How To Become An Interior Designer
Do you enjoy solving problems? Do you enjoy using technical know-how as well as creative and artistic flair? Are you a good communicator who can juggle lots of moving parts? If you answered yes, a career path in interior design might be for you.
You might have already recognized that you have a knack for design, and you might enjoy noticing design features all around you that other people pass by. Perhaps you’re excited by harmonious shapes and patterns, and you enjoy striking a balance in your own home furnishings and artistic elements. If this is the case, it’s very likely that you have already considered interior design as a career.
Interior designers work with clients to develop aesthetically pleasing and functional design solutions for homes and businesses. They combine an artistic vision with their practical skills to create a cohesive and balanced space that fulfills the wants and needs of their clients.
They often work with architects, builders, or even landscape architects to create cohesive designs across multiple spaces. They use technology to create models and plans of the space. Interior designers usually select and determine all the elements that define a space. This article explains more in-depth what interior designers do in their roles.
From paint swatches to blueprints and building codes, interior designers need to be able to manage a lot of details while maintaining a grasp on the big picture. If you are interested in learning more about how to become an interior designer, here are some key steps for creating your dream career and becoming an interior designer.
What is the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator?
First, it’s important to clear up a common misconception. You may have heard the titles of interior designer and interior decorator used interchangeably, but these jobs are not the same.
Interior designers generally need to complete formal training and have a strong knowledge base of functional design. They use this to work with architects and builders to make decisions about fixed elements of a space, including the physical dimensions, entrances and exits, window placement, and stairs. They need to be aware of building codes and inspection regulations, such as health and safety, fire exits and plans, and accessibility.
Interior decorators, on the other hand, work with the existing structural elements of a room and give it a makeover. They choose furniture, flooring, lighting, materials and furnishings, and decor for a room. Their role is much more an aesthetic one, and they work on making a space attractive and fashionable. Interior designers may also incorporate interior decorating, but they are also involved much earlier in the process in actually creating and designing the space itself to be both functional and spatially appealing.
3 Important skills for becoming an interior designer
Interior designers need a variety of skills to perform all the different tasks in their day to day jobs. Apart from the required creative and technical skills needed to work as an interior designer, consider developing the following skills as well.
1. Have an “eye” for design
You’ll often hear people referring to having an “eye” for design. These people intuitively know when a design doesn’t work and can identify jarring elements that throw off the balance. These people are often highly visual, and have a good visual memory for design details.
While this is often regarded as a skill you are born with, you can train your “eye” for design as well. Spend some time contemplating designs of places you find yourself in every day. They can provide valuable educational opportunities if you ask yourself the following questions:
- What works? What doesn’t?
- What would you change?
- Is this design effective and functional?
- How could it be improved?
- What kind of impression does it leave on you?
Flexing your “eye” muscles will help you develop your critical design sensibility and put you on par with people who have this skill naturally.
2. Be an exceptional communicator
Interior designers need to be comfortable working with and communicating with a huge variety of stakeholders. These might include the clients, who could be home or business owners, as well as building and construction contractors, architects, and service suppliers and providers. These people impact your own role as well as the project itself, so developing good working relationships is critical for every design project.
Understanding the client brief is crucial for successfully completing a project, so listening skills are also essential. Many interior designers use technology to develop 3D models and plans of a space to communicate their interpretation and vision to the client, and these skills can demonstrate your understanding of the client and what their space requires.
3. Being able to manage projects
Interior designers juggle a lot of moving parts on projects, and often work on multiple projects simultaneously. It’s important that they can organize all the small details required on each project as well as maintaining an understanding of the big picture and how all the puzzle pieces fit together. They also need to work within budgetary constraints, tight deadlines, and have a good understanding of building codes and regulations that need to be approved.
What qualifications do you need to study interior design?
Many interior designer roles require a degree level education such as a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. You might not need to complete a dedicated interior design degree if you studied something related like fashion design or arts and design at one of the many arts schools in the US.
Through attending interior design school, you’ll learn construction and building fundamentals, the history and theory of design, as well as communication and project management skills.
These specific programs also teach students the technology skills that they might need, including computer assisted design (CAD) software, which is imperative in planning interior design projects. There are many interior design schools located around the U.S that are accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation.
Short courses, or online interior design programs can also provide an introduction to interior design skills in a short time frame and for a smaller cost.
How do you become an accredited interior designer?
