Interior Design Trade Schools

Written ByRWM Editors
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Interior design is about more than arranging furniture and selecting matching drapes. It's a field devoted to creating spaces in which people can live and work safely and comfortably. At interior design schools, students learn how to make beautiful, yet functional, rooms for families and businesses.

While it's easy to talk about the profession in general terms, you may be wondering what does an interior designer do on a daily basis. Their jobs can vary but often include the following tasks:

  • Meeting with clients to understand project goals and expectations.
  • Determining how a space will be used and how best to accommodate people within the area.
  • Sketching design plans for review and approval by clients.
  • Ordering materials, fixtures, furniture, flooring and other elements of a design.
  • Overseeing construction and implementation of the design.

Interior Design Specializations

All professionals in the field share the same basic tasks, but they may specialize their services. The following are a few examples of interior design specializations.

  • Kitchen and Bath Designers work specifically in kitchens and bathrooms to create functional and appealing spaces.
  • Corporate Designers create office spaces that will meet employee needs while promoting an efficient work environment.
  • Sustainable Designers are experts on creating rooms that will conserve energy and resources while using renewable materials.
  • Universal Designers focus on developing spaces that will be accessible to all people regardless of age or physical ability.
  • Healthcare Designers are employed to create medical offices and facilities that will meet the needs of staff while also helping to improve the patient experience.

How to Become an Interior Designer

Entering this profession starts by getting the right education. Consider the following steps to take to becoming an interior designer:

  • Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • It helps to partake in training of some sort, even if naturally artistic. Consider a certificate or associate degree program in interior design.
  • Build a portfolio of work along the way of your studies, and apply for positions at firms, stores, agencies, or map out plans for an independent practice.

Interior design programs can help you learn the fundamentals of good design. Part of how to become an interior designer is being familiar with the following subjects:

  • Interior design
  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Drawing

Degree programs for interior designers

You can enroll in a traditional, campus-based program or you can find interior design schools online. If you decide to look for interior design programs online, be aware that some are self-paced while others may require you to log-in at specific times for video conferences with professors and classmates.

Regardless of whether you study online or on-campus, there are three levels of programs commonly found in the field.

  • Certificate: You can earn a certificate in as little as one year, and these programs provide a foundation of basic interior design skills. Depending on the school, the curriculum could include an introduction to drafting, color, textiles and other topics. Credits from some certificate programs may be transferrable toward a degree.
  • Associate Degree: An interior design associate degree usually takes two years to complete. It will include the same core fundamentals as a certificate as well as more advanced topics on the design process, construction and contracts. Those with an interior design associate degree may start their career as an interior design assistant or junior designer.
  • Bachelor's Degree: Although you can enter the field with a certificate or associate degree, some prefer to earn a bachelor's degree in interior design. These four-year programs may include extensive studio time and provide the opportunity for internships.

Interior design schools

This is a field that lends itself well to online learning, and you'll find many interior design schools online. However, programs are also offered on-campus at schools nationwide for those who want a traditional college experience.

You'll want to be sure that any school you attend is accredited by a regional accrediting body or similar organization. The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) also accredit interior design schools.

Licensure and certification for interior designers

States have different requirements for interior designers working within their boundaries. Some require anyone doing design work to be licensed while others stipulate that only licensed individuals can call themselves interior designers. Others may work within the state but must go by titles such as interior decorators. Check with your state's licensing board for its rules.

As for professional certification, the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) is the standard credential in the field. Many states which license interior designers use the NCIDQ as their required exam. The exam is broken down into three sections that cover seven areas of interior design. These include codes, design application and project coordination among others topics.

To be eligible to take the NCIDQ exam, applicants must have a minimum level of education and experience. For example, those with an interior design associate degree or certificate must have work experience equivalent to three years of full-time hours. Meanwhile, those with a bachelor's degree in interior design need experience equivalent to two years of full-time work.

In addition to passing the NCIDQ exam and gaining state licensure, some interior designers pursue voluntary certification in a specialty field. The following are a few examples of these credentials:

  • Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist from the National Association of Home Builders
  • Certified Healthcare Interior Designer from the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers
  • LEED AP Interior Design + Construction from the U.S. Green Building Council

Career advancement in interior design

Most graduates of interior design programs will begin their career as an assistant or unlicensed decorator. By working under the supervision of a licensed designer, they can gain the experience needed to take the NCIDQ exam and work independently.

Earning the NCIDQ credential is a common way to advance a career, as is earning specialty certifications. You can also go back to school for a bachelor's or master's degree, which some people find helpful in furthering their job opportunities.

Program Costs and Financial Aid

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Skills and Qualities for Interior Designers

Think you have what it takes to become an interior designer? First, see if you possess these skills and abilities which are crucial to design work.

  • Critical thinking: Interior design is a profession that revolves around solving the problem of how to make the best use of a space. Designers must be able to think critically to determine how best to utilize available resources.
  • Speaking: Whether it's talking to a client or working with a contractor, interior designers must be able to comfortably and clearly convey their ideas to others.
  • Originality: Although certain concepts represent the foundation of good design, clients often want an original or unique flair to their spaces. Good designers will be able to provide that.
  • Fluency of ideas: This refers to the ability to provide many design options from which a client can choose.
  • Visualization: Good interior designers can look at a space and envision what it will look like with furniture and fixtures placed in different arrangements.

Career Outlook and Salary Information for Interior Designers

While it's great to have a job you love, you're probably also wondering how much do interior designers make. You'll find average interior design career salary data below, but be aware incomes can vary depending on a person's education, experience and certification. Expected career growth for the profession is also listed below. However, like income, your job opportunities can vary depending on several factors.

Total Employment
Average Salary
Projected Job Growth
Interior Designers60,650$60,9904.3%
*2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Professional Resources for Interior Designers

The interior design industry is served by a number of professional organizations. Here are three examples.

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