Interior designers make our work and living spaces safe, functional, and beautiful.
They are responsible for reading, drawing, and editing blueprints, while also taking into account local codes and regulations.
If you’re a creative person who’s also passionate about geometry and architecture, a career as an interior designer can be a good choice.
This page will provide you with information about this profession and the path towards a career as an interior designer.
What Does an Interior Designer Do?
Interior designers work closely with architects and engineers to determine the optimal way of decorating a space so that it looks well while also being safe and functional.
Their job description includes:
- searching for new projects and submitting their bids
- discussing with the clients to determine their design preferences and how the space will be used
- making sketches of preliminary design plans
- specifying the materials and furnishings that will be used for the space
- calculating a project cost and creating a timeline to ensure the project is finished on time while staying on budget
- overseeing the construction phase and coordinating with contractors to implement the specifications of each project
- visiting the site after the project is complete to ensure everything works and looks good and the client is satisfied
Nowadays, most interior designers use computer-aided software to create many of their drawings.
They often use building information modeling software to create 3D visualizations of what the spaces will look like.
Interior designers usually work in offices, but they also have to travel to clients’ locations to see the spaces and discuss the details.
They may have to be available to meet clients during weekends or evenings.
After gaining a few years of experience, some interior designers specialize in a subfield of this profession.
For example, corporate designers are the ones who create workplaces in small offices or large office buildings, while healthcare designers create spaces in healthcare centers, clinics, hospitals, or physician’s offices.
Sustainable designers are the ones who try to find design options that improve the water and energy efficiency of a space.
Certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is offered by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Some interior designers specialize in kitchen or bathroom designs.
Universal designers are the ones who make spaces more accessible for elderly people or people with special needs.
What Skills Do I Need for a Career in this Field?
To be successful as an interior designer, you will need to complete specialized post-secondary education and have some personal skills:
- Artistic ability and a good sense of style will help you develop beautiful designs.
- Creativity is important when trying to come up with imaginative ways of using furnishings and fabrics.
- Interpersonal skills are very important when working with clients directly to understand the client’s preferences and needs, but also to negotiate, and explain the design approach.
- Interior designers are usually detail-oriented persons because they need to closely evaluate interior spaces and create drawings that will be understood and used by workers.
- Problem-solving skills are important when trying to find ingenious ways of using space and when looking for solutions to practical problems.
- The ability to visualize the space is also a job requirement.
- Computer skills are needed since most interior designers use computer software to design and create tri-dimensional renderings of their designs.
- A willingness to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and design software is also useful.
Interior Design Education
Not all states require interior designers to hold a post-secondary degree, but many workers in this profession have at least a bachelor’s degree.
If you want to start a career in this profession, a bachelor’s degree with courses in interior design, drawing, and computer-aided design can help you get started.
A bachelor’s in fine arts is a common option among those who want to start a career in interior design.
Specialized interior design programs are also available at Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degree levels.
As part of the admission process, applicants may be required to submit a portfolio that showcases their artistic abilities.
Most interior design post-secondary programs offer classes in:
- Sketch drawings
- 3D modeling
- Computer-aided design software
- Building materials
- Construction practices
- And other useful skills.
The curriculum varies depending on the school and the type of program.
As an interior designer, you also need to build an impressive portfolio, and many college programs focus on helping students create their first portfolio projects.
The duration of the post-secondary training ranges from two years (for those who apply for an Associate Degree) and four years (for those who enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree program).
Shorter Certificate or Diploma programs with flexible schedules are also available at some trade schools, and these usually are between a few months and one year long.
Some schools offer hybrid programs that combine in-studio work with home study.
After earning a Bachelor’s Degree, some students enroll in a Master’s degree or Doctorate in interior design.
Master’s Degree programs are usually two years long and can be helpful for those who want to assume a leadership position in their company or even start their own interior design business.
Ph.D. programs usually last between two and three years and are designed mostly for interior designers who want to assume teaching, research, or consulting positions.
Licensing Requirements for Interior Designers
Not all states require interior designers to be licensed, but there are also places where a state credential is needed.
Some states regulate only the interior designer title, while others allow both licensed and unlicensed designers to call themselves interior designers.
In states that restrict the interior designer title, candidates have to pass a state-approved exam to become registered interior designers.
To be eligible to sit for this exam, applicants are required to:
- have at least a Bachelor’s degree in interior design
- have at least two years of full-time work experience.
Additional requirements apply in some states.
In Florida, for example, you must complete a four-year interior design degree program accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation before sitting for the state licensing exam.
Most states that have a licensure condition require candidates to sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam.
California requires applicants to take the exam administered by the California Council for Interior Design Certification.
