What Interior Designers Do
Interior designers help make the inside of structures comfortable, functional, and aesthetically-pleasing. They often work alongside engineers and architects as spaces are being built or remodeled in order to provide insights on things like how light will flow into a space or how a room is likely to be used, though they’re most often called upon to design or redesign an interior after construction is complete.
Unlike interior decorators, who are not generally required to have any degrees or certifications, designers have to understand laws, local codes, accessibility, structural integrity, and more, so a growing number of jurisdictions insist on formal schooling and accreditation.
Naturally, interior designers also have a keen eye for how to make a space look appealing, and work extensively with colors, textures, furniture, and accessories to create a specific type of atmosphere or enhance how people make use of a space. They may work independently or for a firm, and generally specialize in one sector, such as private homes, schools, medical buildings, or hospitality.
Who would enjoy a career in Interior Design?
Naturally creative and artistic people are drawn to the profession. It’s helpful to be detail-oriented and be able to visualize concepts in advance as well. In addition to this, interior designers have to have excellent interpersonal skills and be good at problem-solving, as they’re generally tasked with creating an image a client has created in his or her mind.
Some sketching ability can also be beneficial, though most designs are now drawn with the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software, so basic computer skills are a must. Lastly, those hoping to branch out independently must have additional business management and leadership skills.
Who mightn't like the career?
Very few people get rich as interior designers like the ones seen on TV, so it’s not a good career for someone who has hopes of living a lavish lifestyle. It does, however, typically provide a comfortable life, but this is only after a skilled interior designer has built up a portfolio of successful work.
Clients, particularly those hiring interior designers for help with their homes, can also sometimes be difficult to work with given beauty can be within the eye of the beholder. Good communication and project management skills can help avoid conflicts in advance. Lastly, people who have great visions of things they want to create are sometimes left unsatisfied, as their job is to bring the client’s visions to life, which doesn’t always allow for the artistic freedom one seeks.
Regulations are changing all the time in regard to the legal requirements an interior designer must fulfill, so it’s advisable to check the laws in your region. For example, the UK has no national guidelines at present, while Canada does. In Australia and the United States, licensing requirements are determined at a state level. Candidates in North America (Canada and many of the American states that require licensing) must attend an accredited school, obtain at least an associate’s degree, and become certified by the Council for Interior Design Qualification. This is a six-year process that concludes with taking the NCIDQ exam.
- Associates, Bachelors, or Masters in Interior Design
- Bachelors or Masters in Architecture
- Bachelors or Masters in Any Field
- Council for Interior Design Qualification (United States and Canada)
Breaking into the field, even in areas without qualification exam requirements, is all but impossible without some type of formal schooling related to interior design. People serious about getting into the field should also consider working as an intern or may need to accept lower positions until their portfolio is built up enough to command attention from direct clients or a leading firm.
- Architect v building designer v interior designer: learning to navigate Australia’s design landscape
- Interior Designer Interview Questions (Glassdoor)
- So you want to work in interior design (Guardian Article)
Moving into Interior Design from another career
Depending on one’s jurisdiction, transitioning into an interior design career can be as simple as applying for jobs. In areas where the NCIDQ exam is required, any bachelor’s degree qualifies a candidate to begin the certification process. This makes it relatively simple for people to transition from any background, provided they have the skills required. (See: How I landed the job: From corporate America to interior design for further reading) However, some careers transition better than others.
Intern/ Entry-Level Interior Designer
Role: Most people who become interior designers will likely work for small firms or independently. In these cases, there will not be any type of linear career progression. A career starts and ends with the title “interior designer.” However, those who hope to work for larger firms will often be able to start in an entry-level or internship position. For example, the large design firm Gensler offers both. The company welcomes summer interns who are still in school as well as individuals with various backgrounds and completed degrees into their Design Strategist Development (DSD) program.
Both programs are developed with immersion in mind, so the newcomer learns as much as possible about every phase of the design process within their allotted time. While summer interns get just a couple months, those in the DSD program get 24 months of fast-paced on-the-job experience.
Role: Interior designers in larger firms typically work in one sector, be it hospitality, medical, general commercial, residential, or another area. They meet with clients to discuss their expectations, draw our sketches or use computers for mockups, create estimates, procure supplies, and present plans or pitch ideas.
Role: In smaller firms, the interior designer will also do the work of a manager, but larger companies split out the tasks into designer and manager/ director roles. Interior design directors will review the specs created by the designers, create timelines or verify the designer’s timeline is accurate, hire architects and other professionals to complete complex aspects of a project, and make sure the project is completed on time and within budget. Directors are also responsible for managing the team, including training, and are sometimes expected to handle hiring as well.
Most large firms work from business hubs and may have their designers travel throughout the region. However, there is a growing trend for designers to do more virtual work, and licensing requirements will likely reduce the amount of time people coming into the field will spend in transit.
Entry-Level: According to data from PayScale, those beginning their careers have salaries of approximately USD $41,400 in the United States, £23,500 in the United Kingdom, CAD$42,320 in Canada, and AU$49,920 in Australia.
Mid-Career: USD$51,060, £30,000, CAD$50,600, AU$60,840.
Experienced: USD$57,040, £34,000, CAD$57,960, AU$69,160.
Director: USD$98,000, £55,000, CAD$109,000, AU$96,317.
Profit sharing, bonuses, and commissions are often added on top of an interior designer’s salary. These may increase the total take-home pay by as much as one-third.
Why Interior Designers move on
Job stress for interior designers, particularly managing difficult clients and working with tight deadlines, can cause some to leave the field. Others find the industry to be “feast or famine”, meaning work can be unpredictable at times, and need more stability. It can also be challenging to find work outside of major metropolitan areas, so those who don’t already live in a major hub may look for alternate employment, rather than relocating.