Interior Design School and Career Guide

Check out interior design school, career and industry information to help you reach your goals.

One part artist, one part business professional and one part circus ringmaster, an interior designer is more than a face with an eye for beauty. From sketching, designing and arranging beautiful spaces to shopping for furniture and household accessories, there’s no shortage of excitement in an interior design career. A job in this field can provide opportunities to travel and work with a variety of people. Interior designers must be able to manage people, budgets and client relationships—all while designing spaces that are attractive, functional, and meet building and safety codes.

Traits of Successful Interior Designers

A good eye for design and aesthetics is a given for someone who is an interior designer at heart. But what puts the best designers ahead of the pack? Here are a few traits that successful designers possess.

  • Communication skills to work effectively with teams of engineers, architects and builders
  • Technical skills to use complex drawing software and read blueprints
  • Flexibility to work nontraditional hours and travel to design sites to meet with clients
  • Detail and precision skills for measuring spaces and creating drawings
  • Troubleshooting skills to minimize schedule delays and budgeting issues

Types of Interior Designers

Design school graduates have many career options. These are just a few areas of focus.

  • Universal designers increase the accessibility of spaces for seniors and those with special needs.
  • Sustainable designers focus on improvements in energy, water efficiencies and indoor air quality. Some designers in this segment are LEED certified.
  • Kitchen and bath designers have expertise in cabinets, fixtures, appliances, plumbing and electrical solutions.
  • Lighting designers create special atmospheres in homes, offices and public spaces such as museums and hospitals.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Interior Designers.

You’ll most likely encounter these courses in an interior design degree program.

What to Look for in a Program

When you’re choosing an interior design training program, the most important thing is to find a school that will help you reach your goals. Because getting your interior designer license is a requirement in a lot of states, you not only need to know about the laws governing the state in which you intend to practice, but also how to qualify for NCIDQ certification. Finding an interior design training program that will qualify you for professional

Interior Design Education

If you’re interested in a career in interior design, you have several educational paths from which to choose.

Certificate

  • No formal enrollment requirements
  • Requires two to three years of coursework
  • Qualifies graduates to work in entry-level positions under supervision of experienced interior designer

Associate’s Degree

  • No formal enrollment requirements
  • Requires two to three years of coursework
  • Qualifies graduates to work as an assistant to an interior designer
  • Provides foundation for entering a bachelor’s degree program

Bachelor’s Degree

  • Requires four years of coursework
  • Usually falls within science, applied arts or fine arts departments
  • Includes coursework in interior architecture or industrial design
  • Qualifies graduates to enter a one- to three-year formal design apprenticeship program at an architecture or design firm

Master’s Degree and Doctorate

  • Less common than a bachelor’s degree in interior design
  • Number of programs available is increasing
  • Focuses of study include industrial design, education and fine art

What Are Interior Design Training Courses Like?

Although each school’s curriculum varies, here are some subjects you will likely study in an interior design training program:

  • Color theory
  • Computer-aided drafting
  • Creating specifications for interior construction
  • Ethics
  • Graphic communication
  • History of interior design/architecture
  • Interior design business practices
  • Interior design specialties
  • Interior design studio
  • Lighting
  • Materials, methods and finishes
  • Problem solving
  • Safety and building codes
  • Space planning
  • Two- and three-dimensional design

Interior Designer Vs. Interior Decorator

Although the terms interior designer and interior decorator are used interchangeably, they have different responsibilities. Are you more interested in redecorating a room than large-scale renovations? Then a career in interior decorating may appeal to you the most. No degrees or formal education are necessary to be an interior decorator. These distinctions will help determine the best fit for you.

Interior Designer Interior Decorator
Formal training required No formal training required, although classes are available
Focuses on renovations, structural changes, spatial planning and functional design Focuses on aesthetics of style, color, furniture, fabrics, accessories and room layout
Hired for commercial work Hired for residential work
Interacts with contractors and architects Interact with homeowners, furniture makers, painters and other industry professionals
 Works as an apprentice Apprenticeship not required
Licensing required in most states Licensing not required
Is getting a degree online the right program for you?

Study for an Interior Design Degree Online

Online learning is a great option for people who are unable to make it to campus—whether because of their job, family demands or other reasons—but it’s not for everyone. Before you enroll in online classes, you should consider whether online learning is right for you. Students who are disciplined and self-starters can thrive in this environment. Those who are chronic procrastinators should proceed with caution. Earning your interior design degree online requires a regular time commitment.

Is an Online Interior Design Degree Program for You?

