So, You Want to Be an Interior Designer?

16 minute read

woman in black blazer holding a folder with documents

Hey future designer,

Listen up.

If the idea of working in interior design gets your blood pumping, you might have the makings of a future Design Great in you.

But it’s going to take a lot more than an interest in interior design to make you an even halfway decent designer.

You’re going to have learn a lot.


What is Design?

To design is to research, create and execute a plan. To do this, someone ‘who designs’ will create a detailed set of instructions to enable the plan to be carried out. The plan is usually tailored to a specific set of requirements set by the needs of the design client.

When we are creating plans for the design of something, (say, a building), we rely on the help of educated professionals to take the preexisting conditions and transform them to their best potential outcome.

Basically, we need someone to create something out of nothing.

This process is called design.


What is a Designer?

The talented individuals inventing new schemes, systems and products are designers: People who create detailed plans for something with a specific set of requirements.

Designers can work to create simple products like lemon squeezers to entire systems, such as museum or gallery systems planning.


The Interior Designer

The plans an interior designer works with are specific to the role of an interior designer in a given project.

In other words, every project is different, and so will the plans produced for each design.

An interior designer is responsible for executing a design solution for an interior space within a structure; usually a building.

The interior spaces in question can range from dentists offices to public libraries.

Plans start life as “Design Proposals” and end up as “Design Directives” after many iterations.

They will will include written, graphic and technical drawings, as well as tons of product and material data.


Should You Be a Designer?

focused diverse colleagues analyzing project together in office

Glad you asked.

Whether you are leveraging a broad interest in the subject of interior design or harnessing some serious raw design talent, here’s how to know if you’d actually be a good fit for practicing interior design.

In this article we will explore whether it’s really interior design that you want to do. You will also be exposed to some of the other options available to a the design-oriented person.

These options include architectural design, digital design or industrial design, for example.


Even within interior design there are a lot of different types of interior design specialists you can be, each with a different level of education required.


The Perks of Being an Interior Designer

So, you want to be a designer.

From the outside, it looks like a rad gig:

Getting to shop with other people’s money.

Creating dream spaces.

Working for celebrities.

Getting your work published in Architectural Digest, on Dezeen and Arch Daily.

Where’s the catch?

chairs near body of water
Shouldn’t have any trouble doing your best work in this setting.

Weigh the Pros Against the Cons

Although the benefits of working in interior design are great, you need to check the perks against the negative aspects of the industry or the job.

Before moving ahead and committing to an expensive interior design education, it’s just wise to explore all of your options!


Diversification Within the Interior Design Field

Yes, there’s no denying it: A lot of what interior designers do is pretty “fun”, especially if you’re a creative type.

The idea of being able to make a potentially great income while working on cool projects and even getting the chance to travel and go to exotic locales can all be part of the world of interior design.

There’s a lot to love about the interior design profession, and because it is diverse, there are also a lot of different ways that you can specialize.

Here are just some of the options:


Interior Design Industry Specializations

-Architectural Design

-Bar and Nightclub Design

-Color Consultancy

-Digital Modeling (i.e.: for computer games and 3D virtual worlds)

-Interior Architecture

-Interior Design B2B Service

-Interior Design Consultancy

-Exhibition (Trade Shows) Design

-FF&E Design

-Hospitality (Hotels, Resorts) Design

-Interior Design Media

-Medical Design

-Real Estate Development Design

-Office and Workspace Design

-Public Sector (Government) Design Consultant

-Restaurant Design

-Retail Design

-Set Design (Theater and Movies)

-Spatial Planning Services

-Staging (Temporary Designs) Services

-Visualization and Rendering Services


After graduating with a degree in interior design, the world is your oyster.

Right?


Advice: Do Your Homework Research

photo of a woman thinking

Let’s be real for a moment.

No one knows exactly what your path to becoming a designer will be like, because it is different for everyone.

However, before you take on something as big as an interior design education it is vitally important that you know what you are getting yourself into.


Education and Post Graduation

There are going to be aspects to the education, the industry, and your personal options that you should know about.

You are going to have to get educated about getting your education.

