What’s the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Interior Designer?

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When you decide to major in art and design, you’re not just following a passion. You are preparing yourself for a fulfilling and financially rewarding career. It allows you to put your creativity to work every day. One related career is that of an interior designer. Interior designers plan and select the décor of spaces in:

  • homes
  • public places
  • commercial buildings.

They work to make the  spaces to make them:

  • safe
  • functional
  • aesthetically appealing

With the proper education, you can launch a career in interior design right after graduation. To help get you started on your career path, you must first earn an interior designer degree.

Education for Interior Designers

Interior designer schooling is essential to the career. In this profession, you need to be able to create sketches by hand and develop plans with the help of computers. But the abilities to draw or use computers aren’t enough on their own. The skills are specific to the occupation. Students may major in any subject to become interior designers. However they must take the necessary courses that serve as preparation for this unique career.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 180 programs accredited by the Council for Interior Design and 360 schools accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. This article will help you determine which interior design major and degree to pursue. Also, if you’re thinking of pursuing a certificate in interior design, you’re in luck. According to BLS, there are nearly 100 colleges and universities that offer programs in kitchen and bath design. These programs are accredited with the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

Best Degrees for Interior Designers

Most interior design positions require that candidates have at least a bachelor’s degree. Additional certificates or advanced degrees can also help you broaden your knowledge and skills. No matter what interior designer major you choose, expect, of course, to spend time studying interior design. You’ll also study  computer-aided design (CAD) and various art studies, such as drawing and drafting.

Interior design majors might include other disciplines that have coursework in interior design, as well as an interior designer degree program. The most common majors for interior designers, other than interior design, include the following:

  • Drafting and design technology
  • Fashion design
  • Interior architecture
  • Studio arts
  • Theatre design

No matter which major you choose, you should plan on taking classes in interior design and drafting. Classes you’ll likely take in preparation for a career as an interior designer will cover topics such as:

  • Commercial interior design
  • History of architectural interiors and furnishings
  • Housing issues
  • Interior design process and presentation
  • Interior design products
  • Interior lighting design
  • Research in interior design
  • Special problems in CADD

After graduation, when applying for interior design jobs, you may also need to prove your potential by presenting a portfolio of your best sketches. Your portfolio will showcase your best work and provide examples of your artistic ability.

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Licenses and Qualifications

An interior design education and your own artistic abilities might still not be enough to prepare you for a career in interior design. Some states also require interior designers to be licensed. If the state in which you intend to work requires a license, then you will also have to take a test, like the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) examination. However, eligibility for licensing exams often includes an experience requirement. So you may first have to work as an apprentice or intern to attain the necessary experience.

In some states, both licensed and unlicensed interior designers may use the title “interior designer” on business cards, advertisements, and more. They may also perform interior design work. However, in other states, the laws restrict the use of the title “interior designer” to only candidates who pass the state-approved test.

The commonly offered exam for interior design licensure is the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. Upon passing the NCIDQ exam, candidates may call themselves registered interior designers. To be eligible to take the exam, candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree in interior design and two years of full-time work experience.

For interior designers in California, the state requires a different exam than the NCIDQ. The California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC) is required for licensing. Candidate eligibility requires a combination of education and experience.

Certification is also available for interior designers looking to specialize in a particular area of design. This type of certification is referred to as voluntary certification. Certifications may include environmental design or sustainable design. These specialized areas of design distinguish interior designer’s work and promote areas of expertise to clients.

Important Qualities and Skills for Interior Designers

Once you’ve earned a degree to become an interior designer, it’s important to evaluate additional skills and qualities that will set you apart from your competition. In the unique field of interior design, certain qualities help you stand out. These skills are not always taught in the classroom, they are qualities and characteristics that are typically honed over time and through experience.

  • Ability to visualize: Having strong visualization skills is important in the role of an interior designer. On the job, interior designers must use their visual awareness to understand how a project will come together. They must be able to imagine how the various pieces of a design will look before items have been placed. Interior designers should be able to envision the outcome of a project before it has even started.
  • Artistic and creative abilities: Interior designers are artistic and creative. They use their sense of style and creativity to come up with beautiful, aesthetically pleasing designs. They:
    • select furnishings and fabrics
    • arrange furniture and artwork
    • create functional living and working spaces for their clients.
  • Detail orientation: Interior designers should be detail oriented, due to the nature of the job. They must take accurate measurements and create drawings for their clients to review. They also draft sketches for fellow designers, engineers, and workers. These sketches must be accurate.
  • Problem-solving skills: Interior designers face challenges on the job. There might be:
    • construction delays
    • out-of-stock materials
    • issues with keeping projects on time.

