How to Become an Interior Designer


Do you find yourself thinking about solutions for weird interior layouts? Are you uniquely skilled at maximizing small spaces? Maybe you’ve considered making a career out of those talents, but wondered how to do it.

The answer might be: Interior design. Becoming an interior designer allows you to use your creative and analytical skills to help build spaces that look and feel just right. There are, however, requirements to meet and training to complete before you can begin your interior designer career. We’ve compiled the information you’ll need to get started, including what an interior designer does, the education and license requirements, and more. Let’s dive in.

What is an Interior Designer?

Before deciding to become an interior designer, it’s important to understand the parameters of the job. Let’s take a look at what an interior designer does, some common misconceptions about the career, and reasons why interior design could be a great field to consider entering.

Interior designer vs. decorator

You may think an interior designer is the same as an interior decorator. The terms are often used interchangeably, so it’s only natural that the boundaries of each have become muddled.

The two professions, however, are not the same.

Becoming an interior decorator doesn’t necessarily require extensive training, although taking interior designer courses on fabric work, color pairings, furniture styles, and space planning can be beneficial. A decorator’s responsibilities might include:

  • Helping clients choose an aesthetic theme for their space
  • Finding furniture to fit the theme and overall design
  • Deciding on color schemes and patterns

However, formal training is required in order to become a licensed interior designer. That training will often be a two- or four-year program to learn about things such as space planning, architecture, color studies, textiles, and computer-aided design software for creating mock-ups. An interior designer’s responsibilities typically include:

  • Determining the client’s needs in order to plan an interior on both an architectural and aesthetic level
  • Finding functional and aesthetically appropriate design solutions
  • Problem-solving and ensuring that the design plan meets building codes and other requirements
  • Providing interior decorating services

Architect vs. interior designer

Don’t be fooled — just because interior designers complete a certain degree of architectural training, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same as architects.

While an interior designer handles interior space planning, architects are responsible for designing the structure and style of the building. Becoming an architect requires a degree in architecture, as opposed to one in interior design.

Like interior designers, architects must adhere to building codes and regulations. However, what sets architects apart is that their work is more focused on the overall structure rather than the building’s interior function and aesthetic. Their work will include designing buildings from the ground up, as well as planning renovations and structural changes.

Benefits of becoming an interior designer

If you’re thinking about becoming an interior designer but you’re on the fence, there are plenty of great reasons to start an interior design career.

Flexibility. As an interior designer working with various clients, you can set your own schedule and choose the projects you will enjoy. You can figure out what kind of interior design you like best (e.g., home design vs. office design) and make it your professional focus.

Demand. While there are plenty of interior designers currently working, there’s no shortage of spaces being designed and redesigned. And it’s not just homes, either. Commercial spaces, office buildings, and apartment complexes all need skilled designers to craft a functional and aesthetically pleasing interior layout.

Creativity. Many people only dream of making a living out of their creativity. Interior designers get to live that dream, balancing their creativity with problem-solving and utility. Interior design, of course, still requires skill and hard work. But the work you do can be inventive, challenging, and fulfilling.

Junior interior designer vs. senior interior designer

There are numerous interior design roles whose responsibilities vary, based on the designer’s experience. Let’s take a look at two basic interior design job titles from the overall hierarchy.

First, you have junior interior designers. This early career role typically works under the supervision of more senior designers. Junior designers will likely be responsible for a variety of tasks such as dealing with vendors, client communications, working on floor plans, and even assisting with interior furnishings.

Second, you have senior interior designers. This role is for seasoned professionals — usually with at least seven years’ experience — and generally supervises junior designers. A senior interior designer typically handles higher-level responsibilities such as budget planning, overseeing projects, and performing the more technical aspects of the design project.

How Do You Become an Interior Designer?

Skills of an interior designer

Interior design isn’t your average career. Very little about it is cut-and-dried, and it requires a specific set of skills in order to be successful. These crucial skills include:

  • Communication. No matter what kind of interior design you perform, you will need to be able to effectively share your thoughts, ideas, and decisions with your clients and the professionals you’re working with.
  • Creativity and an eye for detail. Creating interior spaces that are both functional and visually appealing requires being able to think outside the box and find unique solutions to meet the needs of the client.
  • Keeping up with the latest trends and practices. Whether it’s style choices or pushing sustainability, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve so that your work stands out.
  • Staying organized. Design isn’t the only part of the job. You also need to make sure the project is staying on schedule and on budget. Keeping track of spending and work progress is essential.
  • Producing visuals, both digital and analog. A sketch will help give your client a clear idea of your design plan. The ability of creating a sketch on paper is a helpful place to start, but creating a more detailed digital sketch could help take your vision to the next level.

It’s also important to remember that skills are more than just gifts. You don’t have to be born with natural talent. Many skills can be learned and practiced. This is true of many of the skills needed to be a successful interior designer. You may not have every one of them in your toolkit yet, and that’s OK. Practice is key.

Interior designer education requirements

You don’t need to go to design school in order to become an interior designer. There is, however, some vital education needed in order to learn necessary skills. A bachelor’s degree is typically required to work at most design firms. Interior designer degrees are available at many universities at three levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s. However, as long as you’ve taken the appropriate coursework, your major is usually less important.

