How to Become an Interior Designer

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

A successful interior design career lets you follow your passion. It offers a fulfilling and rewarding lifestyle because it’s creative. But what do interior designers do?

Interior designers plan and select the décor of spaces in:

  • Commercial buildings
  • Houses
  • Public places

Featured Programs

Their goal is to make these spaces beautiful, functional, and safe.

Have you ever wondered how to become an interior designer? It all begins at school. With the right formal education, you can start this career soon after graduation. But first, you must earn an interior design degree.

Education for Interior Designers

In this field, you must create sketches by hand and develop plans with computers. But these abilities aren’t enough on their own. If you want to know how to get into this profession, the first step is education. Schooling is essential to this career.

Students may major in any subject to become interior designers. But they must take certain courses needed to prepare for this unique career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports around 180 accredited interior design programs. And the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (National Council) accredits 360 schools.

If you want a certificate, you’re in luck. The BLS reports almost 100 schools with programs in kitchen/bath design. The National Council Kitchen and Bath Association and the International Interior Design Association accredit these programs.

This article has the best interior design major and best schools for interior design. That way, you can narrow down your search in this vast selection of interior design programs and learn how interior designers start down their career path.

Top 10 Interior Design School Programs

There are many colleges with interior design majors. And each program has different interior design school requirements that help you figure out what interior designers specialize in. You will need a bachelor’s degree for most interior designer positions. But you can become registered with an associate degree.

You could want an in-person education or an interior design online bachelor degree. Either way, these schools offer something for everyone.

Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University

The Academy of Art University is one of the top schools for interior design. They offer a great interior design bachelor degree with high success rates. If you want to know how to become an interior designer in California, this school is for you.

Located in San Francisco, this school comes with an excellent social scene. If you want to know how to get into interior design, this is a great school for networking, an important aspect of the field. They also offer online programs for working students, which also help those pursuing interior design.

Arizona State University

A logo of ASU for our ranking of 20 Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Foreign Language

ASU’s Design School prepares you for the fast-paced world of interior design. Professionals consider it one of the best colleges for interior design. And for good reason. The Design School almost guarantees students internship positions.

Their bachelor’s degree program is also flexible, with some courses offered online. And after getting this undergraduate degree, you can get ASU’s two-year master’s degree.

Auburn University

Auburn boasts a high percentage of job placement for its interior design degree students. It is one of the best interior design schools. Because of this, they are selective.

Their acceptance rate is low. And once accepted, students must finish one year of pre-design study before evaluation. Then they accept the best students for their certificate program in interior design.

Its selectiveness is daunting, but don’t be too afraid to apply. A certificate from Auburn secures you a spot in the interior designer world and can leverage your career path, so it’s worth a shot.

Design Institute of San Diego

Design Institute of San Diego

One of the top interior design schools is the Design Institute. It is a private college with small class sizes. It is perfect for those passionate about interior design. And almost all students find jobs soon after graduating. You could also pursue their master’s degree, which has online learning opportunities.

Their interior designer school requirements are available to applicants. You can view previous students’ coursework to get an idea of how the program works.

Drexel University

Drexel has a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for success in interior design. Students must complete two terms of real-world work experience. This allows you to work for top design firms as a student.

Drexel also offers great study-abroad opportunities and access to professional and trade associations. This way, you can increase your real-world experience before entering the workforce.

Fashion Institute of Technology

Fashion Institute of Technology

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is part of the State University of New York. Its interior designer programs focus on:

  • Computer aided design
  • Computer software
  • Commercial interiors and color theory
  • Construction practices and building codes
  • Diversity
  • Innovation and create spaces
  • Sustainability

Located in New York, this school offers great networking opportunities and on the job training. You will have little trouble finding a job after graduating with the interior design qualification the school offers.

New School of Parsons

New School of Parsons

Parsons’ interior designer program has been around for a long time. For this reason, its rigorous curriculum is well-known in the industry, and helps you become an interior designer.

