Interior designers create and implement designs for the internal spaces of buildings, including homes, offices, and businesses such as restaurants, shopping malls, and airport terminals. Their typical responsibilities include making preliminary sketches of the layout of an interior space, determining the materials necessary to furnish and decorate a space, and overseeing the installation of certain structural and design elements within a building. Employment of interior designers will derive from businesses that wish to maintain or renovate their corporate spaces, and from consumers who want to remodel their homes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) estimates that employment of interior designers will grow by 19 percent nationally between the years 2010 and 2020.
Interior designers interact regularly, not only with clients, but also with architects, engineers, contractors, plumbers, and other professionals to ensure that an interior design project progresses successfully. Their work can be dynamic and creative, and thus may be suitable for people who enjoy the challenge of balancing the artistic with the functional in living and corporate spaces.
Individuals interested in becoming an interior designer typically earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in interior design or a related subject; however, a degree in an unrelated subject may be acceptable to employers if combined with adequate relevant coursework and/or work experience. Licensing requirements for interior designers vary by state, and generally involve fulfillment of certain educational and professional requirements, plus taking a national exam. Optional certifications can also help candidates demonstrate specialized expertise in a certain area, which may increase their competitiveness in the job market.
- What are the general steps towards pursuing an interior design career?
- What interior designer programs are available, and how are they helpful?
- What are the licensing requirements for interior designers?
- What interior design certifications are available, and how are they useful?
- What associations are available for interior designers, and how are they beneficial?
- What are the general responsibilities of the interior designer?
- What tools and technology do interior designers routinely use?
- What are the specializations within interior design?
- What is the difference between interior designers and interior decorators?
- What key skills are required for interior designers?
- What is the typical job environment of the interior designer?
- What is the employment outlook for interior designers?
- What is the average salary nationally for interior designers?
- What are some related careers?
Read CareerColleges.com’s interview with Jennifer Farris, an interior design instructor, to learn more about the expectations and demands of an interior design program. Aspiring interior designers may also benefit from reading about the challenges and perks of being an interior designer in our interview with professional interior designer Tina Delia.
What are the general steps towards pursuing an interior design career?
While the career path for interior designers varies according to an individual’s specific goals, desired place of employment, and location, the general steps to pursuing this career include the following:
- Complete an associate or bachelor’s degree in interior design or a related field.
- Research the licensing requirements for interior designers in one’s state of residence.
- Take and pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam if required by one’s state.
- Apply for internships and entry-level jobs in interior design.
- Earn optional certifications in order to increase one’s expertise in a certain field and potentially enhance one’s qualifications.
- Advance through specialization, gaining work experience, and/or certifications.
What interior designer programs are available, and how are they helpful?
Associate and bachelor’s degree programs and some certificate programs in interior design are available at community colleges, art academies and institutes, architectural and/or design schools, and some state universities. Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years to complete, while associate degrees typically require two years. Applicants to interior design programs may be required to submit a portfolio with drawings that confirm their artistic abilities. Examples of interior design courses in these programs include but are not limited to:
- Design Fundamentals and Principles—the fundamentals of building a harmonious and well-proportioned environment. Understanding the relationship between form and space, the principles of combining scale, color, form, and texture with contrast, proportion, and other design elements.
- AutoCAD—how to use industry-level computer-aided drawing software such as Autodesk AutoCAD. How to use different AutoCAD functions to communicate different design concepts and translate model drawings to scalable AutoCAD files.
- Graphic Design and Communications—the basics of mechanical drafting, including how to create ceiling and floor plans and graphically illustrate elevations and sections of one’s designs. How to create one and two-point perspectives.
- Color Theory and its Application—using color to create aesthetically pleasing and functional spaces in commercial and residential settings. The principles of the color wheel, the connection between colors and psychology, and the use of colors to create a certain ambiance.
- History of Architecture—a study of the history of architecture across multiple civilizations, from ancient cities to modern day metropolises. An overview of the major design themes of each era, famous architects and their design approach, and the relationship between a civilization’s economy and society and its architectural designs.
- Design Studio—applying design principles and methods to actual design projects and problems using a combination of paper and digital drawing projects.
- Materials and Finishes for Interior Spaces—the purpose and methods of using various materials and finishes in interior spaces. Understanding the various compositions of different materials and the application of aesthetic and functional considerations to one’s choices.
