The Top 6 Skills Every Interior Designer Needs

interior design skills for interior designers education hard soft skills

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What are the top most important interior design skills that every new interior designer needs to learn?


Whether you are just getting started learning interior design, or whether you are curious about what skills interior designers need to be successful, get ready to skill up!

This post will give you the info you need to focus on the most important skills for interior design so that you don’t waste another minute! Let’s dive in, shall we?

Let’s define “skill”.


What is a Skill?

  • A skill is a learned coordination or dexterity which is applied to physical tasks
  • A skill requires that you apply your knowledge to a problem or task
  • A skill is a power developed to do something effectively

Hard and Soft Interior Design Skills

You may have heard of “hard skills” and “soft skills“, as related to interior design. Well, we are going to be combining the best of both hard and soft skills to give you an idea of what will really be required of you in an actual, real-world design role.

In case you aren’t sure what hard and soft skills are, here’s an easy way to remember it: “Hard” skills are those skills which non-designers may see as difficult to learn. They are usually technical and computer related skills, or skills related specifically to design as a job, such as computer aided design and project management.

Soft” skills, on the other hand, are those skills which you might develop as part of your own self development. They might include things like working with others and perseverence in problem solving.


Hard skills make you a designer. When combined, soft and hard design skills make you a top notch designer.


How Hard and Soft Interior Design Skills are Learned

While hard skills are generally learned through training, soft skills are not always taught in school. Some people seem to naturally have these types of skills, while others need to learn to develop them.

It may come as a surprise, but some of the biggest interior design skills that you need to be successful are skills you can develop yourself! 

Yes, it is possible to learn both hard and soft interior design skills on your own (at least at first!) if you are interested in getting started today.

If you are interested in working in the interior design field, you might also be happy to know that hard interior design skills are a great way to upskillOpens in a new tab..

With a little effort on your part, you could be on your way to a new future careerOpens in a new tab..


The 6 Skills Every Interior Designer Needs:

  1. A good general “eye” for composition
  2. Manual drawing and drafting skills
  3. CAD (computer aided design) software skills
  4. Photo editing software skills
  5. Interpersonal communication skills
  6. Organizational skills

1. A Good General “Eye” for Composition

interior design skills designer needs eye composition soft skill

‘Soft’ Skill


Eye for Design: Nature or Nurture?

This first item on our list, it would seem, some people are just born with. 

A ‘good eye‘ is something that distinguishes those with “good taste” from those without. 

However, this is only part of the story.

If you would like to develop your eye for design composition (the parts a design is made up of), you should know that developing a conventional “good eye” is one hundred percent possible with practice.  

Here’s How:


How to Develop an Eye for Design Composition

  • Pay attention to the broader context of what you’re looking at and look for clues as to why something works or doesn’t work; whether that’s in art, photography or an interior.
  • Consider taking up amateur photography. Photography is particularly helpful for developing an eye for composition. 
  • Start making mood boards. These can be organized around different topics or themes. You can also create collections on Pinterest.  

Developing an “eye” for design is about learning to see the world in a different wayOpens in a new tab..


2. Manual Drawing and Drafting Skills

interior design skills designer needs drafting drawing manual house floor plan hard skill

‘Hard’ Skill


Old-School Design Drafting

Number two on our list is drafting.

Although it was a total pain in the butt to me at the time and already starting to go “out of date”, I’m so thankful that my interior design school taught manual draftingOpens in a new tab. to its students.  Sadly, manual drafting for interior design and architecture is no longer offered in leading schools today.

I believe one hundred percent that students should learn to manually draft as a foundation for computer drafting, even if it is only at the foundation level.


The Benefits of Knowing How to Draft Manually

If you want to set yourself apart from the competition, embrace the old-school method of drafting by hand using a drafting board or table. The manual drafting process forces you to think your plan through from the set-up phase, and to consider things like line weights.


Not only will you be a better designer if you have this type of knowledge and background, but you will be a more sought-after and valuable designer to your employer. This is because you possess a design skill which is now in short supply.

Sure, you might not need to bust out the drafting table and t-square at your job (in fact, after school you might never do it again!), but after learning manual drafting you will be so much more confident with a pencil and pen.


The next time you need to sketch something on paper to get a quick idea across to your boss or the all-important client, you’ll thank me.

This brings us to drawing freehand.


Free Hand Drawing for Interior design

We can argue over whether you’d ever need manual drafting, but the skill of drawing free hand can not be ignored. Free-hand drawing is at the heart of the architectural imagination, which in turn is necessary to conceptual design.

The continual and progressive use of a sketchbook to record ideas and track learning is encouraged, and even required, in most quality interior design educational programs.

Personally speaking, although I have to admit that I sometimes had a love/hate relationship with my sketchbook, looking back I can see now how valuable it was. The benefits of drawing in a sketchbook (almost daily) in the long run far outweighed any initial discomfort with the process.  

I can safely say that designers will find being able to draw (both free-hand as well as by using a manual drafting method) advantageous to their professional process in the future.


Combining Manual with Digital

Hand-Drawn

Technical drawing and freehand sketching opens a whole new world to budding designers and it also provids you with mementoes of your discoveries on the path to becoming designers once you graduate.


Computer Aided Design

It is one hundred percent necessary to know how to use computer aided design or ‘CAD’ software programs if you want to be employable in 2022. Computer software (CAD) is a powerful addition to a manual drafting foundation.