You are going to have to get educated about your options after graduation.


Self Study

If you live somewhere which makes studying on your own a very real possibility for you, you are going to have to take what that means seriously, as well.

Make sure you understand what you are after, and then ensure that you can actually get there.


Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming an Interior Designer

woman wearing black and white brassiere sitting on white sand

Practical

What type of place could you see yourself working at in the future?

Do you want to build your own design empire?


Having a motivation, or “reason for doing it“, is a good place to start before proceeding with learning design.


Personal

Why is design important to you?

What can you see yourself doing every day?

Would you love the work? Would it energize you?

Does practicing interior design align with your principles?

Is interior design a good fit for your temperament and personality?


Speaking for myself, I love solving three dimensional design problems in Sketch Up and designing “off the cuff”.


Becoming a Designer

Are you prepared for the difficult aspects?

(The parts that almost no one enjoys?)

Are you ready to work hard and to “grind” for a long time before seeing any big pay off?

-Are you prepared to make mistakes?

-Can you take correction and handle being wrong?


Fun is not always an Option

You will need to know that you won’t always like everything you do.

To become a good designer you will need to stay committed to the becoming process.

We are always becoming better designers.

That is our job.

We take the difficult stuff along with the ‘fun’ stuff and we get better.

The better we get, the more creative we get to be!


Commitment to Learning

woman wearing brown shirt carrying black leather bag on front of library books

For interior designers, just as for many post-modern professionals, learning never really ends.

Technology is moving fast and the industry must stay up to date by evolving along with it.

As designer we must stay current in order to stay relevant.


The Challenges of the Interior Design Industry

Every industry has its pros and cons, and this is also true of interior design.

Interior Design’s biggest challenges are mostly ecological concerns related to the building industry, and they are very real problems.

The question you need to answer for yourself is, can you go into a less than perfect industry, navigate the challenges that the industry faces, and go on to creating a better system?


The Designers of the Future

woman in black coat holding flute

This is what we need from the designers of the future:

We need the type of designers that aren’t just going to put up with what’s become the status quo.

We need people who are going to ensure that the future of our species and our planet is a successful and even a glorious one.

We need to move forward with the confidence that we know how to help, and that we will apply our design help with all the finesse of our best possible design solution.

We need to put the planet, the people, and design first.

We must be willing to execute.

We must execute with precision.


Hedonistic Sustainability

Image Credit: CLAD GlobalOpens in a new tab.

Saving the planet does not need to mean becoming less as designers and being limited in our ability to do great work.

Think along the lines of the hedonistic-sustainability philosophy that the brilliant Danish architect Bjarke Ingels applies to his work.


Designers Must Take Action

The future is in need of designers to take action now to design future projects sustainably and to change systems which are archaic and in need of replacement.

A better future will have to be designed.


Do you want to be part of helping to design the revolution?

Are you prepared to work in design, as well as allow design to work to solve the real challenges?

Can you appreciate that by learning design, you are learning skills that can help humanity avert a tragic course at this point in our evolutionary history?

The choices and actions of interior design specialists acting in their current roles today have the power to tip the scale in the direction of a fully sustainable future.

This will be done by leadership through example.

We all need to get on the same side on this.


The Many Types of Designers

Architectural Designer

three people sitting beside table

Architectural designers work with the architectural planning of buildings, systems and products, and both public and private structures.

Architectural design can include interior architecture, urban and landscape architecture and systems architecture, depending on the specialty.

Fashion Designer

a person doing tailoring

Fashion designers work with apparel and the function, support and enhancement of the human body through attire. Yes, just plain old clothes.

And yet fashion design is about much more than just making people look good.

Fashion has a high rate of social engagement, and is a fast-moving industry.

The best fashion designers can expect to work with major fashion houses while ordinary fashion designers end up at small fashion firms.

Only the most brilliant and most daring go into business for themselves, but when they do, the results are often outstanding.


Graphic Designer

white and black book

A good graphic designer is always going to be in demand.

While many of us have taken to doing our own “graphic design”, the designers who are formally trained or at the forefront of the industry are taking it in many exciting new directions.