Tackling these issues requires good problem-solving skills.

  • Strong interpersonal skills: Since interior designers work closely with clients, when soliciting new jobs or collaborating on ideas, they should have strong interpersonal skills. Additionally, interior designers should be able to listen and communicate with:
    • their clients
    • other designers
    • engineers
    • architects
    • builders

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Job Outlook for Interior Designers

Little to no change in employment growth is expected over the next decade for interior designers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a zero percent expected growth for this profession through 2030.

According to BLS, there should be about 7,800 job openings for interior designers each year over the next 10 years. These openings will come from the need to replace individuals who retire or exit the labor force. While the number is small compared to other professions, and the employment growth is limited, individuals with interior design degrees should have the best job prospects.

In the upcoming years, however, demand is expected for interior designers to renovate commercial buildings and existing homes. While new construction is expected to be limited, older construction renovation jobs will demand the hiring of interior designers. Some interior designers rely on the construction industry, working closely with builders and contractors. Therefore, there may not be as many jobs available. However, those with existing relationships with builders, contractors, and real-estate agencies should continue to find work.

Largest Employers of Interior Designers

According to BLS, there were approximately 87,000 jobs held by interior designers as of last year. Most interior designers work for five employers. The largest employers for this profession include:

  • Self-employed workers: 32 percent
  • Specialized design services: 24 percent
  • Architectural, engineering, and related services: 17 percent
  • Wholesale trade: five percent
  • Furniture stores: five percent

Since most are self-employed, you might consider taking classes in business alongside your interior designer major. Business courses can prepare you for various aspects of the career, such as:

  • accounting
  • finance
  • marketing.

Pay for Interior Designers

Once you’ve earned an interior designer degree, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your earnings potential. Pay for interior designers, as reported by BLS, fluctuates by industry and geographic location. However, the median annual wage for this occupation is $57,060. The lowest 10% of interior designers earn just over $33,000 annually. The highest 10% earn over $97,000.

So, which industries offer the highest wages for this occupation? According to BLS, there are four top-paying industries for interior designers.

  • Architectural, engineering, and related services: $62,620
  • Wholesale trade: $57,300
  • Specialized design services: $54,330
  • Furniture stores: $47,710

The average earnings for all occupations is $41,950, as reported by BLS. This means that interior designers working in the above top industries see higher-than-average earnings.

According to the state and area data published on the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS), geographic location also impacts earnings for interior designers. According to BLS, there are five top-paying states for this profession. These states, and their annual mean wages, are listed below:

  • Arkansas: $73,840
  • District of Columbia: $72,750
  • New York: $71,240
  • California: $70,310
  • Massachusetts: $67,440

All of the above states offer higher-than-average earnings for this occupation, as well as higher-than-average wages for all occupations.

States are not the only high-paying locations for interior designers. If you’re seeking work in interior design in a metropolitan area, you might consider these high-paying regions.

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California: $81,370
  • Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, Florida: $80,020
  • Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Arkansas and Missouri: $78,750
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $76,290
  • Barnstable Town, Massachusetts: $76,080

In these top-paying metro areas, the cost of living can be high. If you’re seeking work as an interior designer in a non-metropolitan area, you can also earn higher than average wages. In fact, the following non-metro areas offer high wages for this profession:

  • Northwest Colorado: $67,620
  • North Valley and Northern Mountains region of California: $66,410
  • Western Wyoming: $64,540
  • Southern Ohio: $60,830
  • Northwest Lower Peninsula of Michigan: $56,590

An image of an interior designer for our FAQ on What’s the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Interior Designer

The Work Environment of an Interior Designer

Now that you’ve earned your degree to become an interior designer and landed your first job, what’s the work environment like?

Most interior designers work in offices. Since the majority of individuals in this profession are self-employed, a home office is also common. Technology advances allow interior designers to work from home. However, many still have office space in commercial buildings or studios where they meet with clients. Interior designers utilize software and technology that allow the viewing of two- and three-dimensional images. Most of this software is compatible with any computer. So if an interior designer has a computer, they are in business, whether they are at home or in an office building.

The work environment does fluctuate between an office space or studio and a design site. Home interior designers spend a lot of their time meeting with clients in their own home. At the design site, they go over:

  • designs
  • fabrics
  • furniture, and more

They must adjust their work schedule to accommodate their client’s schedules. As a result, interior designers often conduct meetings in the evening or on weekends.

For creative, detail-oriented people, work as an interior designer can be highly rewarding. They put their problem-solving nature to work alongside their artistic abilities to create rooms that are as practical as they are visually appealing.

If you have a natural knack for visualizing and drawing beautiful spaces, studying interior design could be the path to your dream career.

BDP Staff
December 2021

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