How to Start Your Interior Design Education for Free in 7 Easy Steps

woman climbing a ladder

7 minute read

Do you have a knack for decorating and interior design? Maybe you one are one of those people who seems to have design in their blood. Maybe you’d like nothing more than to have a career that lets you be creative for a living. Maybe you’ve wondered how long it takes to actually become an interior designer?

Perhaps, more importantly, how do you get started?

Today we’re going to outline the steps you can take to start learning interior design on your own with no money down. We’ll also help you figure out what level of design education is right for you. These tips, taken from my own personal experience with determining my own interior design goals and finding a good online interior design program, will help you figure out your own path toward becoming an interior designer.


In this article I guide you through how you can warm yourself up to the idea of taking on an interior design study commitment, and even how you can get started commitment-free. These are the things that I personally did before I took the plunge to spend money on getting my interior design degree.


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 broader commercial design-build and contract design 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.


Here’s 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. You can actually start learning how to become an interior designer today, no risk, and totally for free.


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. Yes, really. I’m talking about the good old public domain.


Unsure of the interior design career options out there? Check out this article featuring the spectrum of interior design jobs.

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Why You Should Make Use of Public Resources for Interior Design

Free design education is one hundred percent possible if you’re willing to look for it, because the highest quality information available in the world today is part of the public record. These days even top universities like MIT and Harvard are making their courses free to audit.

All you need to getting started with this method is the willingness to start digging. It takes some diligence to set aside a little of your personal time each day for studying a new subject, but it’s totally worthwhile. Think of this: the best designers of every era have written books that you can read for free. From architecture to home decor, home designing, renovation and design theory, the world’s best books are available to borrow, read and take notes from.

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


Here’s how I started learning interior design, and how you can too:


How to Start Learning Interior Design for Free in 7 Easy Steps

person holding book from shelf

1. Make Use of Free Public Resources for Interior Design

It seems so obvious, but no joke, 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. Instead of buying a book, check out a bunch of different books and see which ones you like.


Your Local Public Library is Your Best Resource

I learned about the value of the public educational that is available to all early in life. My dad’s job as a traveling salesman had me moving schools every few months, and at some points in-between I wasn’t even in school. I did know how to read though, and I loved reading. I was one of those kids that could get lost in a corner of the library and completely forget the time.


I’m never less than amazed that the some of the same textbooks that 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.

It’s not rocket science. Find the architecture and interior design section of your local library, pick yourself up a good book and start reading.


Use Free Internet Resources

It goes without saying that the internet is another very important way to learn about absolutely anything you might be interested in. It’s totally worth doing some proper research on interior design online, too. As an added bonus, you can even do your online research 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

close up of photo of books

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.

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. We’re past the interior design “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 a great deal of 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 introduces you to the subject of interior design and provides a general overview; preferably something on the academic side.

Industry educational publishers like Wiley or Pearson are a good bet.  Pro tip? If you’re on a budget or having a hard time finding a quality interior design textbook look for good second hand copies on Amazon, Craigslist or even eBay.


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, let’s touch on another important resource for the budding interior designer: Home decor, fashion and shelter magazines and other trade mags. You can even find those in the library while you’re checking out the design textbooks. Get inspired!

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 we 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.


Popular opinion on Design Baddie: 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. On the other hand, 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 into that introductory textbook without taking any notes or doing any cross-referencing, you might want to start.

This is a further investment in your precious time, but well worth it.

After all, if you finish 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. You will want to find the best internet sources for interior design.  There are many of them. Yes, 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 of Interior Design Before Committing to Formal Education

girl using vr headset testing new device

How Deep Down the Interior Design Rabbit Hole Do You Want to Go?

Okay, there are no blue or red pills. But consider that getting a degree or a diploma in interior design is a big commitment. 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 is some cases).

Spending some time on research of your new-found interest will serve you well when it comes time to make a decision and commit. 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 interior design 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 at this point, then 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.

Some of my personal favorite designers include Rand Paul, Paula Scher, Clodagh, Vicente Wolfe, Leonardo da Vinci, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, Bjarke Ingels 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.

On the other hand, if all you want is the knowledge, certification is not everything.


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 university-level courses available from top schools online that are a great deal cheaper than those available through in-person programs at most ordinary state universities and community colleges. I know this because that is the exact route I took to become a UK-qualified interior design professional.

I’m a big fan of getting a design education. From self-study using free internet resources through to masterclasses and full-on degrees, the value of learning design will pay you back in dividends many times over. Don’t rush into anything. Do your research, and feel your way into what feels right for you. If you would like some help in figuring out how to get started for yourself sign up below and join our design community.

All levels from the design-curious to design professionals are welcome! Talk soon,

Von Sassy.


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!

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