What is becoming possible is changing every day, and so is the role of a graphic designer. From entire advertising campaigns, company branding to motion graphics, this is a very fast-paced field.

For those who like to take it a little slower, there’s illustration design.


Industrial Designer

man in green crew neck t shirt writing on white paper

In our designed world we come across object created by talented industrial designers constantly.

Outside of the building you’re in and the clothes you are wearing, this type of designer probably does more to touch your every day life than most other designers.

From your furniture to your office equipment, we wouldn’t get very far without the unseen and often unsung work of product designers.

This field is highly technical and requires considerable education as well as training.


Interior Designer

two women and man walking in pavilion with vintage furniture

Interior designers are more versatile than you’d expect.

In design school interior designers are taught aspects of interior architecture and construction, product and furniture design, as well as systems design, including electrical, plumbing and lighting.

This field is also known as environmental design or interior architecture, in some cases.


“Universal” Designers?

What is universal design? Actually, universal design appplies to designing with the needs of everyone in mind, including those people who are disabled or require the use of a wheel chair or other special equipment.


However, the word “universal” is a good segway into another type of less well-known design, called “total design”.

Bruce Mau coined this word to describe a new breed of designer who is educated or works across multiple design specializations.

The idea is that all designers have a lot more in common than the differences which separate them.

Once you have learned one field of design, it is a lot easier to learn others.


A “total designer” might choose a project outside of the realm of their original specialty.

By working with other professionals and doing adequate research, the skill set of a designer can be applied in new ways.

The careful exploration of the project’s possibilities through the design process allows the designer to be successful outside of his original expertise.

What types of problems might “total designers” set their attention to?

Almost any problem you can think of, is in fact a design problem.


What Does an Interior Designer Do?

photo of woman using laptop

General

Now that we know about the other types of designers, let’s come back to interior design and why you might want to be an interior designer.

We could say that what an interior designer actually does is manage building and furnishing projects for interiors from start to finish.


Generalists and Specialists

From finding clients to do those projects for, through to researching the needs of the project and coming up with solutions, an interior designer will need to ensure all aspects of the project come together to achieve a final, successful outcome.

In a small interior design studio, designers will be relied upon to do many different aspects of a project. In larger firms, designers might work in departments that handle a specific portion of the design work.

It is possible to specialize further as an interior designer. Visualization, FF&E sourcing and even architectural model-making are areas you could specialize in, for example.


Skills

Designers draw on a range of learned skills to do design work. Data collection, research and report writing, client management, presentation, manual drawing and drafting, CAD drafting, construction drawing generation and contract bidding are some common areas.

Don’t forget the creative sides of color and materials selection and even photography!


Tools

assorted type and size utility cutters on clear and green olfa measuring tool near adhesive tape rolls

Interior designers rely heavily on their computers these days.

Special programs used by interior designers include AutoCAD Revit or 3DS Max, SketchUp, Rhino, Maya or other BIM (Building Information Modeling) software used by the industry..

Interior designers almost certainly need to know Photoshop or an equivalent for presentation and visual layout.

Designers will also work with project management software, which is uniuqe to each studio or firm.

Knowing how to use a drafting table with t-square is old school, but useful.

Designers should be comfortable drawing manually (by hand) with pencil and pen, and should be able to render or “color” drawings to a professional quality.

This is usually accomplished with professional copic (translucent, alcohol based) markers.


Process

crop black businessman writing on paper near laptop in cafeteria

The design process requires progression through a series of clearly defined steps. At their most basic, they usually include:

  1. 1. Programming
  2. 2. Concept Development
  3. 3. Presentation
  4. 4. Design
  5. 5. Documentation
  6. 6. Execution
  7. 7. Evaluation

If you hate revising things, modifying, changing and doing things over, you will absolutely hate design work. Why?

It’s virtually unheard of for the first iteration of a design to be used by the end of the process.

You could say that the modifications are, in fact, part of the process.

The final design will need to evolve through the design process, and you guessed it, that is often a lot of work and it takes a lot of back and forth between the designer, the client and many trade professionals.


