If you reached this site because you are interested in pursuing a career in interior design in the United States (or Canada- to an extent) please know this;
- This site is not funded or financed by anyone. I am not here to promote any particular interior design degree/certificate program or interior design organization (do you see any ads?). I am here to help you make informed decisions without any judgement.
- I am an NCIDQ Certified Interior Design profession with 25 years of commercial and residential design experience. I have also been teaching interior design for the past 14 years at a highly regarded 4 year interior design program.
- Interior design is a broad and somewhat ill-defined occupation. It can be confusing and if you make the wrong decision in your journey…it can also be very expensive.
- This blog post is focused on getting to the point. The internet is getting clogged up with a lot of information. I want to help you cut through it. Even sites such as the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics, while helpful, can be overwhelming at this stage of your journey.
- I will provide links to trusted sources so you can explore your options a bit deeper but know you should be on the right path. Okay ready?
Q- WHAT TYPE OF INTERIOR SPACE DO YOU WANT TO DESIGN?
A) I want to design people’s homes. I love to watch home make-over shows and videos. I prefer the more artistic aspect of design and do not want to deal with a lot of technical, or complex, problems. While I am confident in my innate sense of creativity I also know that some specialization, such as kitchen and bath design, does require some advanced training.
B) I want to design restaurants, nightclubs, high-end retail, and hotels. I like the ultra creative aspect of glamorous entertainment or shopping spaces but I do not want to get too technical or bogged down with the details. I do not want to design people’s homes….too much drama for me.
C) I want to design a variety of commercial interior spaces including hotels, retail, healthcare and offices. I am interested in Architecture and want to help design the interior spaces of larger buildings. I like technical challenges, working in teams, and find solving complex problems rewarding.
D) I want to design residential and commercial interior spaces that are creative and also help the client live a better quality of life. I want to make a difference for people of all ages and social levels. I enjoy working in dynamic and challenging environments with other like-minded professionals.
If you fall on the fence between the above options that is fine. Read the details and that should help you focus on one path.
If you answered ‘A’
Okay your options are actually pretty wide open here. You wish to pursue a career in interior design that utilizes your innate creative skills but does not require knowledge of building structures (math…yuk!), codes, standards or regulations. You are more interested in furnishings and colors than wall framing or floor joists. More commonly known as interior decoration there is a lot of cross-over into interior design. At a minimum you will need a baseline knowledge of floor plans, construction and materials. Obviously the more you know in this regard the more valuable your skill-set becomes. You may not need to know any advanced computer design programs but, as with any profession, a general knowledge of basic office programs is essential. Again the more you can offer a prospective employer in the area of technical skills the broader your options. Ultimately this aspect of interior design requires no formal design education but if you wish to pursue advanced education or certification to elevate your opportunities in this rather competitive aspect of interior design here are several legitimate organizations that can provide much more detail for your consideration.
The National Kitchen & Bath Association
Certified Interior Decorators International
The Home Furnishings Association
A note of caution here. Since this is the lest restrictive aspect of interior design there is a lot of misleading info on the internet in this regard. Buyer beware.
If you answered ‘B’
If you wish to pursue a design career that deals with public commercial spaces such as restaurants, hotels or chic retail stores you have two sub-options to consider.
- I prefer to be involved with the furnishings and color choices for these spaces and not so much the details or technical aspects. OR……..
- I would like to be involved in the planning and construction of these types of spaces. I am technically inclined and understand that there are many codes, regulations and standards that must be dealt with.
If #1 above describes you then your choice aligns with career path ‘A’ above. It is possible to find a rewarding career decorating and furnishing these types of commercial spaces without any advanced education or certification. But your involvement will be limited to those aspects of the project that do not involve building codes which are typically performed by other licensed or registered design professionals. Again if you do pursue some advanced education or certification, or demonstrate an affinity for technical skills your options will be greater. See the links under path ‘A’ above for more detail.
If you answered #2 above then you are beginning to head down career path ‘C’ described below. In order to practice in any form of commercial architecture or interior design, which must abide by building codes and life safety standards, you will typically need an advanced/accredited education. Most likely you will also need to validate your baseline knowledge and competency to work in these regulated environments by earning your NCIDQ Examination certificate. See the links under path ‘C’ below for more details but there is one professional membership organization that will have good information for those who may straddle the professional fence between residential/unregulated design and commercial/code regulated interior design;
American Society of Interior Designers
If you answered ‘C’
Interior designers that practice in commercial spaces that are typically regulated by building codes (does it need a building permit?), life safety regulations, accessibility requirements, and other contractual obligations will need an advanced education, monitored apprenticeship, and a certification via examination. While innate talent is helpful one must also be able to work on complex problems in a team environment that is driven by time sensitive deadlines. If this is not your ideal environment then consider career path ‘A’ or ‘B’ above. One can expect to invest at least 6 years in order to practice at this level of the profession. Here are some important links to review and consider;
The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (accrediting body for interior design college degree programs) I am not in the business of ranking ID programs- you are on your own there.
The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (oversees work experience programs and administers the accepted industry standard examination)
The following professional membership organizations also have good “how to become” interior designer information;
International Interior Design Association (commercial interior design focus)
American Society of Interior Designers (residential and commercial interior design members)
Canadians wishing to pursue a career in code regulated interior design here you go;
If you answered ‘D’
Congratulations! You are here for the right reasons. I commend you. That said your career path options are a bit more open. I am going to show my bias here but if you truly want to help people lead better lives or livelihoods, apart from a career in medicine, I am not sure of a better option. In order to achieve some level of influence in this regard you will want to practice at a level that it is overseen by federal, state and local regulations. An awareness of various public policies and socio-economic trends will be helpful. Research, information gathering and problem seeking skills play an increasingly important role. Hence an accredited education will be important to have any influence. If these topics scare you do not get discouraged. Again your objective is noble and the profession needs you. With that you should explore career paths as described by the links under career path ‘C’ above. In addition you should explore the following human health, and design for social justice links;
Well Buildings (oversees programs promoting building design that promotes human health and wellbeing)
Institute for Human Centered Design
So there you have it. I hope this has been of some help to someone.
If you are still confused or uncertain please let feel free to ask me a question.
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