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How to Become an Interior Designer

Puja Lalwani
If you truly believe you are meant for the world of interior design, here's how you can become one and take the design world by storm!
For those who have a creative mind and an eye for detail, the world of interior designing will appear simply mesmerizing. The ability to transform an empty space into something that the mind can conjure up as creatively as possible, though not rare, is something that is mastered over time.
So, even if you aren't the kind who can sketch out a design just by visualizing what a room may look like, don't lose heart. It is an art that you can master over time, with practice, and exposure to the field. Further, if you want to make a career out of transforming empty spaces into design masterpieces, this is what you need to do to get there.

Definition of an Interior Designer

The basic job is to combine both form (aesthetic or visual appeal) and function, to create a space likewise. This however, should be done keeping in mind the needs of the client, and in accordance with the client's budget.
Blending together all these aspects to come up with a unique interior space is the ultimate aspect of this job. The space may be residential or commercial (offices, hotels, spas, retail stores, banks, hospitals, etc.)

Job Description

A lot of you may have thought that interior designing is a very glamorous field and is full of color. If that is what has attracted you to the field, it's a good thing you are reading this piece. Interior design entails a lot more than just deciding the color of a wall.
It requires you to have a keen eye for detail, a wild imagination, and the ability to deal with high levels of stress to meet deadlines.

  • Meeting with clients and understanding their needs and requirements (based on a budget) regarding the space in question
  • Measuring up the space, and providing a minimum of 2 furniture layout options to the client using CAD (Computer Aided Design Software)
  • Providing an appropriate cost estimate to the client based on the mentioned needs and requirements
  • Sketching designs or providing 3D images to the client to allow them to visualize the space
  • Planning electrical layouts as per the chosen furniture layout option
  • Making technical drawings for execution
  • Executing the design by ordering supplies, and explaining designs appropriately to contractors
  • Suggesting materials for furniture construction, deciding color schemes, hardware, flooring options, light fixtures, upholstery, etc., and choosing as per the decision of the client
  • Supervising the execution of the work, and ensuring that every job is completed to the last detail
Apart from these duties, a designer may also suggest changes in the existing structure of a particular space, and coordinate with the builder to execute these changes if possible, so as to make the most of the design he has in mind. Further, the knowledge of building codes is required to make necessary changes in the structure.

Interior Designer Vs. Interior Decorator

The biggest reason why people get attracted to the world of what they think is interior design, is because they are actually interested in interior decorating.
It is normal to fall for it, and even if you clearly know what you want to do, you should understand the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator.
For one, an interior decorator does not need a specific degree to work as one, and may learn the tricks of the trade simply by reading up and referring to books.
Some interior decorators take up one-year certificate or diploma courses to familiarize themselves with the field. An interior designer requires a full-fledged degree and certification program, along with a license to work in the field.
An interior decorator is someone who designs on the surface, in that, she/he works to decide the decoration aspect of a house.
Choosing the color schemes, deciding on appropriate furniture, accessories, wall art, upholstery, etc., all come under the purview of an interior decorator. While all this is also a part of an interior designer's job, it comes at a much later stage.
The aforementioned duties form the core of an interior decorator's job. An interior decorator is usually consulted when an interior space needs to be revamped. Interior decorators work with residential spaces, as larger commercial spaces require the skill and knowledge of an interior designer.

Educational Requirements

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

To build a solid career, you must attain a bachelor's degree from a school that has been accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (formerly known as FIDER).
Only by going to such a school will you qualify for the licensing exam thereafter.
A bachelor's degree is a 4-year long rigorous program that will include education on space planning, budgeting, health and safety laws, technical drawings, preparing plans, preparing 3D interior views,
understanding colors and color psychology, adhering to fire codes, preparation for bids, project supervision, use of lights, planning and application of electrical layouts, and the intricacies of design.
You will be taught to make technical drawings on CAD software, and in some cases, to make interior views using 3D software such as 3DS-Max. Choosing electives in these will enhance your abilities as a designer. Further, you should also take electives in communication and design theory.
In the course of your education, you will develop a design portfolio throughout, which will help bag your internship. Further, the portfolio will be enhanced when you take up an internship and add the work along. In essence, this portfolio will help you in the initial years of your career. Once you start working, it is that work that will help you gain projects ahead.