Their coursework values collaboration and innovation. It helps you gain on the job training. The school also helps you apply for internships to assure your job security after meeting your interior designer qualification.

New York School of Interior Design

New York School of Interior Design

The NYSID boasts an impressive job placement rate of over 90%. They offer many study abroad programs and value real-world experience. And their on-campus courses are just as thorough. They offer great opportunities like workshops and networking events. They want their aspiring interior designers to succeed.

Savannah College of Art & Design

Savannah College of Art & Design

If you want to become an interior designer, SCAD has you covered. SCAD’s greatest asset is SCADpro. It is a design studio that connects students with design professionals. SCADpro gives students a jumpstart into the industry with real-world work experience.

And its professional interior designer degree courses are excellent. They offer a wide variety of topics. Students can learn to design businesses, hospitals, and houses. SCAD opens students’ eyes to the many job opportunities this field offers.

University of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati offers programs in their School of Architecture and Interior Design. These programs value innovation, problem-solving, and research. The bachelor’s degree program will teach you to navigate challenges while promoting eco-friendly designs. 

Best Degrees for Interior Designers

Now you know the first step in how to become an interior decorator: finding the right school. But once you get there, what should you major in to get the right formal training?

Most interior design jobs look for candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree. Certificates and advanced degrees also help you stand out in the interior design profession and showcase skills needed to work in a design firm. But you should plan to go beyond an associate degree. No matter what design-related degree you choose, expect to study the following:

  • Color theory
  • Computer-aided design
  • Design theory
  • Drawing and Drafting
  • Fine art
  • Graphic design
  • Interior design

Many schools offer interior design majors. But you don’t need to major in interior design to be an interior designer. Other common majors for this career include:

  • Drafting and design technology
  • Fashion design
  • Interior architecture
  • Project management
  • Studio arts
  • Theatre design
  • Visual arts

Classes in drafting and design are crucial, regardless of your major. You may also take classes in:

  • Architectural lighting
  • Building codes and space planning
  • Commercial interior design
  • Design elements and design theory
  • Environmentally sustainable materials
  • History of architectural interiors and furnishings
  • Housing issues
  • Interior lighting design
  • Residential interior design
  • Special problems in computer-aided design

After graduation, be sure to create an interior design portfolio to help you with your career path. A well-rounded interior designer has a professional portfolio to show potential employers their best work. They provide examples of your artistic ability. This can include interior design trends and sketches or photos of interior spaces you’ve designed.

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

Licenses and Qualifications

It all depends on your state. Some states let all workers write “interior designer” on business cards and advertisements. They may also allow unlicensed people to perform design work.

But in other states, the laws restrict the “interior designer” title to licensed professionals. This means you must pass the interior design qualification exam before becoming an official interior designer. Some states want you to graduate from a school that has an interior design accreditation. To learn how to become interior designer certified, it’s important to research your state’s laws.

The most common exam for design licensure is the NCIDQ. When you pass this exam, you may call yourself a registered interior designer. To meet the exam’s eligibility requirements, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree. You must also have two years of full-time work experience before taking the NCIDQ.

For designers in California, they must take a different exam than the NCIDQ. Their exam is the California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC). This exam’s eligibility requirements are like the NCIDQ’s requirements.

Certification is also available for designers wanting to specialize in certain areas. They call this type of certification “voluntary certification.” Examples of voluntary certification include environmental or sustainable design. These specialized areas set your work apart from other designers. They also promote areas of expertise to potential clients.

Other Important Qualities for Interior Designers

Now you know how to become a interior designer with a bachelor’s degree or training, but what other qualities will you need? In the unique field of interior design, certain qualities help you stand out. These go beyond your interior design education. These skills are not always taught in the classroom. They are project management skills you must hone over time through real-world experience.

Ability to Visualize

Strong visualization skills are important in this career. Interior designers must use visual awareness to understand how a completed project will come together. They must imagine an interior space and how various pieces will look before placing them. Interior designers should envision the outcome of project coordination before it starts.