With whatever degree and major you choose, if you want to consider a future in interior design you’ll want to take classes on the following three topics:

  1. Interior design
  2. Drawing
  3. Computer-aided design (CAD)

More specifically, the courses you take should focus on subject-matters such as:

  • Building codes and standards
  • Sustainable building practices
  • Drawing, composition, and computer-aided design
  • Color theory
  • Materials and applications
  • Interior lighting
  • Principles of interior design

Course selection will vary, depending on which school you attend, so be sure to work with an advisor to help you determine your best options. If you don’t want to commit to a four-year degree in interior design, a two-year degree program might be a good fit. While it may not be sufficient for every employer, it may help you find entry-level or junior positions. It also will help you determine if a career in interior design is what you really want to pursue.

If you do decide to complete a dedicated interior design program, look for one that is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. Accreditation means that the Council has determined that the program provides top-notch education and leads to professional-level degrees.

In addition to education requirements, there’s the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) licensing exam. Once you’ve earned your degree with the appropriate coursework and completed a certain number of work experience hours — the exact number will depend on what level of degree you have — you can take the NCIDQ exam. The exam includes three parts:

  1. The Interior Design Fundamentals Exam (which can be taken even if you haven’t completed your work experience hours)
  2. The Interior Design Professional Exam
  3. The practicum

A passing NCIDQ grade is at least 500 out of a possible 800.

An NCIDQ license is required in 27 states in order to become an interior designer. Some states may allow unlicensed interior designers to work in residential spaces, but you may find that a license is required in order to work on commercial projects.

How long does it take to become an interior designer?

The amount of time it takes to become a licensed interior designer varies slightly, depending on the type of degree you pursue and your chosen interior designer schooling.

If you decide to complete a two-year associate’s degree program, you’ll need an additional three years of full-time relevant work experience before you’re able to take the licensing exam. That comes to a total of at least five years before you can take the licensing exam.

For those completing a four-year bachelor’s degree program, an additional two years of relevant work experience are required before you’re allowed to take the licensing exam. Therefore, it will likely take six years before you can take the exam.

Interior designer salary

So how much does an interior designer make? It’s an important question when considering a career. An interior designer’s salary will hinge on a variety of factors. Some factors might include:

  • How much experience you have
  • Your training and education
  • The type of interior design you do
  • Where you conduct business

In general, however, salaries for interior design roles range from $50,000 at the junior level to about $115,000 at the executive level.

Different Types of Interior Designers

While every interior designer should be up on best practices, the various types of interior designer may require a different set of skills and training. Above all else, you may find you enjoy one type of interior design over some others, and may want to make that your career focus. Read on to learn more about some of the specific types of interior designers and what functions they serve.

Commercial, industrial, and office interior designers

These designers are hired to create functional interior spaces for different types of businesses. This might include corporate offices, stores, salons, movie theaters, and even airports. Their aim is to plan a space that suits the business’s necessary functions while remaining visually appealing.

Interior designer for home

Residential interior designers focus on planning functional, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing living spaces. Not only will they make sure a room has flow — they’ll also ensure that the house flows as a whole.

Certified interior designers

This is less of a type of interior designer and more of a credential. As for the specific interior designer certifications, a certified interior designer must have passed the NCIDQ licensing exam after earning their associate’s or bachelor’s degree and completing the required years of relevant work experience.

Luxury interior designers

A luxury interior designer generally works with high-end clients in order to create interior spaces designed for sophistication, comfort, and quality. Styles will vary, based on the client’s personal preferences, but these designers deliver luxe interiors with only the best materials and furnishings.

What Kind of Insurance do I Need as an Interior Designer?

A good interior designer knows that every detail matters. The work involves balancing construction, functionality, and aesthetics to make the perfect space for the clients. It’s important that nothing falls through the cracks.

Simply Business® is here to help make sure your business insurance coverage doesn’t fall through the cracks either. We offer a wide range of interior designer insurance options for small businesses.

When we refer to “interior design/er insurance,” we mean any one or combination of multiple business insurance policies that will help cover a retail shop business. We’ll get into more detail below.

For interior designers, we recommend:

General liability to cover third-party property damage, bodily injury, libel, and more.

Professional liability to cover negligence, omissions, and legal defense costs.

Workers’ compensation to help take care of employees who get sick or injured on the job.

Our free online quote tool will help you get quoted in minutes. We work with leading insurance carriers to offer you a wide variety of coverage options. Tell us a little bit about your small business, and we’ll help you find coverage that suits your needs.

Get Insured in Under 10 Minutes

Get an affordable & customized policy in just minutes. So you can get back to what matters: Your business.

Interiority Complex

While becoming an interior designer requires education and training, it also requires a creative spark. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve felt it and are motivated to begin pursuing your interior design career. Don’t let the training intimidate you. When it comes to pursuing your interior design passion, there’s no time like the present.

Kristin Vegh

After several years of working in insurance while also freelance writing, I’ve finally found where the two interests intersect. I’m a writer with Simply Business with an insurance processing background and a love of research.

Kristin writes on a number of topics such as small business trends, license reciprocity, and BOP insurance.