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Reimagine Your Life As An Interior Designer

How to become an interior designer


Poorly designed spaces give you anxiety causing a knee-jerk reaction to “fix” the offending mess. Your friends drag you along with them to various home-decorating stores to help pick out the perfect accessories, because you have better taste than they do. Your brain hurts from it always being picked in regards to helping make homes look nicer. Do these little scenarios sound vaguely familiar? Maybe it’s time to think about becoming an interior designer? Learn more about what interior design is, and what it takes to become an interior designer.

Find a design program near you.

WHAT IS INTERIOR DESIGN?

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Interior design creates solutions to problems within the four walls of a building. The concept of interior design is to enhance the interior of a space within a building, using a combination of art and design, with the result being the creation of a safe, and aesthetically pleasing environment for the client, whether it is a residential or business environment. Interior design goes beyond the visuals of the interior of the structure; design also focuses on the conceptual as well as technical values of a space.


COULD YOU PICTURE YOURSELF DOING THIS ALL DAY?

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Interior designers are trained to determine the functional and aesthetic requirements of an area by working with the client, architect, and other related professionals. To achieve their project goals, interior designers must know how to:

  • Determine the client’s needs / wants
  • Read and create blueprints
  • Create project timelines
  • Sketch out the design plans either freehand or with a Computer Animated Design (CAD) program
  • Use Building Information Modeling (BIM) for a 3-D visual of the project
  • Estimate potential costs
  • Order the materials
  • Oversee the duration of the design project

There are two main types of interior designers: Residential and Commercial. Residential interior designers work with homeowners to design their living spaces. Some interior designers may specialize in particular rooms such as kitchen and bath, or bedrooms. Commercial interior designers work on government buildings, schools, corporate spaces, and other public-facing buildings. Within the Commercial Interior Design sector, specialties can be broken down even further; kitchen and bath, hospitals, hotels, and restaurants, are just a few sub-specialties of commercial interior designers.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTERIOR DESIGNERS AND INTERIOR DECORATORS

Very often the job of interior designer and interior decorator are used interchangeably. However, there are major differences in the two. The main difference is; interior designers can decorate, but interior decorators do not design. Interior designers are involved in projects from the ground up. Interior decorators are not, their focus is solely on the furniture and the materials that embody their clients taste, and they decorate the space as such. Also, interior decorators do not require formal education, interior designers do. Interior decorators go through extensive schooling, learning everything from history to computer guided design programs. Interior decorators, while their taste may be impeccable, are not as heavily educated in design.


DO YOU HAVE THE SOFT SKILLS?

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To be a successful interior designer, you should possess certain personal skills and qualities. Interior designers may get to play with fabric and colors but, at the end of the day, there is so much more that goes into the job of the interior designer.

  • Communication is key. As an interior designer, you’re going to need to have to work effectively with not only the client but the professionals being brought in to work on the project.
  • Creativity is crucial. Let’s be honest here; interior designers are creative by nature. Sure, much of the process can be learned. But, it takes a creative person to create.
  • Artistic ability is a major asset. To be able to create an aesthetically pleasing environment, interior designers have to have artistic talent.
  • Devotion to detail. Interior designers spend their lives noticing every minute detail from the color of the hinges on the doors, to the wood grain, to the spacing of the ceiling beams, and everything in-between, around, and through.
  • Mystical mind-reading. Let’s say it the way it is, not all clients are going to know what they want, they just know that want something. It’s up to the interior designer to extract what information they can, even if it’s by reading body language, or interpreting nonsensical words, and come up with a wow-factor plan.
  • Professor of problem-solving. One thing is guaranteed, problems will arise for an interior designer. The wrong materials, construction delays, unavailability of items, higher than expected costs; all these are just snippets of problems that can arise. And, it’s up to the interior designer to sail through these and come up with solutions.

STEPS TO TAKE

  1. Earn your degree from an accredited interior design program.
  2. Pass the licensing exam given by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ).
  3. Gain work experience.
  4. Build your design portfolio.
  5. Continue your education through avenues such as courses, intensives, and conferences.

SUGGESTED DEGREES

There are a few different degree paths for budding interior designers to take. Associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree are the most common. Nowadays, most interior design firms are looking for bachelor’s degree holding interior designers. So, a four-year university is probably the best bet. However, after the first job, it’s usually not your degree but your experience and portfolio that will get you in the door.