Step 2: Internship

No design education is useful without practical experience, and similar is the case with interior design. You must complete a suitable internship, because there are some things that even the best school can't teach you, things that you will learn only with practical experience.
Usually, a bachelor's degree comprises specific time duration as an internship period. Further, with an accredited school, you are bound to be placed with a good industry professional who will teach you the tricks of the trade.

Step 3: Licensure

Licensure to professionally and independently practice this profession can be attained by sitting for the exam conducted by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification.
You are required to have at least six years of education and experience combined together to qualify for this exam. Once you pass this exam and attain a license to practice, you will be eligible to start your independent business if you wish to, and practice anywhere in the United States of America.
All in all, it can take anywhere between 6 - 8 years of combined education and work experience to become a qualified interior designer.

Personal Skills and Abilities Needed for the Job

An education on its own never suffices to make an individual capable of performing a job. An education will only solidify your ground in the field. It is a combination of talent, ability, and education that enables an individual to excel in any field.
Particularly in creative fields such as interior design, this rule is truer than any other. Apart from the aforementioned education requirements, you must also possess the following skills and abilities.
  • An Eye for Detail: Design is derived from inspiration, and it is only when you are inspired that you will be able to come up with great design options. Keep your eyes open for new products and materials in the market, and elements that you think will enhance your design. 
Derive inspiration from nature, and resort to its beauty to recreate it within an interior space. Doing so will ensure that your job doesn't get monotonous, and keeps giving you the right vibe to continue.
  • Excellent Communication Skills: To be able to understand what your client wants, to visualize and create it on paper, and then communicate it to the contractor so as to be able to create exactly what the client wants, requires remarkable communication skills. Communication is important in several other aspects too.
Clients want to know what is happening, and how the work is progressing, and communicating this effectively is your job. Addressing any issues that the client may have, any changes that you may have made on the spot for whatever reason; all need not only good communication but diplomacy too. This you will learn better when on the job.
  • Management Skills: Interior design, by and large, depends a lot on management than on any other skill. Yes, design is definitely important, but as important is managing the client, the contractor base to ensure timely completion of the project, having suppliers deliver material on time, and finishing the project until the last detail.
Involved in this field are high stress levels, so if you think you are up to it, only then should you take up this field as your career choice.
  • Networking Skills: So that you become a renowned and well-known designer, networking and public relations are important skills you need to master. It is a large field, and you never know who is a potential client, or a potential vendor/contractor for your next project.
Remember, it is highly likely that someone leaves the job midway and you find yourself stranded with a fast approaching deadline. It is these networking skills that will help you find a good replacement at the right time, and get your job done. Keep this in mind, and you will find yourself less stressed on the job.
These skills largely cover what you need apart from the requirements to be a designer. You may be surprised to know that these skills surpass talent in this job. A talented designer without these skills is nothing, while a mediocre designer who knows how to use these skills is sure to do better in the field. It is definitely unfair, but a reality nonetheless.

Salary of an Interior Designer

The salary range in this field depends primarily on one factor―experience. Someone who starts out in the field is going to be given a lower salary, than someone who has a good amount of experience to back her/himself up.
Further, the kind of work you have done in the past will speak for you, and will be able to help you decide the kind of price you want to charge for your work. Salaries start around US $30,000 and can be as high as US $90,000 a year. Again, it is really your work and your experience that will decide your salary.
To conclude, you must know that not many people last in the field of interior design. As mentioned earlier, it is a largely misunderstood career field, which is why so many people enter the field and then realize that this is not they wanted. It is a job that entails high stress levels, but over time, this is something you can deal with.
On the positive side, the adrenalin rush you get when you see your design materialize, from a bunch of lines on paper to an actuality, is something you can only experience when you encounter such a situation. It is indeed a thrilling job, and one that provides immense creative satisfaction.