When you’ve used both methods it is more obvious (and also easier to compare and understand) what the limitations of each method is without the other.


A synchronization of physical and digital drafting can allow designers a more complete understanding of the subject.


Earn Money as a (Freelance) CAD Technician!

Drafting (manual but more CAD these days, see below) is a valuable interior design/architectural skill.

Did you know?

A professional draftsperson can charge $100 to $150 an hour, $1000-$1500/room or $2000-$6000/remodel project.Opens in a new tab.

If this is something that you happen to like to do that’s great to know, isn’t it?


3. CAD (Computer-Aided Design) Software Skills

interior design skills designer needs drafting CAD man sitting in front of computer hard skill

‘Hard’ Skill


Changing with the Times

There was a time when architects and designers didn’t have computers in their studios, and drawings were painstakingly done by hand. 

Although there are some absolutely incredible examples of work from those times, let’s be glad that we can rely on computational power to do the heavy lifting today.  


An Essential Skill

As a designer, I can guarantee that you will need to be able to create easily reproducible and editable mock-ups of your design in three dimensions (using computer-aided design or CAD).

In order to do this, you have a variety of programs to choose from. 

From totally free and open-sourceOpens in a new tab. to powerful, superstar-architects’-studio-level softwareOpens in a new tab. suites that cost about as much as getting your online degree, you can take your pick!


Bottom line: Start out however you wish, but get started learning the basics of computer-aided design.  

Yes, now.


4. Photo and Image Editing Software Skills

interior design skills designer needs photo editing software hard skill

‘Hard’ Skill


Graphic Design for Interior Design: Layout and Touch Ups

I’m surprised they don’t really teach graphic design to interior design students, because it seems like we get thrown in the deep end.

The safest bet with graphic design for interior design is to is to go minimal and keep a clean profile the way they do in architecture. Let the font and layout support the graphics and design presentation, without competing with it.

You should also know what the different styles of graphics mihght infer in mood and tone.

Outside of layout, however, when presenting concepts to clients your 3D models will need some adjustments to get from block-y and flat-looking to realistic. 


Knowing how to use an image editing tool is an extremely useful skill in an image-dominant industry like interior design or architecture.

At each phase of a project, from design conceptualization through to final presentation, if you can manipulate and bend images to your will and to best possible effect it will serve you incredibly well.

So, fire up that Photoshop or Photoshop substituteOpens in a new tab. and let your newfound ‘eye for design’ be your guide!


5. Interpersonal Communication Skills

interior design skills designer needs interpersonal communication soft skill

‘Soft” Skill


‘People Persons’

It might seem strange after a list of technical skills to include this one, but our fifth and sixth skills are both one of those soft skills we talked about.

The truth is that interior design is a service-based profession. As such, the success of any interior design venture relies on it’s success in serving, or else working in teamwork with, other people.


Yes, interior designers are often in charge of directing and managing people.  

From clients to suppliers, dealerships to construction professionals and even the city government, interior designers need to be able to deal with and also get the best out of the people they interact with.


The better your people skills the better you will do anywhere, but in interior design this is especially true.

If you aren’t good with people, think about taking a course or improving through practice.

Put yourself out there more often and speak up, but also listen to others and be real.

Remember that empathy is a design superpower.


6. Organizational Skills

black headphones on brown wooden cabinet designer soft skill organization

‘Soft’ Skill


No, Multi-Task is Not a Dirty Word

Even with all the amazing (and utterly irreplaceable) computer programs and web applications available out there to help us handle the workload, there is still a lot going on in a traditional interior design studio!  

Amid the hustle and bustle that comes with the energy of many creative people in one space, there can realistically be varying schedules and sometimes multiple projects and priorities on the go at any one time.  

From last minute pick-ups to remembering who you gave the construction documents to be finalized to when you ran out the door, you will need to be able to effectively multitask.  

It helps to be either extremely orderly and disciplined or else to grow to love the mess that is just part and parcel with bringing a creative vision to life.

People say there’s no such thing as multi-tasking. 

Every designer knows this is 100%, totally not true.

We are just high-functioning multi-taskers.


Recap

If you plan on going to formal school to pursue an education in interior design then you are covered on 3/6 of the skills I mentioned.

black pencils and design word hard soft skills for interior designers

Top 3 Soft and 3 Hard Design Skills for Interior Design

Soft Skills = An eye for Composition, interpersonal skills and organizational skills

Hard Skills = Drawing and drafting by hand, CAD software skills and graphic design skills


The “eye” for design is something you’ll have to develop as you go. It can be learned by following certain principles, but to be honest, our ‘eye‘ is something we work on all of our lives as artists.


Drawing and drafting, as well as 2D-3D CAD training studios will almost certainly be part of a good interior design curriculum. Alternatively you can study these as separate subjects. Don’t forget about your online options.


As for the interpersonal and organizational skills, you can learn more on this outside of your curriculum or else just let life be your best teacher and figure it out as you go along!

The principles from the old public relations classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleOpens in a new tab.” by Dale Carnegie is true for any industry and well worth reading.


An empathy-based approach, including empathy in relation to nature and resources was highly stressed throughout the interior design coursework I did in school, but I know that ultimately it will be up to me to decide how I handle myself in the ‘real world’.


P.S.: You can also get a better idea of how interior design skills and subjects come together by following the link below. 

Thanks for reading and best of luck on your design journey!

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Vonsassy is an interior designer graduate living and working in the Far East.

vonsassy

Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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