Interior Designer

A Detailed Guide on How to Become an Interior Designer

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Are you interested in interior styles and the latest trends and would like to become an interior designer but don't know how to go about it? If your answer is yes, whether you practice it as a hobby or you barely know, you will benefit from this read.

Interior designers work on space planning, architecture, and interior space and create aesthetically pleasing designs for home and business interiors for different clients. Interior designers usually specialize in a particular area according to their interests. It can be home design, commercial interiors, corporate offices, or environmental designs that impact the human experience.

There is no specific approach to becoming an interior designer, but below, we have listed a few steps on how to become an interior designer.

1. Educate your Eye

Whether you are getting into design school or trying interior design as a hobby, you need to sharpen your eye to designs everywhere. You can achieve this by being keen on your surroundings paying attention to everything around you, like graphic design and architecture, because everything has an emotion and a meaning. Some areas you can visit to educate your eye and get inspiration include museums, furniture galleries, clothing shops, bookstores, and vintage markets.

Such sites and places help you be aware of what kinds of designs you are naturally attracted to, and they can be futuristic, bold, playful, classic, or muted.

2. Study Interior Design

To practice professionally, most firms require their interior designers to have some formal education, whether it's a Bachelor's degree, an Associate's degree, or up to master's degree levels, depending on the job description. However, some fields, like design or architecture, especially from an official interior design program accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), are preferred. If you cant qualify for the program at the moment, don't get discouraged because you can combine your Bachelor's Degree with a skill or design-related coursework. Some of these programs include computer-aided design, art, design, art, or color theory to boost your designer experience level and add your interior designer skills.

3. Get Formal Training

Formal training will be an essential step in building your career opportunities and jumpstarting your portfolio after graduating with a degree. You can get some formal training at interior design firms by working design jobs as internships, entry-level, or apprenticeships. Interior designers need formal training for around two years minimum before designers can venture independently or officially take off their interior designer career.

4. Get Licensed

You can be qualified to take the NCIDQ after two years of schooling, which is an official standard in some US and Canada areas. NCIDQ certification helps show clients and employers that you are qualified in your profession. Therefore the certification can be a great start in starting your interior design career.

5. Find Interior Design Work

Once the National Council licenses you, you can pursue any work you want in the interior design industry. You can find design work either by offering your interior design solutions, starting a small interior design business and offer design services, or finding an established interior design firm to employ you.

What does an Interior Designer Do?

Interior designers perform various tasks every day because creating a beautiful space for any client is a critical process that may take months of creative thinking, planning, and a lot of hard work. Their primary responsibilities include but not limited to:

  • Coming up with a project timeline
  • Sourcing new projects and clients
  • Sourcing for fixtures, furnishings, and fittings
  • Evaluating and respecting the clients' requirements all through the project
  • Preparing sketches, brief, and quotes per the job specifications
  • Regular site visits and going to client meetings.
  • Preparing detailed drawings from the initial sketches, which you can do on a computer

The different niches that interior designers may focus on include:

  • Commercial interior designers can work in spaces like restaurants, hotels or offices and healthcare facilities, and government buildings.
  • Residential interior designers can find jobs in bathroom design, kitchen design, or accessibility design.
  • Restoration interior designers specialize in working with historic spaces such as museums or historic homes, and they require special knowledge to maintain any historical building design elements.

Skills and Qualifications Interior Designers Need

Aside from attending an interior design school for formal education, there are a few skills and qualifications you can secure to advance your career path and boost your experience. The skill sets include:

i. Experience and Licensing

In most countries like the US, after designers are done with the degree level or something equivalent to degree programs, interior designers need to pass an interior design certification to start working. Once you are eligible, you can take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam. This exam is meant to test your knowledge of information like inspection regulations, professional practice, building codes, design applications, color schemes, building permits, accessibility standards, and project coordination.

ii. Computer-Aided Design Skills

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programs are the software design programs professional interior designers use to finalize their design plans to complete the interior design project. These programs are used in the interior design process to actualize the drawings and sketches. Any aspiring interior designer should have a good understanding of these interior design programs to complete any design project in their path effectively.

iii. Project Management Skills

Since interior designers are in charge of projects from when they start to their end, they need project management and communication skills to complete the clients' jobs. Some of the ways these skills can help are educating you on communicating with building contractors, vendors, or clients, hitting deadlines, and, as the name of the skill, ensuring the project stays organized. These skills ensure interior designers are quick problem solvers who efficiently work with a client to their satisfaction.

iv. Short Specialist Courses

Doing and enlisting plenty of short courses and workshops in your portfolio helps you build skills like technical drawing, CAD, or Photoshop and overall boost your job prospects.

What is an Average Interior Salary?

How much salary an interior designer earns depends on their experience level, where junior and entry-level interior designers earn on the lower end, and head interior designers earn much more. Additionally, head designers set their hourly rates according to their experience and what the designers can deliver location and the type of design they practice. The interior designers' job outlook has been estimated to have a 5% growth rate just as other occupations.

Is there a Difference Between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator?

These two terms are often used to mean one thing, yet they are different jobs with some similarities. Both an interior designer and an interior decorator work to beautify spaces. However, their jobs are also different since an interior decorator's work makes existing spaces beautiful using home decor like vases, rugs, and furniture. On the other hand, interior designers work with interior decorators and design the space itself, considering building codes, space requirements, accessibility, and fire safety.

How Do You Build Up a Portfolio as a New Interior Designer?

An interior design portfolio is an essential part of designers' work because it showcases their style and skills making a client or an employer have an idea of their interest and vision. Business cards can work, but portfolios make you look more professional in the interior design world. 

Building your own website will help you attract clients as well. There are resources online that can provide you with excellent content, including stock image websites. But, remember, as a designer, if you’re going to discourage sports posters and the run-of-the-mill car picture in someone else’s living room, make sure that you don’t end up with something similar in one of your own rooms. You have to show your potential clients that you also have taste, after all.

For beginners with little to no experience and are looking to build their portfolio, they should design their own home and family members for free. The free projects give you space to bring get your creative juices flowing and also build your portfolio at the same time. To make your portfolio unique:

  • Choose catchy images that have the potential of blowing people's minds away.
  • Write a case study on top of posting images that gives you a chance to explain the design process.
  • Design a great logo for your interior design portfolio to ensure it stands out

What are Some of the Best Interior Design Schools?

There are many interior design schools, but some of the best interior design schools include:

  • Savannah College of Art and Design
  • New York School of Interior Design
  • Parsons School of Design
  • Pratt Institute
  • Cornell University
  • Rhode Island School of Design
  • Drexel University
  • George Washington University

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do interior designers get paid well?

Like in any job, interior design pays according to different things, including education, years of experience, certifications, and the kind of unique talent you bring to the table. However, you shouldn't pursue interior design or any other career in general because it pays well but follow your passion for enjoying your work every day.

2. Does interior design require math?

Math is essential, especially when dealing with interior architecture because it requires technical knowledge, which you will get by studying maths. However, if you are interested in designing design, the math may not be necessary, but better safe than sorry.

3. Why is Building Information Modeling good for designers?

BIM software helps designers create, visualize, and modify digital models of potential building designs, which can be represented with a lot of details or minor details to show the building's systems and components.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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