After you finish your formal education, you need to get accredited to work as an interior designer in the United States. The Council for Interior Design offers a variety of exams depending on if you’ve just finished your schooling, or if you already have some entry-level experience. The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification is the only nationally recognized assessment and is the official standard for designers in the United States and Canada.
Some states also require a state-wide license for working on commercial projects, and these need to be taken in addition to the NCIDQ examination. Having these qualifications reflects your commitment to learning and demonstrates your skills and knowledge to potential clients and employers.
What tools and software do interior designers use?
Interior designers should be able to read blueprints and understand how they reflect the final shape and size of a space. Manual drawing skills to reflect accurate interiors are great to have, though modern interior designers use computer aided design (CAD) to create both 2D and 3D models of their preliminary designs.
Using this technology, they can add textures, colours, and other design elements to make their vision come to life. This technology can be extremely useful in showing design plans to a client, as well as ensuring that the implementation of your plans reflects the final product.
Even more recently, some interior designers use augmented reality to actually allow clients and other stakeholders to experience a 3D space. By loading images into an CAD program, this provides an invaluable experience in actually testing out the constraints of a physical space before any construction or production begins.
How to land your first interior design job?
Landing your first job is a huge step in starting your interior design career. You may initially work for a firm in an entry-level position, or go straight into launching your freelance interior design business. You may also consider doing an internship or apprenticeship to better understand the requirements of your position before applying for full-time jobs. Even a small project for a relative or friend will help you gain experience for future roles.
Your first job or project will go a long way in helping you solidify all the training that you have completed and make your designs a reality. Working with experienced professionals will also kick off your networking in the industry, and provide you with mentors to help you advance your skills and knowledge and provide career advice. Working with established interior design firms will also help you keep up with current design trends, and gain exposure to new clients.
Make sure you develop good working relationships with everyone involved. Professional relationships and connections are extremely important in developing your career and will undoubtedly be useful to you if you decide to move into a new role or change companies. Having reliable contacts with building contractors, suppliers, and service providers will make your job a lot easier and help you complete projects on budget and meet deadlines.
How to build your portfolio?
Completing an internship or apprenticeship can give you a great opportunity to build an interior design portfolio. Having a portfolio is critical in getting an interview in a competitive job market and demonstrates your design aesthetic and skills.
Early in your career, you may include all of your previous projects in your portfolio, but as you get more experienced, you should only include your best work to really show off your skills. A great portfolio demonstrates your “eye” for design as well as its functionality and how you balance these in a space.
You can also include evidence of your design process by including your interpretation of client briefs in sketches, 2D or 3D models, mood boards, and of course, images of the completed design project.
Make sure that the projects included in your portfolio showcase your skills in different aspects of interior design, including a consideration for accessible or sustainable design, different types of buildings such as residential or commercial, and different design styles, like minimalist or industrial design. Testimonials from previous clients is a great way to highlight your achievements and what clients thought of your work. Creating both a physical and online portfolio means that you can share it easily and immediately with any potential clients.
Consider working in a niche market
There are many niche specializations which can help you focus on and master specific aspects of interior design. A niche might focus on the types of spaces you work in, such as residential homes, corporate offices, healthcare locations, or particular industries like commercial restaurants. You can even narrow this down further and focus on one particular area of a building or home to specialize in, such as kitchen and bathroom design, or lighting design.
You might specialize in applying principles of design to the spaces that you create, like universal design. Universal designs refers to the accessibility of spaces for all people, regardless of their age, mobility, or special needs.
You may focus on sustainable design to try and reduce the environmental impact of new buildings. Many organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council offer certification and formal training in green design and this can show clients your commitment and experience in designing sustainable spaces.
Working in a niche market will hone not only your skills in that particular area, but help you develop an intimate understanding of the clientele in specific design fields. Building your expertise and marketing yourself as an expert will help you stand out from the crowd and highlight your specialist skills.
Interior Design Online Certification
Does all that make you dream of starting your career in interior design? Or maybe you want to start slow and improve your own home?
Our Interior Design Online Certificate Course teaches you everything you need to know to get started on your interior design career. You’ll learn about space, balance, texture, and scale, and how to use design elements to enhance interior spaces. This course will teach you the fundamentals of interior design and help you develop skills and confidence to create attractive and functional spaces.
Great interior design can create spaces that are not only functional and visually appealing, but that can inspire, enrich, and invigorate people’s lives.