Each school is different, so check with any schools you are considering to find out about their program requirements. In some programs, you may still have regularly scheduled video lectures or student chat sessions or forums. In other programs, you can participate in these kinds of activities on your own schedule. Some interior design schools will allow you to view an online course demo before enrolling. Ask admissions officers if a demo is available.

If you’re sure you’ll do well in an online format, you’ll be pleased to know that you can earn your associate’s or bachelor’s degree online.

If you’re eager to enter the field quickly, you’ll find certificate programs online in such areas of interior design as these:

  • Floral design
  • Furniture design
  • Home remodeling
  • Interior decorating
  • Landscaping
  • Residential planning

Online Interior Design School Accreditation

Because online interior design degrees are still fairly new, you’ll want to make sure that the program you are considering is accredited. Look for accreditation from these agencies:

  • National Association of Schools of Art and Design: They accredit approximately 300 colleges, universities and independent schools with programs in art and design.
  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation: Accredit around 150 bachelor or master’s degree interior design programs nationally.
  • National Kitchen & Bath Association: If you specialize in one of these areas, they accredit certificate, associate’s and bachelor’s degree-level programs.

You should also verify that your online interior design degree will qualify you for the NCIDQ certification exam and for licensure in your state.

 

Find out what to expect in an interior design salary.

If there is a theme for aspiring interior designers to note, it’s this: an interior design career offers many rewards (financial and otherwise), but you have to be willing to pay your dues in entry-level jobs before you work your way up.

Interior Designer Salaries by Top 5 Industries

Most people think of interior designers as self-employed professionals (about 25 percent are) who help couples and families re-design and re-furnish the interior of their homes. But interior designers work in  larger capacity and actually cross all types of industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook lists the median annual salaries for interior designers in the top five industries where they work:

Industry Median Annual Salary
Architectural and engineering Firms $54,360
Wholesalers of durable goods $48,550
Specialized design firms $47,090
Construction industry $44,320
Retail furniture stores $39,930

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Job Growth and Outlook for Interior Designers

The BLS predicts a 13 percent job growth for interior designers through 2022. Considering the national average for all occupations is 11 percent, this equates to as fast as average. About 4 percent of designers work in construction related industries and since construction is anticipated to grow, these professionals will see solid job growth.

Interior designers who specialize in a particular area of the industry, such as kitchens, bathrooms or in sustainable interior design, could benefit from being an expert and may use their knowledge of products and standards to better help customers and clients fulfill their needs.

Find out what an interior design job is all about.

A good interior designer manages people, budgets and client relationships all while designing spaces that are attractive, functional and meet building and safety codes. Professionals in an interior design career need organizational skills and business know-how. So it’s not surprising that getting an interior design degree is quickly becoming essential for those wishing to enter the industry. A degree is also a licensure requirement in many states.

Job Responsibilities

Depending on the project, interior designers do the following tasks on a day-to-day basis:

  • Finding new clients and determining their needs
  • Bidding on projects
  • Making a project schedule and budget
  • Determining the area’s main function, look and furnishings
  • Researching building and safety codes
  • Drawing design plans by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Reading blueprints or drawings
  • Picking furniture, wall finishes, lighting and kitchen and bathroom fixtures
  • Placing orders for materials
  • Supervising installation of materials
  • Working closely with clients, architects, engineers and builders

Skills Needed for the Job

  • Artistic Ability and Style – You will need to provide sketches of your proposed designs for a space. CAD training may also come in handy, since the interior design process often involves using computer programs to create two and three-dimensional renderings. You will choose colors, furniture and materials to complement the design, as well as suit your client’s needs for function, durability and accessibility.
  • Teamwork Ability –  In an interior design job, you’ll communicate with clients to assess what they want and need in a space, and then present your ideas for meeting those goals in a compelling way. You’ll also need to communicate with vendors and contractors. Your responsibilities also include coordinating with architects, electricians, plumbers and others to complete the job in a timely and cost-effective manner.
  • Organizational Skills – Since interior designers complete a wide range of tasks and work with many different people, organizational skills are important. You are responsible for keeping the project on budget and on schedule. You will need to document your process and the products used, and manage contracts and negotiations on your client’s behalf.

Steps to Becoming an Interior Designer

Comparing design schools and determining the right one for you is an important first step on your journey to an interior design career. Once you’ve gotten enough work experience and feel confident about what you’ve learned, it’s time to take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification exam. The final step to becoming an interior designer is getting licensed. Not all states require licensure, so research your state’s requirements.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Interior Designers.

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