As their name implies, interior designers design interiors. It's not just about shopping for antiques and picking out curtains. They determine the functionality and safety of a space as well as its aesthetic, which all determine in how the space makes one feel. Their work encompasses a wide range of specialized knowledge, including structural engineering and basic architectural principles.
Interior design requires an eye for spatial relations, color, texture and fashion, as well as the intuition to know what a client will enjoy. In their assessments, interior designers consider size, safety, ease of use and cost, among other things. They must also be good listeners and visionaries, with the know-how to execute their clients' sometimes vague and fantastic requirements.
Interior designers engineer spaces for homes, hotels, offices, art galleries and fashion shows. Most specialize in a certain area, such as residential design, and some have more specific specialties, like kitchen or bathroom design. The main difference between interior designers and interior decorators is that designers are responsible for the internal operations of the spaces they design, including electrical wiring, stress levels and installation procedures. They have to think like architects, as clients often call in interior designers to begin working on sketches and models before a space is built, with only a blueprint to guide them. Designers aren't just concerned with whether the structures will hold up: all of their designs must be in accordance with federal, state and local laws, including building codes and accessibility standards for the elderly and disabled. Thus, a career in interior design requires a license in many states.
The tools of the interior design trade include CAD (computer-aided design) programs to create and visualize the final product. CAD tools also allow clients to see what changes can be made at any stage of design without affecting costs.
Almost all interior designers have a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of applied arts, and additional formal interior design training and accreditation. Few clients, especially commercial clients, are willing to entrust responsibility for designing living and working spaces, not to mention huge budgets, to a designer with no formal credentials.
Formal training for interior designers is available in two- and three-year professional schools that award certificates or associate degrees in design. Graduates of two-year programs generally start as assistants to designers. The curriculum in four-year bachelor of fine arts degree programs includes art and art history, principles of design, designing and sketching, as well as specialized studies for individual design disciplines such as textiles, mechanical and architectural drawing, computerized design, sculpture, architecture and basic engineering. A liberal arts education, with courses in merchandising, business administration, marketing and psychology, along with training in art is also a good background for interior design. And those with training or experience in architecture have an advantage in interior design.
Beginning designers usually receive on-the-job training and normally need two to three years of training before they advance to higher-level positions. Experienced designers in large firms may advance to chief designer, design department head or other supervisory positions, while some experienced designers seek out the big money by opening their own businesses.
Interior design is the only design field subject to government regulation; 21 states and the District of Columbia require licensure. Because licensing is not mandatory in all states, membership in a professional association is universally recognized as a mark of achievement for designers. Professional membership usually requires the completion of three or four years of postsecondary education in design, at least two years of practical experience in the field, and completion of the National Council for Interior Design qualification examination.
A career in interior design 'allows your creative juices to flow.' Insiders describe it as a 'highly competitive line of work,' particularly in big cities like New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. Most designers who make 'big bucks' are those with 'exceptional talent, experience, backers, money to help them get started' and, of course, 'clients who are willing to pay.'
Clients and other designers can be 'a joy' or 'very difficult to work with;' regardless, interior designers have to 'know a lot about people and public relations.' Most designers agree that they derive the most enjoyment from 'creating fantasy spaces.' Assignments range from designing 'the inside of a spaceship to designing cartoon landscapes for toy companies.'
The hours in interior design are 'never 9 to 5,' especially for new graduates who have to learn on the job about detailing and space planning material. Dress code varies between firms, but the general rule is 'funky but sophisticated.' Often, 'the perks are unreal, particularly if you're working for a big company,' insiders say. One recent design school grad was 'driven around in a limousine, taken to bars, and showered with champagne on the way back to the airport.'
Travel; Exposure to high-profile clients/industries; Creativity is encouraged
Low starting pay; Difficult clients
Creative; Outgoing; Detail-oriented; Multi-tasker; Persistent
Average about 45 per week
Median salary: $42,260; Highest salaries are in engineering and architectural services; Lowest salaries are in furniture and home furnishings stores
BA or BS; Accreditation from National Council for Interior Design (NCID)