Interior designers are responsible for planning and designing the optimal arrangement of colors, textures, lighting, furniture, and space so as to enhance the function, safety, and aesthetics of interior spaces. The interior spaces that designers work on include not only private residences but in fact almost every type of building (e.g., offices, theaters, shopping malls, airport terminals, hotels, restaurants, schools, and hospitals). The traditional focus of an interior designer is decoration (in fact sometimes designers are referred to as Interior Decorators), meaning the choice of a style and color palette followed by the selection of complementary furniture, floor and window coverings, lighting, and accessories. However, the job description has expanded in recent years as more designers have become involved in architectural detailing (e.g., crown molding and built-in bookshelves) and in larger-scale layout planning of buildings undergoing renovation (e.g., locations of windows, stairways, escalators, and walkways).
Many interior designers specialize in a particular discipline or niche design area such as hospitality, health care, or institutional design. These specialty areas are continually evolving and tend to be limited only by the imagination. Awareness of non-traditional factors such as health and accessibility issues is becoming increasingly important in the profession as the ability of interior spaces to create positive changes in people's lives is becoming more widely recognized. The role of an interior designer in today's world involves the ability to read blueprints, understand building and fire codes, and know how to make space accessible to people who are disabled. Designers often collaborate with architects, electricians, and building contractors to optimize safety and ensure that construction requirements are met.
The work process followed by an interior designer is generally the same regardless of the type of space being worked on. The first step is to determine the client's needs and wishes by meeting with the client to find out how the space will be used and to get a feel for the client's preferences and budget. The designer will also visit the location in order to scope the layout, size up potential problems, and take inventory of existing furniture and equipment. As a second step in the process, the designer will formulate an initial design plan and estimate costs. This is often done nowadays with the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software, which provides more detail and precision than hand-sketches (and in addition is easier to make corrections to). After the initial design proposal is completed, the designer will present it to the client and make revisions based on the client's input.
Once the design concept is finalized, the designer will begin identifying the specific materials and furnishings required (e.g., furniture, lighting, flooring, wall coverings, and artwork). Depending on the type of structure and complexity of the project, the designer might also submit drawings for approval by a building inspector to ensure that the design meets local codes. If a project involves a structural component, the designer will interface with an architect or engineer to cover that part of the project. In many cases, the designer is also responsible for contracting out the technical work that needs to get done (e.g., lighting, plumbing, and electrical wiring). As a final step before work begins, the designer will develop a timeline for the project. Working from that timeline, the designer will oversee the installation of the design elements, coordinate the contractor work schedules, and make sure the work is completed on time. After the project is complete, the designer and client will jointly visit the building site to ensure client satisfaction. The designer will subsequently make any corrections needed.
Working conditions for interior designers vary widely and depend quite a bit on the circumstances of employment. Designers who are self-employed or work for small consulting firms tend to have erratic and variable work weeks, quite often meeting with clients during evening or weekends when necessary. Their workloads are sporadic and depend on how busy they happen to be at a given time, and they tend to work in relatively small and somewhat congested environments. On the other hand, designers employed by large corporations or design firms generally work more normal hours in relatively comfortable settings.
Traditionally, interior designers tend to do a relatively large amount of traveling to visit different locations, studios, or clients' homes and offices. Although this is still true, modern technology now allows designers to save time by conducting a significant amount of research and purchasing online. This same technology has also simplified the process of contacting clients and communicating design alternatives to them, resulting in a smaller amount of travel needing to be done than before. There can be a great deal of satisfaction derived from interior design work. The designer is able to see the fruits of his/her artistic expression and the culmination of his/her creative ideas and careful planning translate into a beautiful finished product. On the other hand, there is also a notable amount of stress generally associated with the profession. The need to meet deadlines, stay on budget, and please clients, and (for those who are self-employed) to continually seek out new clients can contribute to the stress.