How to Become an Interior Designer

woman posing

Personal Attributes

You need strong people skills to work in interior design.

Teamworking, communication, presentation and speaking skills are all useful.

It helps if you are a person who likes solving problems. After all this, is what an interior designer is: a spatial problem solver.

If you give up easily or don’t like getting feedback on your work, interior design is probably not for you.


Skills Preparation

Let’s say you haven’t been scared off yet, and you’re still with me. Let’s say you’re still really interested in becoming an interior designer. What should you do to prepare for a career in interior design.

The first and most obvious step is to get educated about your new future profession.

For this, I recommend that you immerse yourself in the world of interior design as much as possible.

Go to the library and check out books, follow designers on social media, read design magazines and go to industry trade shows if you can.

Consider taking a short design course on Skillshare, or possibly a Master Class.


Design Education

man and woman wearing graduation gowns smiling together

This topic could easily go into great depth.

For the purposes of this article, let’s just say that when it comes time to get your education you will want to know exactly what is required in order for you to work as a professional interior designer in your country.


Some countries require you to have a Bachelor’s degree from university and even additional licensing.

In other countries there are no clear rules, but the industry will have standards which are in place.

It’s safest to go with a reputable and accredited course.


Do your homework and find out all you can before committing to anything.

This is especially true if you plan to study online.


Certificate Courses

A certificate course is usually offered by a trade school or community college. In some places, this type of education is all you need. Some courses are as brief as six months or a year.


Diploma Courses

Diploma courses are more complete and “official”.

They are usually offered by universities and may include additional study subjects outside of interior design.

Diploma courses usually come in two varieties: an Associate’s degree (a two or three year program) and a Bachelor’s degree (usually a three or four year program).


Trade School

three persons sitting on the stairs talking with each other

There are dedicated design schools which exist both online and in brick and mortar locations. As mentioned before, these are usually certificate programs.


Further Education

As long as you are in the field of interior design, you will need to stay abreast of industry news and learn about new technologies. The interior design industry is changing, and we need to be part of the change.


Career

When it comes to a career in interior design you can expect to be readily employable upon graduating from a decent design school.

Of course there are no guarantees, but it’s good to know that interior designers are still in demand, and the demand for designers look set to hold steady.

It would be beneficial to look into working in a different metropolis if your town or city lacks options for new design graduates.


Design Firm

man and woman sitting at table

If you choose to work at a large design firm, bear in mind that your early days might not involve pay. At least not at first.

Internship

Just like those lawyer internships we see on TV, you might at first end up running out for the department head’s coffee or manning the photocopy machine.

If you’re going to do an internship, find one that pays.

On the other hand, if the opportunity is too good to pass up, try to get this early exposure to the job while you’re still in school.

Apprenticeship

Although true “apprenticeship” is harder to come by these days, it can be a great way to learn in a real world environment.

If your qualifications are lacking, this is one way you might find a way into working in the field.

Be prepared to start at zero.


Solo Practice

young lady typing on keyboard of laptop in living room

With the right education and training, you might be bold enough to strike out on your own. The good news is that these days it’s easier than ever to find clients online.

Freelancing

Similarly, you could work as a remote designer from the comfort of your own home, if that’s your thing. There are more opportunities for interior designers online every day.


Why Choose Interior Design?

So, do you still want to be an interior designer?

If you still answer yes to this question, congratulations!

Interior design just might be for you after all.

I hope this article has helped you to make a more informed decision, but don’t stop there.

If being a future designer is the life you choose, don’t wait to start learning more today!


Next Steps

Don’t miss the following articles to help you through your early stages.

9 Awesome Reasons to Learn Interior DesignOpens in a new tab.

How You Know Interior Design is For YouOpens in a new tab.

Can Design Change the World?Opens in a new tab.

4 Reasons Why Interior Design ExistsOpens in a new tab.

I will expand this article with useful resources and information soon.

Don’t forget to sign up or drop me a line personally (hello@designbaddie.com) if you have any questions or have ideas for further articles.

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Happy design learning, friend!

vonsassy

Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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