** Disclaimer: This article has been written because I receive about 3-4 questions a day asking how to get into this business and what steps should be taken. Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of time to answer each person individually. This article was written to hopefully answer your questions. If you are wondering about schools, contact Council for Interior Design Accreditation. Please understand there is a difference between an interior decorator and an interior designer. I do not claim to have sat for the NCIDQ exam but I am an interior designer by rights of my formal education, post graduate education and my 30+ years of experience. If you would like further information about the licensing of professional interior designers please contact NCIDQ. Other than that, this article gives you an idea of the ins and outs of working as an interior designer. I DO NOT answer emails regarding getting into this business nor about schools. Good luck in your search! Thank you!
When I was 13 years old in my 9th grade English class, we were assigned a theme: What I Want To Be When I Grow Up. From early on in life, all that I ever imagined I would be was an interior designer. So, that theme was easy for me. I began doing research on where I should go to school, what I should study and how much money I would make.
I can say now that I made some really large mistakes in selecting my school, choosing the wrong internships and associating myself with the wrong companies. But I have learned, picked myself up and am a better person and designer as a result of it.
I get letters everyday from students who are interested in interior design as a profession. They ask me the same questions that I asked for my theme project. From my experiences with bad choices, my knowledge as a business owner and a life long student of interior design, I have pulled together some ideas to help up and coming interior design students so they won’t make the same mistakes I did. I hope you find them entertaining and informative.
What Is Interior Design All About Anyway?
Interior design is a widely misunderstood profession. People get the romantic notion this business is all about picking out colors, working with lush beautiful fabrics, and being creative all the live long day. That isn’t so. It is about making the sale, organizing the details and making sure EVERYTHING is perfect for Mrs. Smith’s installation on Friday. It’s about negotiating with installer’s, paying furniture manufacturer’s, keeping accurate billing records, ensuring you have met codes for your local municipalities, getting more of that fabric you ran out of, making sure the wall paper hanger is in the room when he needs to be, and making all of it seem effortless and stress free.
If I had known that design was so much business and so little creativity, I possibly would have never allowed the thought to enter my mind. But it did and now I am addicted.
Interior design does have some major advantages, however. There is a very small “community” that is created amongst designers within a city or region. You get to interact with a wide variety of individuals and you do get to spend time surrounded by innovative, creative people with drive, passion and brilliance for what they do. Design allows the creative genius in you freedom to play and be.
Interior design is a profession with a vast array of advancement. You may begin as a junior designer, assistant or specifier and soon become a senior designer, project manager, or partner in a firm. Where ever your mind can go, so too can you move!
It is my belief that with the ever growing economy interior design and a need for it grows. People are becoming busier and busier these days and they don’t have time to decorate and create environments that represent who they are, they rely on professionals, interior designers. As long as there are homes, offices, restaurants, malls, stores, etc., there will be a need for interior designers.
Interior Design School and Classes to Study
The field of interior design is an ever changing field. Years ago there were no programs for interior design in universities or colleges. Slowly they started to appear. Today, we have an entire accreditation process that certifies a program will teach certain principles and practices at a very high standard. This organization is called FIDER.
Interior designers are now licensed to practice, much like a doctor or architect. In order to even sit for the licensing test through NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification), you must have a combination of six years of work experience, two years of schooling plus four years of work experience, or four years in a FIDER accredited university or college plus two years of work experience. Licensing helps to create responsible, educated designers.
At minimum, I suggest you seek a university or college that is FIDER accredited and work towards a bachelor’s degree. In commercial work, a bachelor’s degree is a minimum. You may decide to further your education with a master’s degree or a doctorate.
Some of the classes that would help you to become a better student and a better designer are things like AutoCAD by AutoDesk, computer aided drafting. If you have some experience and knowledge of this software program, you will begin your career at a higher pay rate. They are in high demand today and it would behoove you to have this experience.
As odd as it sounds, you should take as many business classes and any and every course on selling/marketing as you can. Interior design is about 90% networking, marketing, selling, knowing the right people and this little thing they call hutzbaugh (probably spelled incorrectly!), 7% paperwork and 3% design. Even odder, take theatre classes. When you are making a sales pitch, you have to be confident and in control. Theatre will give you some skills to use in these situations. Take art and drawing classes. If you can sketch an idea you have to show a client, you will most likely win the project every time. Take art, furniture and antique history classes too. They all come in to play every day in the design industry.
In school, the classes are more intense and time consuming. Not only do you have all the reading and tests as every other class but you have very large projects as well. It isn’t a program for someone who wants an easy major. Lots of blood (I could show you my sliced thumb), sweat…., and tears (see the section on passion and vision) goes into making a good designer!
Specialty Fields Within Interior Design
There are so many different fields to enter in the design profession. You could be a residential interior designer serving home owners or you could practice commercial interior design. Within commercial design you could work on offices, restaurants, banks, malls, hotels, and on and on. Within each of those specialties, you could be a project manager heading up the entire project or a draftsperson or a specifier of products. You could be a sales representative for a number of different products. You could own or operate a drapery workroom or fabric warehouse, a design firm, be a partner in a firm, a painter, wall paper hanger, carpet layer….. the sky is the limit!
After School, Then What?
Internships! Good internships. That is the way to get into the business, work for free for other companies to get experience and real world knowledge. If you are good, they will most likely hire you after your internship is over. Do whatever you can for good respectable design companies. This is your foot in the door.
While there however, remember that this business is a small close knit business. Everyone knows everyone. Be professional at all times and NEVER speak badly about anyone because it will come back to haunt you.
I write this section with painful experience on two counts. I did not serve well in my internships, or with good companies and I did not watch my tongue once. It was a bad thing but I learned my lesson. Don’t make the same mistakes.
Salary range as with most professions is pretty broad. You may begin as a junior level assistant at the mid $30′s and proceed to be a partner in the $200,000′s+. If you specialize in an area, your income potential greatly increases. It is unfortunately too broad to pin point.
Before Deciding on Interior Design, Having Vision & Passion, & Knowing If You Have What It Takes
When I was a junior in college, I got my first really big project. I worked and worked at it, day and night for weeks. It was the night before the project was due and I was in the school studio at 11:30 PM, I had about 4 hours of work still left to finish. As I was leaving, I stopped to look at some senior level projects. They were insanely massive. I panicked! How could I ever do THAT when I was having trouble with this little (in comparison) junior level project? I went home crying and called my parents. I told them I was dropping out of school, I didn’t think I could cut it. They calmed me down, helped to show me that I would build myself to the big project and convinced me to stay in school. When I finally got to that senior level project, it was a breeze and I was so proud of myself for sticking it out. I not only finished my bachelor’s degree, but with honors!!!
If it hadn’t been for that night in the studio, I probably wouldn’t be writing to you today. It taught me to see beyond the moment and to learn something new everyday. It helped to instilled my complete love of interior design.
Before you get into this profession you should seriously consider if you have what it takes. There are long hours and lots of things you have to do that you may not want to do but if you have a genuine passion and lust for interior design, it will make it all worth while and you will be happy and successful.
You should start your career with a very specific vision. If you don’t know where you are going, you are never gonna get there. I borrowed that BUT it still applies. Know what you want, follow your heart, and make sound decisions, if they don’t work, try something else and you will succeed!!
The Next Step
Because of the large numbers of questions I get regarding becoming an interior designer and studying interior design, I created a website dedicated to the profession and I hope it answers your questions. You can locate it here: Become an Interior Designer.