After gaining a few years of experience, interior designers can choose to specialize in one subfield, such as environmental design or corporate design by applying for voluntary certification.
Finding Your First Clients
The best way to find your first clients is by building a strong portfolio.
This means that you will have to take high-quality photographs of your completed work and promote your designs on your website or through social media.
You should also include some sketches and computer designs in your portfolio to show how the project has evolved from its early stages to the completed work.
Finding work without a portfolio is not easy, but your first project can be pro-bono design work for your family or friends.
Most post-secondary programs will help you build a portfolio.
Some programs also include internships that allow students to participate in real projects and gain hands-on experience.
Interior Designer Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage reported by interior designers in the United States was $57,060 as of May 2020.
The median wage tells us that half of all workers in this profession earned less than this amount while half earned more.
The lowest 10 percent made less than $33,020, while the top 10 percent made more than $97,920.
As an entry-level worker, your salary will be closer to the minimum of this range, but it will increase as you earn experience and build a strong portfolio.
Experienced interior designers sometimes choose to start a business.
Being self-employed gives interior designers a higher degree of independence and the opportunity of earning more.
On the other hand, it also involves additional responsibilities and requires management and marketing skills.
Interior Designer Salary by State
The region of employment is another important factor in determining how much an interior designer makes each year.
According to the BLS report, the top-paying state for interior designers in 2020 was Arkansas, where workers in this profession reportedly made $73,840 per year on average.
Other states where the median annual wage for this profession was above the $70,000 threshold are the District of Columbia, New York, and California.
On the other hand, interior designers in Mississippi, Wyoming, North Dakota, Indiana, South Carolina, and Oklahoma earned less than $50,000 per year, on average.
If you want to relocate to a region where this profession is better remunerated, you should first check the interior design licensing requirements applicable in that state.
Interior Designer Salary by Industry of Employment
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, interior designers held approximately 87,000 jobs in the United States in 2020, many of them (32 percent) being self-employed.
Interior designers also held jobs with companies that offer specialized design services or architecture companies.
The median annual wage reported by interior designers who work for companies that provide specialized design services was $59,840-higher than the median across all industries.
Interior designers who worked for companies that provide architectural, engineering, and related services reportedly made $68,000 per year on average.
The highest-paying field for interior designers was the Federal Executive Branch, where this profession was remunerated with $85,300 per year on average.
The industry of management of companies and enterprises is the second-higher paying field for interior designers- with the median annual salary calculated at $71,310.
Self-employed interior designers have more financial freedom.
Their earnings fluctuate depending on the time of the year, the local economy, and how many projects they complete.
If you have a strong portfolio, experience, and good marketing skills you can make a good living as a self-employed interior designer.
But being self-employed also implies additional responsibilities, and you may face slow periods with no projects available.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for interior designers is expected to show little or no change from 2020 to 2030.
The same report estimates that approximately 7,800 openings will occur each year over the decade.
Interior designers will continue to be needed to renovate existing homes and commercial spaces.
However, although interior designers don’t work in the construction industry, their profession is directly linked to the number of new buildings that are built in a specific region and this can lead to periods of unemployment.
If you’re passionate about art, design, and architecture, and you have a good eye for details, a career as an interior designer can be a right fit for you.
This profession has its challenges, and especially as a beginner, it may be difficult to find your first clients, but if you’re persistent and willing to put in the work, your passion and skills can lead to a rewarding career.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does It Take to Become an Interior Designer?
This profession can be learned through post-secondary training programs that can last between two and four years.
Shorter Certificate or Diploma programs with flexible schedules are also available at some trade schools and these usually are between a few months and a few years long.
Some states require a license before being allowed to use the Interior Designer title.
How Much Does an Interior Designer Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, interior designers in the United States earned approximately $57,000 per year as of May 2020, but salaries vary widely depending on experience level, education, region of employment, and a variety of other factors.
Most interior designers earn wages that range from $30,000-$90,000 but those who have impressive portfolios and many years of experience can earn six-figure salaries.
Will Interior Designers Continue to Be Needed in the Future?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for interior designers is expected to show little or no change over the 2020-2030 decade but new job openings will occur each year from the need to replace workers who retire or switch professions.
The demand for interior designers is closely related to the number of construction projects completed in a specific region and the number of available projects may fluctuate depending on the season and local economy.
Do I Need a License to Practice This Profession?
Some states require interior designers to hold a license, but requirements vary.
In those states where a license is required, prospective interior designers have to take a licensure exam approved in that state.
To qualify for the licensing exam, applicants need to be over 18 years of age, and, depending on the state, they may also need some work experience.
Some states require the completion of a four-year interior design degree program before taking the licensure exam.
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