How To Become an Interior Designer

Got an eye for detail, boundless creativity, and a superior ability to communicate your vision? Then interior design might be the field for you. While anyone can paint a wall and throw down a carpet, it takes real skill to design a space that fits a client’s budget and specific needs.

Interior designers are professionals who develop indoor spaces with consideration to functionality and aesthetics, and they make work in residential or commercial environments.

There’s no set path for breaking into interior design, but there are steps you should take to increase your chances of having a successful career in the field. Read on to find out how you can become an interior designer.

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Steps to Becoming an Interior Designer

Step 1: Finish Your Education

High School or GED
Education requirements vary based on what exactly you’d like to do within the interior design field. However, you need at least a high school diploma or GED to become a legally recognized interior designer.

Continuing Education
Keep in mind that you’ll need to have post-secondary educational experience in order to sit for the exam to become a certified interior designer. This means you need to finish high school and continue your education at an accredited institution.

Research the Industry
It’s never too early to start pursuing your interest in interior design, and you can start gaining experience by reading interior design blogs, watching educational interior design videos, and familiarizing yourself with CAD (computer-aided design), a technology used to create 2D and 3D designs.

Starting a Portfolio
If you do take on any interior design projects while you’re still in school, make sure to document them and add them to your portfolio.

Step 2: Apply to Programs

While an associate degree gets your foot in the door, it’s a good idea to obtain a higher level of education if you can.

Bachelors Degree
A bachelor’s degree in interior design gives you the foundation you need to make it as an interior designer. Most likely, though, you’ll start by taking general education courses for your first few years until declaring your major in interior design.

Art Institute
Many four-year liberal arts colleges have interior design programs, but if you want to take your interior design education a step further, consider attending an interior design program at an art institute. At these types of schools, you’ll focus solely on your studies as a designer, and you have the option of honing your craft through specialization in a number of different types of interior design.

Step 3: Complete the Program

Whatever program you choose, you’ll be immersed in the world of interior design and learn all the ins and outs of creating an indoor space, from the initial concept through construction and post-completion review and inspection.

How Long Does it Take?
Your education can take anywhere from two to four years to complete, and you may take courses such as color theory, CAD, safety and building codes, and lighting design.

Project Work
In addition to coursework, most interior design programs include a capstone project. Interior design capstone projects are usually started in your third year of school and completed by the end of your graduating year. The purpose of which is to show your knowledge and provide you with real-world experience in your field.

You’ll also get hands-on experience in the form of internships and co-ops, where you’ll work on interior design projects under the direction of professionals.

Step 4: Get Certified

In order to become a certified interior designer, you need to pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), which is an exam demonstrating your knowledge and experience in the interior design field. After successfully passing this exam, you’ll be eligible to obtain your interior design license or other specialized certifications.

State requirements may vary, but almost every state allows you to complete certain interior design work without any licensing. Not including the cost of your education, the certification itself typically costs about $1,000.


How Much Can You Make?

According to Payscale, the average interior designer salary is $51,852 per year. But, as with most jobs, compensation is largely dependent on location, and interior designers on the East and West coasts can expect to make more than the average salary.

Interior design is a field rife with specializations of various kinds, which can also influence pay. Some specializations require additional certification on top of your license, and others do not.

The highest-paid specializations include:

  • Government interior design
  • Corporate interior design
  • Healthcare interior design
  • Residential interior design
  • Sustainable interior design


What Kind of Personality Does It Take?

There are many attributes that an interior designer needs to be successful. And while not every interior designer shares the same personality traits, the following are some common ones that many designers have.


It’s nearly impossible to make it in the design space without an extra-large dose of creativity. Your work will challenge you to create fully designed spaces from scratch — sometimes with minimal guidance or limitations. The ability to think outside the box and come up with imaginative concepts will serve you and your clients well.


Have an idea that you’re not sure the client will love? You’ll never know if you don’t try to, and that’s exactly why you need to have superior risk-taking skills as an interior designer.

Being an interior designer requires you to blend creative courage with professional sensibility. You’ll need to be mindful of the clients’ vision and resources, while also making bold and sometimes unconventional decisions based upon the trust placed in your expertise and skill.

Lifelong Learner

Much like fashion trends, what’s in vogue today may be out tomorrow, as far as interior design is concerned. That means you need to be someone who’s willing to change with the times and alter your approach to design to fit the day’s trends and best practices.

And not to mention, the technology you use to bring your spaces to life is ever-evolving too, so get ready to be a student of interior design throughout your entire career.

Personal Skills

What Kind of Personal Skills Are Needed?

The good news is that many of the personal skills required to be a successful interior designer can be acquired with enough practice and passion.

Here are just a few of the skills that will be critical to your interior design career.


Your ideas are only as good as your ability to communicate them. When you’re working with a range of clients and stakeholders, being able to effectively articulate your plans and vision is a must.

Not only do your verbal communication skills need to be robust enough to speak on the fly about your ideas, but you also need to be able to write in a way that expresses what you want to say in a clear and concise manner.

Project Management

Interior design projects have many moving parts, and since you can only be in one room at a time, you need to have excellent project management skills.

Having project management skills means being able to execute ideas efficiently, while also knowing when it’s best to delegate tasks to other members of your team.

Finally, a good project manager makes use of all the tools at his or her disposal, which for you includes interior design project management systems such as Design Manager or Ivy.


The couch you ordered doesn’t work, and you’re out of time and budget? That’s when your problem-solving skills as an interior designer come into play.

Being able to navigate the inevitable problems that spring up during projects is a key part of a successful interior design career.

As you grow as a professional, you’ll also learn how to anticipate and avoid issues before they arise.

What Is the Career Outlook?

As long as there are interior spaces, there will be a need for interior designers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for interior designers is expected to hold steady through 2030.

In addition to the current need for interior designers, it’s anticipated that thousands of jobs will open up each year due to designers leaving the field or retiring.

Become an Interior Designer

If you’re a creative visionary who loves to bring new ideas to life, interior design could be a great, rewarding career for you.

Apply to school today and start your journey as an interior designer:

Search Certified Residential Interior Designer Programs

Get information on Certified Residential Interior Designer programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

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