Keen competition is expected for jobs in interior design because
many talented individuals are attracted to careers as interior
Individuals with little or no formal training in interior
design, as well as those lacking creativity and perseverance,
will find it very difficult to establish and maintain a career
in this occupation.
About 3 out of 10 are self-employed.
Postsecondary education—especially a bachelor’s degree—is
recommended for entry-level positions in interior design; licensure
is required in 23 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto
Nature of the Work
Interior designers draw upon many disciplines to enhance
the function, safety, and aesthetics of interior spaces. Interior
designers are concerned with how different colors, textures, furniture,
lighting, and space work together to meet the needs of a building’s
occupants. Designers are involved in planning the interior spaces
of almost all buildings—offices, airport terminals, theaters,
shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals, and private
residences. Designers help to improve these spaces in order to
boost office productivity, increase sales, attract a more affluent
clientele, provide a more relaxing hospital stay, or increase
the building’s market value.
Traditionally, most interior designers focused on decorating:
choosing a style and color palette and then selecting appropriate
furniture, floor and window coverings, artwork, and lighting.
However, an increasing number of designers are becoming more involved
in designing architectural detailing, such as crown molding and
built-in bookshelves, or planning layouts of buildings undergoing
renovation, including helping to determine the location of windows,
stairways, escalators, and walkways. Interior designers must be
able to read blueprints, understand building and fire codes, and
know how to make the space accessible to the disabled. Designers
frequently collaborate with architects, electricians, and building
contractors to ensure that their designs are safe and meet construction
Despite the varied building spaces interior designers work with,
almost all projects follow the same design process. The first
step in developing a new design is to determine the needs of the
client, known as programming. The designer usually will meet face-to-face
with the client in order to find out how the space will be used
and to get an idea of the client’s design preferences and budget.
For example, the designer might inquire about a family’s cooking
habits if the family is remodeling a kitchen or ask about a store
or restaurant’s target customer in order to pick an appropriate
design. The designer also will visit the space and take inventory
of the existing furniture and equipment as well as identify the
any potential design problems and the positive attributes of the
Following the initial meeting with the client, the designer will
formulate a design plan and estimate the costs on the basis of
the client’s goals and budget. Today, designs often are created
with the use of computer-aided design (CAD), which provides a
more detailed layout and also allows for easier corrections than
sketches made by hand. Once the designer has completed the proposed
design, he or she will present it to the client and make revisions
on the basis of the client’s input.
When a design concept has been finalized, the designer will begin
specifying the materials, finishes, and furnishings required,
such as furniture, lighting, flooring, wall covering, and artwork.
In addition, depending on the complexity of the project, the designer
will need to prepare drawings and submit them for architectural
review and approval by a construction inspector to ensure that
the design meets all applicable building codes. If a project requires
any structural work, the designer will need to work with an architect
or engineer for that part of the project. Most designs also will
require the hiring of contractors to do such technical work as
lighting, plumbing, or electrical wiring. When necessary, the
designer will choose qualified contractors and write up work contracts.
Finally, the designer will develop a timeline for the project
and ensure that it is completed on time, including coordinating
the work schedules of contractors if necessary. The designer will
oversee the installation of the design elements, and after the
project is complete, the designer, together with the client, will
pay follow-up visits to the building site to ensure that the client
is satisfied with the final product. If the client is not satisfied,
the designer will make all necessary corrections.
Designers who work as in-store designers for furniture or home
and garden stores offer their design services in addition to selling
the store’s merchandise. In-store designers provide services similar
to those offered by other interior designers, such as selecting
a style and color scheme that fits the client’s needs or finding
suitable accessories and lighting. However, in-store designers
rarely visit their clients’ spaces and are limited in using only
a particular store’s products.
Interior designers sometimes supervise assistants who carry out
their creations and perform administrative tasks, such as reviewing
catalogues and ordering samples. Designers who run their own businesses
also may devote a considerable amount of time meeting with clients
and contractors, developing new business contacts, examining equipment
and space needs, and attending to business matters.
Although most interior designers do many kinds of projects, some
specialize in one area of interior design. Some specialize in
the type of building space—usually residential or commercial—while
others specialize in a certain design element or type of client,
such as health care facilities. The most common specialties of
this kind are lighting, kitchen and bath, and closet designs.
However, designers can specialize in almost any area of design,
including acoustics and noise abatement, security, electronics
and home theaters, home spas, and indoor gardens.