  • Associate’s of Arts Degree: Associate’s degrees are designed to take two years to complete if the student attends full time. In an interior design program, students will take courses in the fundamentals of design (both by hand and computer), digital drafting, lighting, color theory, furniture design, art history, and a variety of business courses.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: An associate’s degree can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree. The bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to finish. Bachelor's degree programs are a more well-rounded, as the student takes classes in areas beyond their major. Most accredited bachelor’s degree programs will include courses such as design theory, textiles, business, 3-D imaging, and space planning.

THE PRICE OF EDUCATION

College can be expensive, and interior design is no exception. Typically, associate’s degrees are a fraction of the cost of bachelor’s degrees. The average cost for a 2-year degree in interior design is $8,000, while a bachelor’s degree can be well over $30,000 annually (that’s including living on-campus and purchasing books and supplies). Attending an in-state university can significantly cut down the cost of the ever-rising college tuition. Also, public schools can be much less expensive than private, but both types offer financial assistance to those who need it. Have a conversation with the financial aid department of the chosen interior design program. To learn more about general financial aid, please read this article.


PICKING A PROGRAM

There are so many different interior design programs to choose from, it can be difficult to choose where to apply to, let alone head off to. There are a few things to look for when it comes to picking out the right interior design program:

  • Make sure the interior design program is accredited through Council for Interior Design accreditation.
  • Check to make sure the school offers the degree you’re looking to get whether it’s a Bachelor’s of Arts (BA), Bachelor’s of Fine Art (BFA), or Bachelor’s of Science (BS).
  • Does the school teach computer-aid drafting (CAD) and provide formal training?
  • Are internships and apprenticeships available?
  • Does the program align with your goals?
  • Do you want to specialize and does the school offer that area of specialty?
  • What is the employment rate of past graduates?

SLOW ON THE GROWTH

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Through 2026, there is projected to be a 5 percent employment growth for interior designers. This growth is average in comparison with all other occupations. Working in affluent areas will increase the chances of getting higher paying clients. Interior designers work can be affected by the economy, as with most other construction related careers.

Best Industries

Industry

% of employment

Median annual salary

Specialized Design Services

14.66

$56,710

Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services

0.73

$62,590

Furniture Stores

2.17

$48,470

Residential Building Construction

0.32

$57,490

Furniture and Home Furnishing Merchant Wholesalers

2.16

$55,930


Best States

State

Median annual salary

California

$64,940

Texas

$60,850

Florida

$49,090

New York

$65,760

Illinois

$58,640


THE SALARY OF AN INTERIOR DESIGNER

The median annual wage for interior designers is $49,810. Entry level interior designers earned over $26,000, while those in the top 10% of the interior design industry made over $91,000 annually. Interior designers usually work full-time, and they have to accommodate their clients so their work schedule may be inconsistent.


Highest Paying Industries

Industry

Median annual salary

Activities Related to Real Estate

$88,910

Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)

$78,780

Computer Systems Design and Related Services

$70,960

Warehousing and Storage

$70,450

Land Subdivision

$69,410


States With Highest Salaries

State

Median annual salary

District of Columbia

$80,950

Rhode Island

$72,130

New York

$65,760

California

$64,940

Massachusetts

$62,780


INTERIOR DESIGN LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION BY STATE

Every state has its own licensing requirements for interior designers. However, many interior designers, upon finishing their education, choose to become licensed regardless of their state’s requirements. Potential clients, as well as interior design firms, may show preference to interior designers who are licensed. The most commonly used exam is from the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). California’s exam is different, the state uses one given by the California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC). Both exams have an educational and experience requirement prior to being able to sit for them.


State Certifications

Type of Act: Allow for Sign, Seal and Permitting

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 60 quarters or 48 tri semester. Credit hours / 4 years for the registered level

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ/NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: Yes

State Board or Agency:
Alabama Board for Registered Interior Designers
P.O Box 11026
Birmingham, Alabama
Telephone: (205) 317-0356

No license required

No license required

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 4 years
Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: .5 CEUs per year

State Board or Agency:
Arkansas Board of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers
101 East Capitol Suite 110
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Telephone: (501) 682-3172

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: None
Total Education Plus Experience: 6-8 years depending on education

Examination Required: IDEX

Continuing Education for Renewal: .10 hours per biennium

State Board or Agency:
California Council for Interior Design Certification
1605 Grand Avenue, Suite 4
San Marcos, California 92078
Telephone: (760) 761-4734

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: None

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years
Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required: NCIDQ requirements

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

State Board or Agency:
Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection
450 Columbus Boulevard
Hartford Connecticut, 06103
Telephone: (860) 713-6100

No license required

Type of Act: Allows for Sign, Seal and Permitting

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years
Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: Not less than 20 hours per biennium

State Board or Agency:
Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design
2601 Blair Stone
Tallahassee Florida 32399
Telephone: (850) 487-1395

