7 Steps Before Getting an Interior Design Education

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7 minute read

Are you one of those people who seems to have design in their blood? Do you have a knack for decorating and interior design? Maybe you’d like nothing more than getting to be creative for a living.

So, how long will it take for you to actually become an interior designer and perhaps, more importantly, how do you get started?


How Long It Takes to Become an Interior Designer

The path to becoming an interior designer (from zero to employed) can be anything from a year for a foundation level certificate from a community college, and all the way up to four years for a degree in interior architecture.

The more serious you are about working in the larger industry, the more time and money you will need to expend toward getting to your personal interior design “level” goal.

As with anything, you get what you pay and are willing to work for.


Today, however, I’m going to give you some great news. It doesn’t have to cost you much to get started learning interior design and figuring out how far you want to go with it.

The good news is that you can start learning how to become an interior designer today for free.


If you are unsure of what career options you have, check out ’10 Great Interior Design Career Options to Consider’:


Public Resources for Interior Design are “Free Lunch”

What? You might ask. Free? How is that even possible?

We’ve all heard the saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, in this case, if you pay taxes, you’ve already paid for it.

Free education is possible because most of the best information in the world today is actually a matter of public record. Even top universities such as MIT and Harvard are making their courses free to audit.

All you need is the willingness to start digging and the diligence to set aside a little of your personal time.

Personally speaking, I accredit my getting a formal interior design education to the early self-education I got at the low cost of owning a public library card and a few dedicated hours of free time each week. 


Here’s how I started and how you can too:


How to Start Learning Interior Design (And for Free!) – 7 Steps

person holding book from shelf

1. Make Use of Free Public Resources for Interior Design

It seems so obvious, but this is my number one top tip.

If you’re just learning about interior design and perhaps haven’t even made a commitment to getting a design education, go check out some interior design books and dip your ‘design toe’ in the water.


Your Local Public Library is Your Best Resource

I learned about the quality of what educational material is available in public libraries early in life. I was one of those kids that could get “lost” in a corner of the library and completely forget the time.

I’ve never ceased to be amazed that the same textbooks which are referenced in some of the most prestigious and expensive universities in the world are available to the average joe like you and me at our local library.

Find the architecture and interior design section of your local library, pick yourself up a good book and start reading.


Using Internet Resources

It goes without saying that the internet is another very important way to learn about absolutely anything you might be interested in, and it’s totally worth doing some research on interior design online too.

As an added bonus, you can even do this for free at your library in many places!

To get you started, Encyclopedia Britannica online has a great introductory article to the subject of interior design that is well worth reading.


2. Read an Entire Interior Design Academic Textbook from A-Z

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Why Choose Educational and Acacademic Sources

For this second point it’s worth mentioning that not all free public resources are created equally, so choose your resources wisely.

Coffee table books on interior design are eye candy and great for inspiration.

However, I’d avoid them at first.

We’re past the courtship phase now.

Interior design is a pretty face, for sure, but it’s time to get to know the personality. You’ll want to know what’s under the hood, so to speak.


What to Look For

A real world interior design career is going to require so much other knowledge outside of the pure aesthetics, and you’ll want to get the lowdown on what to expect.

For your first book on interior design I’d suggest picking the most general book you can. You want one that provides an overview and introduces you to the subject of interior design; preferably something on the academic side.

Industry educational publishers like Wiley or Pearson are a good bet.  


3. Get Your Hands On Some Architecture and Interior Design Magazines

woman in red white floral dress sitting beside man in gray shirt

Design and Building Industry News

While we’re talking about free interior design resources, you can actually check out a couple of the most popular design industry magazines from the library while you’re at it. Get a sense of what the design and building industry are like, and get a feel for what’s going on, and what the hot topics are.


Interiors Fashion

For inspirational content I would suggest Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Elle Decoration or Design Anthology. For industry magazines, try Architecture Review, Design Detail and The Architect’s Newspaper.

Don’t forget trade magazine such as The Family Handyman and The Old House Journal and Better Homes and Gardens.


There aren’t that many more subjects as fun to learn about as interior design.


4. Take the First Step to Become Personally Invested in Learning Interior Design

person putting coin in a piggy bank

Skin in the Game

As you become more interested in the subject of interior design and architecture you will be ready to take on more commitment

We’ve gotten by with totally free suggestions until now and there’s no reason that you have to spend money at this point.

Although, for you it might start to make sense at this point to invest in your dream a little, so don’t rule it out.


Your Time is Money

Regardless of whether you spend money or not, the biggest commitment you’ll make at this phase is still going to be your time.

If you got through that introductory textbook without taking any notes or doing any cross-referencing, you might want to start. This is a further investment in your previous time, but well worth it.

After all, if you finished a whole textbook and you still have questions and want to keep going, it’s pretty well established that you are now studying interior design, even if you are only doing it solo.

Embrace it.


-Read more books. 

-Buy or subscribe to some magazines.

-Start keeping a design notebook or sketchpad.


