Learn the Basics of Interior Design

As members of a service profession, designers work with a wide range of clients and complete both commercial and residential projects. Although most favor one or the other, many designers work at least part time in both fields, or try one field for a time and switch later on in their career. 

To succeed in the fast-paced interior design industry, it’s essential to not only be creative, artistic, and imaginative, but also disciplined, organized, and business-savvy. After all, interior design is about more than just achieving an aesthetic vision – it’s about finding clients and satisfying their need for a functional space; on budget and on time.  Interior designers must be comfortable meeting and dealing with potentially difficult clients. They listen effectively, convey ideas clearly, work collaboratively with contractors, architects, and service providers; and have excellent time management and budgetary skills. 

About 3 out of 10 interior designers are self-employed. Many more provide design services in architecture, furniture, and in home furnishing stores. Still others perform freelance design work while holding a salaried job in design or another field. 

To achieve any of these career paths, your inherent creativity and design prowess probably aren’t enough. This is an extremely competitive field, and to get noticed, you should seek a college degree in interior design, experience in the field, and professional certification. 

  • Do most designers work for commercial clients, residential clients, or both?
  • What is the average annual salary an interior designer can make?
  • What are the top skills for interior designers?
  • How do interior designers find clients?
  • How many interior designers are self-employed?
  • Is inherent creativity and design prowess enough to make it as an interior designer?


Learn Formal Concepts, Methods & Theory

Formal concepts are the terms and ideas that shape your design. These include color, shape, line, texture, scale, proportion, and other concepts. Having knowledge of these terms helps you figure out how to design an interior space. 

Design methods create the systematic framework for how you implement your designs. Perhaps one designer’s method includes hand-drafting and space planning while another prefers to walk around the space to be redesigned and make changes on an iPad they carry with them. It’s common for two designers to use the same design methods and come to completely different conclusions on how to design a space. That’s what makes interior design specific to each individual, and individually distinct. 

Design theory attempts to attach a reason to why some designs work and others don’t. Certain colors, shapes, lines, and textures evoke different feelings. Other principles of design such as balance, symmetry, contrast, and repetition make a space desirable or undesirable, depending on how they’re used. 

Interior design technique is all about “how.” How to use CAD and Google SketchUp to create floor plans, how to render drawings by hand, how to find the right furniture, and ultimately how to please the client.

  • How do colors affect the feeling in a room?
  • How does knowing about scale and proportion help me design a space?
  • What design method will work best for me?
  • Is it important to hand-draw ideas for the client?
  • What are the fundamentals of design theory?
  • What’s involved in the interior design technique?


Build a Strong Portfolio & Personal Brand

While still in design school, take high-quality photos of every completed project to start building a strong portfolio from day one of your training. Include pictures of hand-drawn sketches and drafts, sample boards, CAD and SketchUp drawings, models, as well as your resume. 

An impressive portfolio is the key to landing a job after graduation, where you can continue to build your portfolio and achieve your career goals.

Get involved in career-related extracurricular activities to start crafting a personal brand. Participate in art, architecture, language arts, and other programs. Take business classes that teach you the basic fundamentals of how to run a business. The goal of self-branding is to highlight your talents, interests, and accomplishments. 

A great way to start making industry connections is to become an American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) student member while still in school. Participate in a local chapter or organize your own if your school doesn’t have one. Then, participate in ASID chapter events to meet future colleagues and employers, receive additional training, and get your name out there.

  • When should I start building my portfolio?
  • What should I include in my portfolio?
  • How do I craft a personal brand?
  • How do I market the personal brand I create?
  • What organizations should I join to make industry connections?
  • What is the ASID?


Continue Growing Your Skills


To certify your professional status, you must sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. To qualify to take the exam, you must have six years of combined education and professional work experience. 

Technical skills, design prowess, and business knowledge aren’t learned all at once and continuing education can keep a designer's competencies and skills up-to-date. You can also participate in life-long learning through the Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC), or receive training for established interior designers through a variety of nonprofit organizations. This training and business support is especially helpful for self-employed and freelance designers looking to better market their skills.

  • What is the purpose of the NCIDQ exam?
  • How do I qualify for the NCIDQ exam?
  • Why is continuing education important?
  • What organizations provide continuing education for interior designers?
  • Do I need additional training and business support?
  • Where can I find additional training once I become an established interior designer?

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