstores, museums, art and furniture galleries, vintage markets, and clothing shops are great places to start developing strong ideas about what kinds of design—bold, muted, playful, classic, futuristic—you’re naturally drawn to.
- Study interior design. Most firms require their interior designers to have some formal education—at least a bachelor’s degree, but sometimes as little as an associate’s degree or as much as a master’s degree, depending on the firm. While relevant fields like architecture or design theory are preferred, especially from an official interior design program accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), don’t be discouraged if you’re getting a degree in something else—consider taking some design-related coursework (like fine art, art and design, computer-aided design, or color theory) to round out your studies.
- Seek out formal training. After graduating from your degree program, it’s time to seek out experience-building career opportunities to start building a portfolio. In general, you need a minimum of two years of full-time, on-the-job training and experience before you can officially market yourself as an interior designer, so look around for design jobs like internships, apprenticeships, or entry-level jobs at interior design firms.
- Get licensed. After schooling and two years of experience, you’re eligible to take the NCIDQ, which is the official standard for interior design in many areas in the U.S. and Canada. A NCIDQ certification will show clients that you are qualified and serious about the profession, so it’s a great jumping-off point for an interior design career.
- Work for a firm or branch out on your own. Once you’re licensed, you’re free to pursue any kind of interior design work you want—whether that’s working for an established firm or starting your own small business for design services and seeking out new clients on your own.