Artistic and Creative Abilities

Interior designers are artistic and creative. They use their sense of style to create beautiful designs, which includes:

  • Arranging furniture and artwork
  • Creating functional spaces for clients
  • Selecting furnishings and fabrics
  • Space planning of interior space, living and working spaces

Detail Orientation

Interior designers must have strong attention to detail. They must take accurate measurements and create drawings for clients. Interior decorators and designers also draft sketches for fellow designers, engineers, and workers. These sketches must be accurate and detailed.

Problem-Solving Skills

Interior designers face challenges on the job, including:

  • Construction delays
  • Out-of-stock materials
  • Issues keeping projects on time

An interior decorator or designer will need good problem-solving skills to tackle these challenges.

Strong Interpersonal Skills

Many interior designers work with others when soliciting new jobs or collaborating on ideas. For that reason, they should have strong interpersonal and communication skills. They should also listen and communicate well with:

  • Architects
  • Builders
  • Clients
  • Engineers
  • Other designers
An image of interior design work for our FAQ on What’s the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Interior Designer

Job Outlook for Interior Designers

First, you learned how to be an interior designer. Now you must ask yourself, is interior design a good career? Let’s look at the job outlook for interior decorating.

We expect little to no change in employment growth over the next decade for the interior design industry. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a 0% expected growth for this career through 2030.

According to the BLS, there will be around 8,200 job openings for interior designers each year through 2030. These openings stem from the need to replace workers who retire or exit the labor force in this field.

This number is small compared to other professions, and there is limited employment growth. But people with interior design degrees and specialized training will have the best job prospects.

Don’t worry. Interior designer is still a viable career choice. Over time, employers will need interior decorators and designers to renovate commercial buildings and existing homes. New construction may be limited, but renovation jobs will open doors for designers.

What to Expect from an Interior Design Career

According to the BLS, interior designs held around 93,300 jobs in 2021. And most interior designers work for these five employers:

  • Specialized Design Services: 16.89% of industry employment
  • Furniture and Home Furnishings Retailers: 1.84% of industry employment
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services: 0.82% of industry employment
  • Residential Building Construction: 0.39% of industry employment
  • Apparel, Piece Goods, and Notions Merchant Wholesalers: 0.22% of industry employment

You must also consider the earnings potential for this career. The BLS reports that pay fluctuates by industry and location. But the median annual wage for interior designers was $60,340 in 2021. That is around $15,000 higher than the median annual wages for all occupations.

The lowest 10% of designers earned less than $30,930. And the highest 10% earned more than $99,070.

Top-Paying Industries for Interior Designers

So, how much does an interior designer make? According to BLS, the four top-paying industries for this career are:

  • Architectural, engineering, and related services: $63,210
  • Wholesale trade: $61,820
  • Specialized design services: $58,840
  • Furniture stores: $48,790

Remember, location also affects your pay. The five top-paying states for this career are:

  • District of Columbia: $88,870
  • Massachusetts: $78,480
  • California: $77,660
  • Rhode Island: $75,010
  • South Dakota: $74,870

All these states offer higher-than-average earnings for this career. They also offer higher-than-average wages for all occupations.

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

The Work Environment for Interior Designers

The work environment for many new interior designers fluctuates between office spaces, studios, and design firms. Home interior designers spend a lot of time meeting with clients in their homes. Because of this, an interior decorator or designer must adjust their work schedule to accommodate their clients’ schedules. This means you might have meetings on weekends or in the evening.

For creative and detailed people, this career can be rewarding. You must use your practical skills and creativity to design rooms. And these rooms must be practical and appealing to the eyes. If you have a knack for visualizing and drawing beautiful spaces, or finding quality and continual improvement in the spaces around you, the work of an interior designer might be your dream career.

BDP Staff

June 2023

Related articles:

This concludes our article on the best interior design degree path to becoming an interior designer.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris