A discussion of education and career choices for interior designers.
Do you enjoy TV shows such as "Trading Spaces," "Surprised by
Design," or at least half of the HGTV network schedule? When you visit a
friend's house for the first time, do you find yourself thinking about how the
furnishings could be improved or better positioned? In a cathedral or museum,
do the room spaces interest you as much as the art they contain? If so, you
might make a good interior designer. You can get a wide variety of
interior design training from many institutions; if you do well, the continuing
strong demand for professional interior-design services virtually assures you a
For most of the world's history, interior design was reserved for large
public buildings and the dwellings (in life and in death) of the extremely
wealthy and powerful: palaces, temples, tombs, and the like. "Ordinary
people" hardly had the resources to survive, much less beautify the places
where they lived. But when a middle class began to emerge during the early
Renaissance, interior design spread to the masses; designers have been improving
the look, feel, and usefulness of even the smallest of homes and other
buildings ever since.
Interior design is about more than ornamentation; it's about creating a
total environment inside a building or vehicle that best allows or induces
people to do the things that the building is meant for. Sculptures, computers,
and drill presses can be designed without being overly concerned about where
they'll be placed, what other things will be nearby, or what people will be
doing in their vicinity besides using/appreciating them. That's decidedly not
the case for interiors. Interiors are inhabited; they are art that people live,
work, and play in. Because they involve such complex webs of interaction
between space, objects, and human needs and behaviors, designing interiors can
require much more consideration and planning than other design types.
You can learn interior design at several types of schools:
- Numerous career
schools now offer interior-design certificates and diplomas (and
some degrees), including Harrington
College of Design in Chicago, IL; Antonelli
College with campuses in Ohio and Mississippi; the Art Institutes
with campuses across the US; the International Academy of
Design & Technology with campuses across North America; and American
InterContinental University with campuses across the US and in London.
- Many community
colleges and junior colleges offer certificate,
diploma, two- or three-year associate degree programs, or even higher
degrees in interior design, including Arapahoe Community College
in Littleton, CO; Bellevue
Community College in Bellevue, WA; Delgado Community
College in New Orleans, LA; Lansing Community College
in Lansing, MI; and HKU
SPACE Community College in Hong Kong.
- You can get many types of
degrees in the field from traditional four-year colleges and
universities such as the University of Florida in
Gainesville, FL; Virginia
Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA; Ohio University in
Athens, OH; Ryerson
University in Toronto, ON; and the University of Salford
in Salford (Greater Manchester), UK. Depending on the school's philosophy
and emphasis, four-year interior-design degrees might be Bachelor of
Science, Bachelor of Arts, or Bachelor of Fine Arts; graduate degrees will
be similarly diverse.
- As online education grows
in popularity and availability, it will be more and more possible to earn
certificates, diplomas, and even degrees online. Online
interior design education is already available from several institutions,
including the Art
Choosing an interior-design program is very much like choosing any other
type of educational program. But in addition to considering class sizes and the
locations, costs, lengths, and types of programs, as you would in other
fields, you should investigate the facilities of any
campus-based interior-design program: How good is their design studio, and the
computer hardware and software you'll use for design work?
Also, what are the
qualifications of their faculty? Does the program have relationships with
architectural or interior-design firms that will help you get real-world
experience as a student? You'll probably want to attend a program accredited by
the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), (formerly known as FIDER), which has been holding schools in North America
to a single standard for interior design education since 1970.
And perhaps the
most important question: What percentage of the program's
graduates have historically gone on to successful careers as
professional interior designers?
Here are some of the different subjects you might learn if you study
- Drawing, drafting,
and perspective are vitally important; you'll need to be
able to draw what you're designing, and to translate loose architectural
drawings into realistic scale representations, in order to make sure that
a design will work before you actually try to install it. Computer-aided
design (CAD) makes producing and working with 2D and 3D drawings
much easier, and is an essential tool in the modern design industry.
Learning modeling will help you to turn your drawings
into those scale-model site plans that companies love to put under glass
in the front lobby.
- The history of art
and the history of interiors will teach you to recognize
and selectively use styles and designs that have been used in previous
years (and centuries).
- Form and space
might seem basic, but it takes training to perceive some of the ways that
they influence how people see their environment and use the things in it.
- You need to know the
properties of materials: not only how they hold weight or
hold paint, but also the temperatures at which they burn, the gases they
release when they burn, whether they reflect or absorb sound, and more.
- Learning concept
presentation is a good idea, because you'll have to use oral
descriptions and written proposals to persuade your clients that your
visual ideas are their best options.
- To actually build or install
your designs, you'd better know construction, construction
documents, and building codes.
- You can accessorize nicely if
you have a good grasp of textiles (woven goods such as
linens, carpeting, and tapestry) and furniture design.
- If you plan to incorporate
living plants into your interiors, you should study gardens
the study of reducing the stress of positioning and moving the human body,
will help you to make safer interiors that seem easier and more natural to
- The Oriental design
philosophy of feng shui, which tries to balance and
harmonize the flow of "life energy" through interiors and their
occupants, is currently popular and can often prove useful even in the
most Western of settings.
- Not all projects involve
designing new interiors from scratch, so you'll need to know the special
requirements of additions, the preservation and
restoration of older spaces you want to keep, and the renovation
and reuse of older spaces you want to make over.
- If you hope to be a partner
in or proprietor of an interior-design firm, you should take business
Which brings us to what happens after you graduate.
Interior designers have terrific employment opportunities with architectural
firms, corporations, industrial concerns, retail stores and chains, government
agencies, and many other companies. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects
employment for designers to grow 19% through 2018, although competition for positions
will be keen. However, even if job competition is high, people who have been
trained in interior design are better suited than those in many other
occupations to create or partner in their own businesses. The BLS notes that
"[t]hree out of 10 designers are self-employed—almost 5 times
the proportion for all professional and related occupations." Here are some of the career specialties that an education
in interior design can prepare you for:
- Interior decorators
concentrate on the aesthetics of an inside space -- how the paint will
look under various lighting, how the upholstery will feel, how the chairs
will complement the carpeting, and so on. (By contrast, interior
designers are concerned not only with aesthetics, but with such
things as electrical and fire safety, usability, acoustics, and whether or
not design elements meet specifications -- in short, how to make an inside
space most fit for use by the people who live, work, or visit there.)
- Residential interior
designers plan and specify what goes into people's homes,
focusing not only on finishes and materials, but on patterns of foot
traffic, child safety, home security, the cabling and space demands of
everything from refrigerators to home theaters and computer systems, and
much more. Because a majority of home-construction spending goes toward
renovations, and bathrooms and kitchens are the parts of homes that are
renovated most frequently, some residential interior designers specialize
further as kitchen and bath designers.
- As opposed to working on
private residences, commercial interior designers plan
and design the insides of public buildings, including but not limited to
hotels, restaurants, theaters, stores, malls, schools, churches, museums,
libraries, office buildings, hospitals, and even prisons. Each type of
building has specific design needs and limitations, so many commercial
interior designers specialize in particular types.
- Exhibit designers
work with curators and preparators to design building installations --
including cases, pedestals, display tables, wall and lighting fixtures,
entire galleries, etc. -- with an eye toward the harmonious display,
lighting, and preservation of the exhibited items, as well as the flow of
visitor traffic past or through the exhibits.
- Rather than concentrating on
the colors and functions of interior objects and surfaces, space
planners creatively arrange spaces. Given the people and things
and activity that a room or building must contain, a space planner's task
is to make sure that those contents are situated so that the room or
building remains as space-efficient and comfortable as possible.
- Set designers
work with production directors and art directors to design sets and
backgrounds for stage productions, films, and live-action computer games
to maximize the experience of the audience while staying within production
- Lighting designers
use lighting systems to make interior spaces more visually satisfying,
keeping in mind their other design elements and the relevant energy,
maintenance, and electrical-code issues.
To become officially licensed to practice interior design in many US states
and Canadian provinces, you'll need to pass the certification exam offered by
the National Council for Interior Design
Qualifications (NCIDQ). Passing this exam is also a requirement for full or
resistered membership in many professional interior-design organizations,
including the International Interior Design
Association (IIDA), Interior
Designers of Canada (IDC), the Institute of
Store Planners (ISP), and the world's largest such association, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).
If you want to be a kitchen and bath designer, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA)
offers its own set of certifications.
Interior design might not be a "vital pursuit." A lot of the
world's people have managed to live without much of it for millenia, and
continue to do so to this day. But it can be shown that people are generally
healthier in, and more pleased with, well-designed homes; more productive in
well-designed workspaces; more spiritually satisfied in well-designed places of
worship; and so forth. By studying to become an interior designer, you'll be
learning how to improve quality of life, not only for your clients, but for everyone
who uses the interiors you make for them, over the interiors' entire term of
service. That kind of impact is afforded to very few professions; why not make
designs on it today?