However you get some skin in the game, you’ll be more motivated to keep going if you have to give something up in order to make this your new focus.

It all starts to come down to how bad you want to be an interior designer. Well, how bad is that for you?


5. Google is Your Friend

coffee apple iphone smartphone

Get to Know the Design Web

Time to take your interior design interests digital.

Find the best internet sources for interior design.  There are many of them. You can start with some of the magazines you checked out at the library. But don’t forget some of the incredible web-only resources that are now industry staples.

I’m talking about the big hitters that my drafting and construction course professor recommended to me, like Dezeen and Arch Daily. You can also try The Spruce and Apartment Therapy.


-Bookmark them. 

-Check up on design news frequently, especially industry trade shows

-Subscribe to some newsletters

-Check out Google Arts and Culture


6. Immerse Yourself in the Subject Before Committing to Formal Education

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How Deep Do You Want to Go?

Become a self-studied student and immerse yourself in the subject of interior design before you commit to spending money taking any courses, going to school or possibly even back to school for some of us.

This will ensure that you really know what you are getting into.  It will also help educate you on what you can imagine yourself doing in a design role in the future. What would your dream job be?

If you haven’t looked into all the options, you might not know what you’re missing out on, potentially.

Go figure it out!


Eat, Sleep, Breathe Design

After doing your own reading and research you will have a much better idea of what to expect from your future interior design life should you decide to move forward.

I’m asking you to eat, sleep, breathe interior design.

If you’re still not sick of it, maybe (just maybe!) this really is for you.


7. Become a Designer’s Biggest (and Most Shameless)Fan

group of women holding glasses of wine

You Need a Design Hero

You won’t get far in any new endeavor without having some good concrete role models to look up to.

Who are the giants in the industry that you admire?

Time to get yourself some design heroes.


Follow the Roadmap

It doesn’t matter if your found them at the library, on Netflix, at the Red Dot Awards or Instagram. Find some design people online who you admire and study how these successful people got to where they are today.

Not only do their stories offer you a roadmap to doing what these designers do for a living every day, but it can be incredibly inspiring to see what the possibilities are for real designers in the real world.

My personal favorite designers include Zaha Hadid and Neri Oxman.

(Yes, you’ve got to set your standards high.)


Next Steps to an Interior Design Education

green and white floor

Take a Class

After all this exploration on your own you could think about taking it to the next level.

You could take a design class or short course.  Look at Masterclass and Skillshare. There are also short courses available from many leading educational institutes.

As an example, my school offered decorating courses that took only three months to complete.


Check Your Credits

It’s important to look for reputable sources that can give you good information on the type of interior design course you are taking before you commit. 

If you want to get certified, for example, find out what credits you get for completing your course of study. Unless the course is under three months I would say that if none, look elsewhere.


Going for a Certificate or a Degree in Interior Design

If you’re confident that you’re ready to commit to a two, three or four year program at this point, you can look at the options nearest you.

Two year options may include courses of study at your local community college or a program at a dedicated design school you’re eager about.


When to Consider Undergraduate Degree Programs

If you want the full design education experience, or you want to work in commercial and contract design, look at three year Bachelor degree programs.

It goes without saying that as you take on higher education, you will need to figure out how to fund your endeavor. 

Visit campuses, apply for information and do your research to learn the pros and cons of each program before deciding.


Don’t forget that there are many programs offered online, from short courses to university level degrees. For many people this is a great option, as it is cheaper, often paid in installments, and can be done from home on your own time.


orange fabric sofa with three throw pillows near black potted plant

Consider Studying Interior Architecture

If you are really passionate about getting into the industry I would highly recommend that you go to a decent school for interior design or even interior architecture

When the time comes to dig in to your coursework you will be amazed how much easier you find it if you have been keeping up with industry news and have done some of that reading I suggested prior to beginning your studies. 

Bonus points if you’ve done some early design drawing and note taking!

Being ‘full of your subject’ should also help you with applying to schools and creating a student portfolio, which may be required for getting into some schools.


Why You’ll be Glad You Did Your Research

An added bonus to researching and reading before starting on your education is that you will also have plenty of sources you can make use of for school projects.

Some of the online and real world design communities you become part of at this early stage will often go on to assist you on your journey to becoming an interior designer, getting an interior design job and even running a business in the future!


If you happen to have a job already, or you have a family or other commitments that prevent you from going to school full time, you still have options

I was in this exact position when I decided I wanted to study interior design. 


Don’t Knock Online Study

There are some excellent college-level courses available online that are a great deal cheaper than those available through many universities. 

Some even allow you to graduate from some top universities through their programs.

I know this because that is the exact route I took to become a UK-qualified interior design professional.

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If you have any further questions, don’t be shy and drop me a line at hello@designbaddie.com or simply comment below.

Happy design learning!

vonsassy

Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

2 thoughts on “7 Steps Before Getting an Interior Design Education

  1. Pingback: 4 Lessons for Your First Assignment in Interior Design School – DESIGN BADDIE

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