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 4 years or first professional degree
Total Education Plus Experience: 4 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 12 hours per biennium

State Board or Agency:
Georgia State Board of Architects and Interior Designers
214 State Capitol
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
Telephone: (844) 753-7825

No license required

No license required

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years
Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

State Board or Agency:
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
100 West Randolph, 9th floor
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Telephone: 1(888) 473-4858

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years
Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ or ARE

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

State Board or Agency:
Indiana Professional Licensing Agency
Telephone: (317) 233-0800

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years
Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

State Board or Agency:
Interior Design Examining Board
200 E. Grand Avenue, Suite 350
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
Telephone: (515) 725-9022

No license required

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 7 years of interior design education and experience. Minimum of a four year degree from a CIDA accredited school and two years of interior design experience

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 12 hours per year

State Board or Agency:
Kentucky Board of Architects and Certified Interior Designers
155 East Main Street, Suite 300
Lexington, Kentucky 40507
Telephone: (859) 246-2069

Type of Act: Allows for Sign, Seal and Permitting

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years
Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

State Board or Agency:
Louisiana State Board of Interior Designers
11736 Newcastle Avenue,
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70816
Telephone: (225) 295-8425

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 4 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

State Board or Agency:
Maine State Board for Licensure of Architects, Landscape Architects and Interior Designers
76 Northern Avenue
Gardiner, Maine 04345
Telephone: (207) 624-8603

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 4 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 10 hour per biennium

State Board or Agency:
Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation
500 North Calvert Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Telephone: (410) 230-6259

No license required

Note: The Michigan State Board of Architects keeps a list of qualified interior designers.
Michigan State Board of Architects
P.O Box 30004
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Telephone: (517) 373-1820

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: Board determined

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 24 hours per biennium

State Board or Agency:
Minnesota Board of Architecture, Engineering, Land Surveying Landscape Architecture, Geoscience and Interior Design
85 E. 7th Place
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101
Telephone: (651) 757-1515

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Mississippi Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 4 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 8 hours per year

State Board or Agency:
Mississippi State Board of Architecture

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 10 hours per biennium

State Board or Agency:
Missouri Interior Design Council
3605 Missouri Boulevard
Jefferson City, Missouri 65102-1335
Telephone: (573) 751-0293

No license required

Type of Act: Allows for Sign, Seal and Permitting

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 4 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 8 hours per year

State Board or Agency:
Nevada State Board of Architecture, Interior Design & Residential Design
2080 E. Flamingo Road, Suite 120
Las Vegas, Nevada 89119
Telephone: (702) 486-7300

No license required

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/or Seal

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: Yes

State Board or Agency:
New Jersey State Board of Architects
124 Halsey Street
Newark, New Jersey 07101
Telephone: (973) 504-6200

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Licensed Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 8 hours per year

State Board or Agency:
New Mexico Board of Interior Design
PO Box 25101
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504
Telephone: (505) 476-4622

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/ or Seal

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 7 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

State Board or Agency:
New York State Education Department Board of Interior Design
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York
Telephone: (518) 474-3852

No license required

No license required

No license required

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

No license required

No license required

No license required

No license required

No license required

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 24 hours per year

State Board or Agency:
Tennessee Board of Architectural & Engineering Examiners
500 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-1142
Telephone: (615) 741-3221

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/ or Seal

Title: “Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: CIDA accredited degree

Total Education Plus Experience: CIDA accredited Interior Design degree and two years experience

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 12 hours per year, including one barrier free and one sustainable

State Board or Agency:
Texas Board of Architectural Examiners
333 Guadalupe, Suite 350
Austin, Texas 78701
Telephone: (512) 305-9000

No license required

No license required

Type of Act: Allows for Sign and/ or Seal

Title: “Certified Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 4 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: None

State Board or Agency:
Virginia APELSCIDLA
Licensing Section: (804) 367-8506
Board Office: (804) 367-8514

No license required


Type of Act: Allows for Sign, Seal and Permitting

Title: “Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years (as required by NCIDQ to take exam)

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 10 hours per biennium

State Board or Agency:
Board of Architecture and Interior Design
1100 4th Street, SE, Washington DC 20024
Telephone: (202) 442-4400

No license required

Type of Act: Professional State Recognition

Title: “Wisconsin Registered Interior Designer”

Post-HS Education & Experience Required:

Education: 2 years

Total Education Plus Experience: 6 years

Examination Required: NCIDQ

Continuing Education for Renewal: 9 hours per biennium


State Board or Agency:
Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing
1400 East Washington Avenue, Room 112
Madison, Wisconsin 53703

No license required