- Space Planning—how to use space in a way that is functional, efficient and aesthetically pleasing. How to develop spatial design plans for commercial and residential spaces, while incorporating safety considerations and governmental regulations into one’s spatial design plans.
- Structures and Components of Building Architecture—the essential structural components of a building, and how to create safe, functional, and sustainable commercial and/or residential spaces. Integrating necessary systems such as plumbing, electrical wiring, etc. into one’s design plans.
- Business for Interior Designers—the business and legal side of being an interior designer. How to market one’s design services, manage the business, legal, and financial aspects of interior design.
In addition to fundamental interior design classes, some interior design programs offer more specialized classes in such subjects as kitchen, bath, and/or sustainable design. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), and the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) all accredit various interior design programs at certain postsecondary universities, colleges, and independent institutions. Candidates should research the various interior design programs available to them to find the options that best suit their circumstances and professional goals.
What are the licensing requirements for interior designers?
Some states require that candidates pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam and obtain licensure in order to officially use the title of interior designer. Un-licensed interior designers can still practice in their states of residence; however, they cannot call themselves registered interior designers. The state of California has a different interior designer licensing exam offered by the California Council for Interior Design Certification. As licensing regulations for interior designers vary from state to state, candidates should research the specific requirements of their state of residence.
In order to qualify for the NCIDQ exam, candidates must have a combination of education and work experience relevant to interior design. NCIDQ allows candidates to qualify to take the NCIDQ exam through the following pathways:
- Route 1: A bachelor’s or master’s degree from an interior design program that has been accredited by CIDA, plus 3,520 hours of qualifying work experience.
- Route 2: A bachelor’s degree from an interior design program that has not been accredited by CIDA, but which includes a minimum of 120 semester units or 180 quarter units. Degree must include 60 semester or 90 quarter units of coursework in interior design. This route also requires 3,520 hours of qualifying work experience.
- Route 3: A bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to interior design, plus 60 semester or 90 quarter credits of interior design courses resulting in a certificate, diploma, or degree. This route is suitable for individuals pursuing a career change and who also already have a bachelor’s degree. This eligibility option also requires 3,520 hours of qualifying work experience.
- Route 4: An associate degree comprised of 60 semester/90 quarter units of interior design courses, plus 5,280 hours of qualifying work experience.
- Route 5: An associate degree comprised of 40 semester/60 quarter units of interior design courses, plus 7,040 hours of qualifying work experience.
More detailed explanations of the various paths that can qualify one for the NCIDQ exam, as well as exam preparation materials, are available at the NCIDQ website.
What interior design certifications are available, and how are they useful?
Certifications are a way for interior designers to indicate specialization in a certain field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), while the employment of interior designers is expected to grow nationally by 19 percent between 2010 and 2020, interior designers who work at specialized design companies have a projected national employment growth of 27 percent. Certain interior design associations offer certifications in particular fields. For example, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) offers certifications that validate an individual’s ability to design for kitchen and/or bathroom spaces. NKBA also offers online courses that help candidates fulfill the educational requirements for certification. Two of the certifications that the NKBA offers include:
- Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer—this certification validates one’s knowledge of space planning, the use of certain finishes and materials, and the selection of products. To become certified, candidates must complete at least two years of professional experience, one of which must be in the kitchen or bath industry, as well as 30 hours of NKBA-approved college coursework or NKBA classes.
- Certified Kitchen Designer/Certified Bath Designer—the CKD and CBD certifications indicate an interior designer’s specialization in the design, planning, and completion of kitchens or baths, respectively. Candidates should demonstrate advanced technical and communications skills, and must have seven years of professional experience (at least three of which must be in residential kitchen/bath design) and 60 hours of NBKA-approved college coursework or NKBA classes.
The American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID) also offers a certification that confirms an interior designer’s knowledge of how to design spaces for healthcare facilities:
- AAHID Certification requires a college degree in interior design or related subject, a NCIDQ certificate, a minimum of five years of professional experience in interior design for healthcare/medical spaces, a portfolio of previous projects and three letters of recommendation.
What associations are available for interior designers, and how are they beneficial?
Numerous associations exist for the interior designer. Associations may provide helpful resources such as continuing education courses, networking opportunities, and discounts on industry-related purchases. Examples of several interior designer associations include:
- American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) provides members with discounts on professional insurance, contract documents and education. ASID also offers members a profile on the ASID website to showcase their qualifications, and access to various interior design publications and research.
