From homes to offices to public spaces, the way most people live is shaped by the spaces around them. Interior designers take charge of the way people interact with that space, creating comfortable, inviting, and stimulating environments that engage and inspire.
Use this guide to find out how to become an interior designer. Before you jump into courses and degree programs, get the facts on what interior designers do, the steps you need to take to join their ranks, and what you can do on your own time to become a great interior designer.
What Are Interior Designers and What Do They Do?
Interior designers draw from years of education and experience to improve the appearance, safety, and function of interior spaces. These specialized designers can be found working in varied locations, including:
- Public spaces like airports and shopping malls
- Private businesses and residencies
- New construction and existing buildings
Working with clients, contractors, architects and engineers means that interior designers need to enjoy working on a team and communicating with everyone around them. Regardless of their project, interior designers typically follow the same steps in their work:
- Determine the needs and desires of their clients
- Formulate a design plan and estimate costs
- Finish detailed plans and present work to engineers and architects
- Develop a timeline for contract labor and oversee installation
Communication skills are essential in every step of the process. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, in 2009, interior designers earned mean annual wages of $51,990. The most talented designers can earn even more by owning a small business and working for themselves. Working as an interior designer means enjoying a stimulating, rewarding career built on the idea of helping people live and work in comfort.
What are the Steps to Becoming an Interior Designer?
The BLS notes that formal education is essential for entry-level interior design positions. Students enroll in two- to four-year degree programs culminating in associate's or bachelor's degrees. Associate's degrees typically lead to assistant careers in the industry, while bachelor's degrees can lead to apprenticeships and then fully licensed interior design careers.
Whether you decide to enroll in a two-year or four-year program, you should experience many of the same interior design principles. Typical coursework in an interior design degree program should include the following essentials:
- Computer-aided design (CAD) software
- Architectural and engineering concepts
- Ergonomics, spatial planning, and furniture design
Optional certifications are also available. For example, the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers certification in kitchen and bath design. Certification programs give you a chance to enhance your knowledge in a subset of the field that interests you. Because experienced designers often specialize in one aspect of design, these certification courses can be of particular use later in your career.
A license is required for interior designers in some states. The licensing process is administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. In order to obtain a license, aspiring designers must:
- Pass a licensing exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification
- Possess at least six years of combined education and experience in interior design
- Have completed at least two years of postsecondary education
After meeting each of the licensing requirements, designers gain the distinction of Certified, Registered, or Licensed Interior Designer, depending on the state in which the license is issued. Interior designers must attend continuing education courses throughout their careers to keep their licenses.
How Can You Become a Great Interior Designer?
Because competition for interior design jobs is expected to be keen, any advantage you gain before looking for work can help your chances. While employment for interior designers is expected to grow 19 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many talented individuals are attracted to the profession.
While you're still studying interior design, you can take steps to become a great interior designer. Follow these steps in order to learn more about the career before you've even completed your training:
- Stay current. Subscribe to design publications and magazines like Interior Design and stay abreast of trends and products in the industry.
- Get connected. Join professional organizations like the American Society of Interior Designers and keep up with other designers and aspiring designers in your area.
- Compete. Enter your designs into professional competitions, like the International Interior Design Association's annual Interior Design Competition.
If you graduate from an accredited interior design bachelor's degree program, you may have the option to enter a formal apprenticeship program. These one- to three- year programs, often held in architecture or design firms, give you the opportunity to practice what you've learned in real-world applications. If you decide against an apprenticeship, working as a designer for a furniture store could give you some entry-level experience in the industry.
Formal training can help broaden your ability, increase your technical knowledge, and serve you well in the workplace.
Resources for Interior Designers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- National Kitchen and Bath Association
- National Council for Interior Design Qualification
- American Society of Interior Designers
- International Interior Design Association