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Do You Need a License to Become an Interior Designer?

Encompassing much more than just decoration, the field of interior design demands specialized knowledge in a wide variety of areas ranging from building code to human behavior. Part artist, part project manager, and part psychologist, an interior designer is tasked with not only creating beautiful spaces, but ones that meet the mental, emotional, and physical needs of their clients in a safe and functional way.

Interior designer's hand working with illustration sketch, material and color samples

For many, gaining these necessary skills involves formal education and training, which can lead to licensing or certification. But is a license required to practice interior design? The answer lies in the state where you work and what exactly you do.

Interior Design License—or Not?

As a general guideline, no U.S. state requires a license to work in interior design, though there's an exception to this rule. In Louisiana, Florida, Nevada, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, you must be registered if you wish to work unsupervised in any commercial space. This could include hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, office buildings, medical centers, sporting facilities, and more. This might also include the common areas of condos and apartments, such as lobbies, laundry rooms, and rec centers. Within these spaces, unlicensed interior designers can still provide their services, but they must be overseen by a building professional with a license, be that an architect, engineer, or licensed interior designer.

While the above-mentioned states regulate commercial property, they legally allow both registered and unregistered designers to work unsupervised in any residential space. The rest of the states have no laws restricting the scope of practice or the settings in which any interior designer can work.

Interior Design Certification

While licensing may not be necessary, roughly half of all states offer the option to become certified or registered. Under this Title Act, no one can refer to themselves as a "certified interior designer" or "registered interior designer" unless they are, in fact, certified or registered with their state.

So, why seek out these credentials? Though noncertified/unregistered professionals can perform the same duties as their credentialed counterparts, holding this recognition is seen as a way to demonstrate your proficiency in design and commitment to staying up to date on industry standards. Certification, registration, or licensing could potentially lead to better job opportunities by giving future clients and employers added confidence in your work.

In some states, being certified or registered also allows you the ability to sign and seal interior design documents. These are prepared for the purpose of obtaining a building permit and verify that your project complies with all relevant building codes, ordinances, and regulations.

iida 2018 registration map

How to Become a Licensed, Registered, or Certified Interior Designer

To become licensed, registered, or certified, almost every credentialing state requires you to take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) Examination. Even if your state doesn't offer a credential, earning your NCIDQ Certificate can still be beneficial as you pursue your career.

There are 3 parts to the exam—the Interior Design Fundamentals Exam, Interior Design Professional Exam, and the Practicum. You need to earn a score of at least 500 out of 800 in order to pass.

To be eligible to sit for the NCIDQ, you'll need to meet specific requirements for education and experience. Keep in mind, however, that your state might have additional criteria, so it's important to check with your jurisdiction to make sure you're covering your bases.

Education and experience

At a minimum, you'll need to have completed 1 of the 5 approved education options. The work experience required depends on your level of education.

Education RequirementsWork Experience
Bachelor's degree from a program approved by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)3,520 hours, or 2 full-time years, under a direct supervisor or sponsor
Bachelor's degree from a non-CIDA-accredited program, with at least 60 semester/90 quarter hours in interior design3,520 hours, or 2 full-time years, under a direct supervisor or sponsor
Associate's degree, certificate, or diploma, with at least 60 semester/90 quarter hours in interior design5,280 hours, or 3 full-time years, under a direct supervisor or sponsor
Bachelor's degree in architecture from a program accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board (NAAB) or the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB)5,280 hours, or 3 full-time years, under a direct supervisor or sponsor
Bachelor's degree in architecture from a program not accredited by the NAAB or the CACB7,040 hours, or 4 full-time years, under a direct supervisor or sponsor

If you've earned interior design work experience prior to your graduation, you can apply up to 1,760 hours to your overall total. Once you've completed all necessary education and experience, you can apply to take all 3 parts of the NCIDQ Exam. Alternately, those who are in the final year of their bachelor's or master of arts program, or have graduated and not yet completed their hours, have the option to take just the Fundamentals section as they work toward earning their experience.

NCIDQ Certificate renewal

Holders of the NCIDQ Certificate must renew their credentials every year to stay active. To do so, you'll need to pay a renewal fee and provide proof that you've completed the minimum number of continuing education (CE) hours as determined by your state or the Council for Interior Design Qualification. The CIDQ requires 6 hours of CE each year, while some states require up to 12.

Ready to Get Started?

While it's not likely that you'll need a license to practice interior design, choosing to become registered or certified can help you advance your career. But to do so, it all begins with the right education. To meet the requirements needed to earn your credentials, use the Find Schools button to explore certificate, diploma, and degree programs that can help you meet your goals.

Sources: Kelly Barnett (Kelly Barnett Interior Design); IIDA Legislative Map–2019, iida.org

Interior Design Education & Career Guide