- International Interior Design Association (IIDA) offers members educational webinars and continuing education courses, access to the IIDA job bank and knowledge center, and invitations to special IIDA events and regional meetings.
- Interior Design Society (IDS) provides members with educational seminars and regional programs, IDS chapter meetings and events, quarterly interior design publications, and legislative representation.
- National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) offers members a database of consumer leads, templates for business forms and advertisements, discounts on certain industry-related purchases, networking opportunities through local chapter meetings, and professional certification.
Interior designer candidates should research which associations would be most helpful to them and their careers. Membership in these organizations typically requires a certain number of education hours and/or professional experience, depending on the desired level of membership.
What are the general responsibilities of the interior designer?
Interior designers typically do drafting and design work while interacting with architects, engineers, and other designers. Their key responsibilities generally include but are not limited to:
- Consult with clients in order to determine the requirements, goals, budget and limitations of the design project.
- Advise clients as to how to optimize the aesthetics and functionality of an interior space.
- Evaluate the space, how it will be used, and how people will interact with it.
- Combine clients’ goals with other considerations such as practicality, sustainability, budget, and functionality to develop an optimal design.
- Draft multiple preliminary design sketches and paste-ups.
- Use AutoCAD and other computer-aided design and drafting software to create construction documents.
- Estimate the costs of and develop a budget for required project materials.
- Coordinate and collaborate with contractors, engineers, architects, plumbers and other professionals in order to make sure completed project fulfills all requirements.
- Subcontract tasks such as materials installations and arrangement of furnishings.
- Design or select and purchase art, accessories, and furnishings for the space.
What tools and technology do interior designers routinely use?
Interior designers use different equipment and technology in order to measure the dimensions of a given space, develop design drafts, communicate with clients, and keep track of project budgets. The tools and technology interior designers typically use include but are not limited to:
- Measuring equipment such as digital tape measures
- Tablet computers with graphics applications and functionality
- Scanners with 2D and 3D digitizing capabilities
- AutoCAD and other computer aided design software
- Photo processing, video, and graphics software programs
- Spreadsheet software
What are the specializations within interior design?
Numerous specializations exist within the field of interior design. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), several of the specializations that exist for interior designers include:
- Sustainable—interior designers who specialize in sustainability optimize the energy and water efficiency of the spaces that they design. They may use environmentally friendly and renewable materials such as bamboo and cork, and also prioritize lighting designs that save energy.
- Accessible—interior designers specializing in accessibility work to make a building more accessible to people who are elderly or who have disabilities.
- Kitchen and Bath—interior designers who specialize in kitchen and/or bath are experts in designing and furnishing these two types of rooms. They have in-depth knowledge of the fixtures, cabinets, plumbing, appliances, and electrical wirings that are necessary for these kinds of spaces.
- Lighting—interior designers specializing in lighting focus on the effect that lighting designs have on residential, public, and/or commercial spaces. They may work in environments such as museums, healthcare facilities, galleries, or shopping malls to optimize these spaces’ use of light.
- Closet—interior designers who specialize in closets optimize the storage capabilities and orderliness of closet spaces in residential and commercial interiors.
What is the difference between interior designers and interior decorators?
While interior designers and interior decorators may be confused with one another, their roles are actually quite different. Interior decorators focus on creating a certain aesthetic in a room through their selection and positioning of furnishings, upholstery, and decorations. Unlike interior designers, interior decorators do not generally consider the technical or structural aspects of a given space—for example, they typically do not consider how the structural design of a space impacts its function, a consideration that is a part of interior designers’ daily work. Interior decorators do not have to work with AutoCAD, and they do not collaborate with architects or engineers in the way that interior designers regularly do.
While interior designers must undergo formal training, interior decorators typically do not require specific schooling in their profession. Interior designers are generally involved in every step of the renovation of a given residential or commercial space; in contrast, interior decorators often work with a space after it has been renovated, choosing and arranging the furnishings and decorations in order to achieve the client’s desired aesthetic and mood.
What key skills are required for interior designers?
Interior designers have dynamic work that involves a lot of individual measuring, analyzing, drafting, and designing, while also discussing and coordinating with other people involved in the project. As a result, interior designers typically possess the following key skills:
- Artistic—interior designers must have a keen sense of aesthetics and style in order to make spaces visually and spatially appealing.