In order to be a good interior designer, an individual should be creative, imaginative, open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react to changing trends. Communication is very important and a good designer must be able to communicate his/her ideas not only verbally but also visually and in writing. Designers who understand the basics of architecture and engineering and are familiar with computer-aided design software have a definite advantage in the job marketplace. And as in many professions, the ability to budget one's time, to meet deadlines and production schedules, and to work independently and under pressure are additional important traits.
The field is an expanding one and correspondingly, future employment growth is expected to be faster than that of the average profession. However, this job growth is balanced by am equivalent growth in competition for available positions because of the fact that many talented individuals tend to be attracted to this profession.
An increase in homeowner wealth, combined with a growing popularity of home improvement, is expected to result in an increase in demand for residential designers over the upcoming decade. Most homeowners who have been using the equity in their homes to remodel aging kitchens and bathrooms and to finance new additions seek out the assistance and support of interior designers to make these improvements happen. However, a bi-product of the home improvement trend has been a trend in do-it-yourself design, which could serve to counterbalance employment growth of designers. On the non-residential side, a high demand from the hospitality industry (e.g., hotels, resorts, and restaurants) is expected to match an expected increase in tourism. Similarly, demand for interior design services from the health care industry also is expected to be high to satisfy an anticipated demand to create comfortable and homelike facilities to accommodate an aging population.
On the negative side, interior designers are expected to face keen competition for available positions due to intense competition in the field. Those who lack formal training or come up short in creativity and perseverance could find it difficult to establish and maintain a successful career. Also, the design industry can find itself at the mercy of a fickle economy. Design services are generally considered a luxury expense and as such may be among the first casualties of a slow economy, which in turn can have a detrimental effect on employment of interior designers.
Interior Design Schools, Certification, and Licensing
Entry into the interior design profession usually requires graduation from an accredited college, university or professional school of interior design. Depending on the school and degree being pursued, training programs can take anywhere between two to four years to complete. Ideally, a bachelor's degree should be pursued by those seeking entry-level positions but at minimum candidates should strive for a certificate or associate's degree. Those who hold a bachelor's degree usually qualify for a formal design apprenticeship program.
There are over 200 institutions offering programs which are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. The National Council for Interior Design Accreditation also accredits over 140 bachelor's degree programs in interior design, many of which are offered from the school's department of art, architecture, or home economics. After formal training is completed, interior designers will typically enter a 1- to 3-year apprenticeship to gain experience before taking a licensing exam. In most cases, apprentices will work in a design or architecture firm under the tutelage of an experienced designer or as an in-store designer in a furniture store.
Many states in the U.S. (about half of them) require registration and/or licensure of interior designers. The National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) administers a licensing exam which requires applicants to have at least six years of combined education and experience in interior design, of which at least two of those years must consist of formal postsecondary education. Once a candidate passes the qualifying exam, he/she achieves the title of Certified, Registered, or Licensed Interior Designer. In some states, licensure must be periodically renewed by earning continuing education credits.
Designers can demonstrate their qualifications and professional standing by choosing to apply for membership in the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Membership requirements include a combination of training and experience, along with the passing of the NCIDQ examination. Optional certifications are available in certain specialties of the profession. The National Kitchen and Bath Association offers three different levels of certification for kitchen and bath designers, each achieved through training seminars and certification exams. Designers who possess environmental expertise in design solutions for sustainable construction can receive accreditation in this specialty area by taking the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) examination.
- American Society of Interior Designers
- National Kitchen and Bath Association
- National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ)
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design
- National Council for Interior Design Accreditation
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
- Design Finder
Approximately one of every four interior designers is self-employed. Many perform freelance work while at the same time holding a salaried job in interior design or in a completely different occupation. Some of the principal employers of interior designers include furniture and home-furnishing stores, building material and supplies dealers, residential building construction companies, and architectural services for both construction and landscaping.
Schools for Interior Designers are listed in the column to the left.