Three areas of design that are becoming increasingly popular
are ergonomic design elder design, and environmental—or green—design.
Ergonomic design involves designing work spaces and furniture
that emphasize good posture and minimize muscle strain on the
body. Elder design involves planning interior space to aid in
the movement of the elderly and disabled, such as widening passageways
to accommodate wheelchairs. Green design involves selecting furniture
and carpets that are free of chemicals and hypoallergenic and
selecting construction materials that are energy efficient or
are made from renewable resources.
Working conditions and places of employment vary. Interior designers
employed by large corporations or design firms generally work
regular hours in well-lighted and comfortable settings. Designers
in smaller design consulting firms or those who freelance generally
work on a contract, or job, basis. They frequently adjust their
workday to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines, meeting
with the clients during evening or weekend hours when necessary.
Consultants and self-employed designers tend to work longer hours
and in smaller, more congested environments.
Interior designers may work under stress to meet deadlines, stay
on budget, and please clients. Self-employed designers also are
under pressure to find new clients in order to maintain a steady
Designers may transact business in their own offices or studios
or in clients’ homes or offices. They also may travel to other
locations, such as showrooms, design centers, clients’ exhibit
sites, and manufacturing facilities. With the increased speed
and sophistication of computers and advanced communications networks,
designers may form international design teams, serve a geographically
more dispersed clientele, research design alternatives by using
information on the Internet, and purchase supplies electronically,
all with the aid of a computer in their workplace or studio.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Postsecondary education—especially a bachelor’s degree—is recommended
for entry-level positions in interior design. In addition, 24
States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico register or
license interior designers. Following formal training, graduates
usually enter a 1-year to 3-year apprenticeship to gain experience
before taking a national licensing exam or joining a professional
association. Designers in States that do not require the exam
may opt to take it as proof of their qualifications. The National
Council administers the licensing exam for Interior Design Qualification
(NCIDQ). To be eligible to take the exam, applicants must have
at least 6 years of combined education and experience in interior
design, of which at least 2 years constitute postsecondary education
in design. Once candidates have passed the qualifying exam, they
are granted the title of Certified, Registered, or Licensed Interior
Designer, depending on the State. Continuing education is required
in order to maintain one’s licensure.
Training programs are available from professional design schools
or from colleges and universities and usually take 2 to 4 years
to complete. Graduates of 2-year and 3-year programs are awarded
certificates or associate’s degrees in interior design and normally
qualify as assistants to interior designers upon graduation. Graduates
with bachelor’s degrees usually qualify for entry into a formal
design apprenticeship program. Basic coursework includes computer-aided
design (CAD), drawing, perspective, spatial planning, color and
fabrics, furniture design, architecture, ergonomics, ethics, and
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits
approximately 250 postsecondary institutions with programs in
art and design. Most of these schools award a degree in interior
design. Applicants may be required to submit sketches and other
examples of their artistic ability.
The Foundation for Interior Design Education Research also accredits
interior design programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree. In
2005, there were 137 accredited bachelor’s degree programs in
interior design in the United States, located primarily in schools
of art, architecture, and home economics.
After the completion of formal training, interior designers will
enter a 1-year to 3-year apprenticeship to gain experience before
taking a licensing exam. Most apprentices work in design or architecture
firms under the strict supervision of an experienced designer.
Apprentices also may choose to gain experience working as an in-store
designer in furniture stores. The NCIDQ offers the Interior Design
Experience Program (IDEP), which helps entry-level interior designers
gain valuable work experience by supervising work experience and
offering mentoring services and workshops to new designers.
Following the apprenticeship, designers will take the national
licensing exam or choose to become members of a professional association.
Because registration or licensure is not mandatory in all States,
membership in a professional association is an indication of an
interior designer’s qualifications and professional standing.
The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) is the largest
professional association for interior designers in the United
States. Interior designers can qualify for membership with at
least a 2-year or higher degree and work experience.
In addition to national licensure and membership in a professional
association, optional certifications in kitchen and bath design
are available from the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
The association offers three different levels of certification
for kitchen and bath designers, each completed through training
seminars that culminate in certification exams.
Employers increasingly prefer interior designers who are familiar
with CAD software. Interior designers also increasingly need to
know the basics of architecture and engineering in order to ensure
that their designs meet building safety codes.
In addition to possessing technical knowledge, interior designers
must be creative, imaginative, and persistent and must be able
to communicate their ideas in writing, visually, and verbally.