- Analytical and Problem Solving—while interior designers should be creative and artistic, they must also take into account the requirements and measurements of the building, the intended use of the space they are designing, and numerous other factors. Balancing building requirements, government regulations, clients’ desires, and budget is a key aspect of the interior designer’s job.
- Interpersonal—interior designers work closely with clients and other professionals on collaborative design projects. As a result, they must have clear communication skills and patience when project difficulties arise.
- Visual—interior designers must be able to visualize how people will move within a given space, as well as how certain furnishings, light fixtures, and other aspects of an interior environment will look and function together.
What is the typical job environment of the interior designer?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), most interior designers work in clean, well-lit, and comfortable offices. Approximately 30 percent of interior designers were self-employed in 2010, and a portion of these designers worked from a home office. Interior designers typically travel to the sites of their projects in order to understand the layout of these spaces. They generally work full-time, but may need to have a flexible schedule in order to accommodate clients’ availability, as well as the availability of other professionals with whom they work with on a design project. Meeting with clients and/or subcontractors during the weekends or evenings might be necessary for some interior designers.
In May 2011, bls.gov (2012) reported that the U.S. employed an estimated 40,950 interior designers (not including self-employed individuals). About 38 percent worked for specialized design services, while 21 percent worked in engineering, architectural, and related industries. Approximately 8 percent were employed by furniture stores.
What is the employment outlook for interior designers?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of interior designers is expected to increase by about 19 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020, a rate that is about as fast as the national average for all occupations. Demand for interior design services will come from consumers who wish to redesign their homes, as well as companies who wish or need to make their buildings more accessible or environmentally friendly. The number of interior design and remodeling projects is somewhat dependant on the economy; however, large public buildings and facilities like hotels, hospitals, and schools, often have long-term remodeling budgets that provide for periodic building redesigns. In addition, companies generally allocate money for building renovations and remodeling in order to maintain their company image. Interior designers at specialized design firms have a projected employment growth of 27 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020 (bls.gov, 2012).
States with the highest employment level for interior designers (based on bls.gov data from May 2011):
Hourly mean wage
Annual mean wage
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
What is the average interior designer salary nationally?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), the mean compensation for interior designers in 2011 was $52,810 per year, or $25.39 per hour. Salaries for interior designers may vary according to their specialization, level of experience, and/or number of reputable certifications.
Percentile wage estimates for interior designers (based off of bls.gov data from May 2011):
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
Top-paying states for interior designers (based off of bls.gov data from May 2011):
Hourly mean wage
Annual mean wage
Estimate not released.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
Careers that are related to interior design often involve combining functional design with artistic ability.
- Architects plan, design, and oversee the construction of buildings and other living/working spaces in order to ensure that they are safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing.
- Art Directors plan, direct, and oversee the styling of images and the layout designs for newspapers, magazines, online publications, merchandise packaging, and film/television productions.
- Craft and Fine Artists create works of art for exhibits and individual sales. They use various artistic media such as clay, paint, canvasses, and cloth to make pieces such as statues, paintings, and tapestries that are aesthetically pleasing, but not necessarily strictly functional.
- Fashion Designers design and create original styles of clothing, footwear, and accessories. They sketch designs and patterns, select materials, and oversee the creation of their designs.
- Industrial Designers create concepts and designs for manufactured products, including cars, consumer appliances, and complex toys. Their responsibilities require them to balance art with engineering and business in order to create products that are useful to people on a daily basis.
- Landscape Architects plan, design, and oversee the creation and/or renovation of areas of land such as recreational parks, airports, parking lots, highways, backyards, and other residential and commercial sites.
- Interior Decorators select and position the furnishings, upholstery, and decorations within a given space in order to achieve the client’s desired mood and/or aesthetic. Unlike interior designers, interior decorators typically do not work with the technical, functional, or structural aspects of a given space.
Sources and Additional Information:
"http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/interior-designers.htm" | U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Interior Designers
"http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271025.htm" | U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics
"http://www.nkba.org/learn/professionals/Certification/NKBACertifications.aspx" | National Kitchen and Bath Association: Certifications
"http://www.ncidq.org/" | National Council for Interior Design Qualification
"http://www.iida.org/" | International Interior Designers Association
"http://www.asid.org/" | American Society of Interior Designers
"http://www.interiordesignsociety.org/" | Interior Design Society
Kaitlin is a content writer and editor for CareerColleges.com and CityTownInfo.com. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English Literature, and aspires to be a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction. She enjoys tutoring students in writing and social dancing on the weekends.