Because tastes in style can change quickly, designers need to
be well read, open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react
to changing trends. Problem-solving skills and the ability to
work independently and under pressure are important traits. People
in this field need self-discipline to start projects on their
own, to budget their time, and to meet deadlines and production
schedules. Good business sense and sales ability also are important,
especially for those who freelance or run their own business.
Beginning interior designers receive on-the-job training and
normally need 1 to 3 years of training before they can advance
to higher level positions. Experienced designers in large firms
may advance to chief designer, design department head, or some
other supervisory position. Some experienced designers open their
own firms or decide to specialize in one aspect of interior design.
Other designers leave the occupation to become teachers in schools
of design or in colleges and universities. Many faculty members
continue to consult privately or operate small design studios
to complement their classroom activities.
Interior designers held about 65,000 jobs in 2004. Approximately
3 out of 10 were self-employed. About 2 out of 10 wage and salary
interior designers worked in specialized design services. Another
1 out of 10 worked in architectural and landscape architectural
services. The remaining of interior designers provided design
services in furniture and home-furnishing stores, building material
and supplies dealers, and residential building construction companies.
Many interior designers also performed freelance work in addition
to holding a salaried job in interior design or another occupation.
Employment of interior designers is expected to grow about as
fast as average for all occupations through 2014. Economic expansion,
growing homeowner wealth, and an increased interest in interior
design will increase demand for designers. However, interior designers
are expected to face keen competition for available positions
because many talented individuals are attracted to this profession.
Individuals with little or no formal training in interior design,
as well as those lacking creativity and perseverance, will find
it very difficult to establish and maintain a career in this occupation.
As the economy grows, more private businesses and consumers will
request the services of interior designers. However, design services
are considered a luxury expense and may be subject to fluctuations
in the economy. For example, decreases in consumer and business
income and spending caused by a slow economy can have a detrimental
effect on employment of interior designers. Nevertheless, demand
from the health care industry is expected to be especially high
because of an anticipated increase in demand for facilities that
will accommodate the aging population. Designers will be needed
to make these facilities as comfortable and homelike as possible
for patients. Demand from businesses in the hospitality industry—hotels,
resorts, and restaurants—also is expected to be high because of
an expected increase in tourism.
Recent increases in homeowner wealth and the growing popularity
of home improvement television programs have increased demand
for residential design services. Homeowners increasingly have
been using the equity in their homes to finance new additions,
remodel aging kitchens and bathrooms, and update the general décor
of the home. Many homeowners also have requested design help in
adding year-round outdoor living spaces.
Growth in home improvement television programs and discount furniture
stores has spurred a trend in do-it-yourself design, which could
hamper employment growth of designers. However, some clients will
still hire designers for a few initial consultations, but then
will purchase and install the design elements themselves.
Some interior designers are choosing to specialize in one design
element in order to create a niche for themselves in an increasingly
competitive market. The demand for kitchen and bath design is
growing in response to the increasing demand for home remodeling.
Designs utilizing the latest technology, such as home theaters,
state-of-the-art conference facilities, and security systems are
expected to be especially popular. In addition, demand for home
spas, indoor gardens, and outdoor living spaces are expected to
continue to increase.
Extensive knowledge of ergonomics and green design are expected
to be in demand. Ergonomic design has gained in popularity with
the growth in the elderly population and workplace safety requirements.
The public’s growing awareness of environmental quality and the
growing number of individuals with allergies and asthma are expected
to increase the demand for green design.
Median annual earnings for interior designers were $40,670 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,890 and $53,790.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,440, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $71,220. Median annual earnings in
the industries employing the largest numbers of interior designers
in May 2004 were as follows:
Architectural, engineering, and related
Specialized design services
Interior design salaries vary widely with the specialty, type
of employer, number of years of experience, and reputation of
the individuals. Among salaried interior designers, those in large
specialized design and architectural firms tend to earn higher
and more stable salaries. Interior designers working in retail
stores usually earn a commission, which can be irregular.
For residential design projects, self-employed interior designers
and those working in smaller firms usually earn a per-hour consulting
fee, plus a percentage of the total cost of furniture, lighting,
artwork, and other design elements. For commercial projects, they
might charge a per-hour consulting fee, charge by the square footage,
or charge a flat fee for the whole project. Also, designers who
use specialty contractors usually earn a percentage of the contractor’s
earnings on the project in return for hiring the contractor. Self-employed
designers must provide their own benefits.