Interior Designers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Interior Designers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Interior designers make interior spaces functional, safe, and beautiful by determining space requirements and selecting decorative items, such as colors, lighting, and materials. They read blueprints and must be aware of building codes and inspection regulations, as well as universal accessibility standards.

Duties of Interior Designers

Interior designers typically do the following:

  • Search for and bid on new projects
  • Determine the client’s goals and requirements for the project
  • Consider how the space will be used and how people will move through the space
  • Sketch preliminary design plans, including electrical and partition layouts
  • Specify materials and furnishings, such as lighting, furniture, wall finishes, flooring, and plumbing fixtures
  • Create a timeline for the interior design project and estimate project costs
  • Place orders for materials and oversee the installation of the design elements
  • Conduct the construction administration of the project and coordinate with general building contractors to implement the plans and specifications to build the project
  • Visit the site after the project is complete, to ensure that the client is satisfied

Interior designers work closely with architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, and builders to determine how interior spaces will function, look, and be furnished. Interior designers read blueprints and must be aware of building codes and inspection regulations. For more information on structural engineers, see the profile on civil engineers. For more information on builders, see the profile on construction laborers and helpers.

Although some sketches or drawings may be freehand, most interior designers use computer-aided design (CAD) software for the majority of their drawings. Throughout the design process, interior designers often will use building information modeling (BIM) software to create three-dimensional visualizations that include construction elements such as walls or roofs.

Many designers specialize in a particular type of building, such as homes, hospitals, or hotels; a specific room, such as bathrooms or kitchens; or a specific style. Some designers work for home-furnishings stores, providing design services to help customers choose materials and furnishings.

Some interior designers produce designs, plans, and drawings for construction and installation. These may include construction and demolition plans, electrical layouts, and plans needed for building permits. Interior designers may draft the preliminary design into documents that could be as simple as sketches or as inclusive as construction documents, with schedules and attachments.

The following are examples of types of interior designers:

Healthcare designers use the evidence-design process in designing and renovating healthcare centers, clinics, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and residential care facilities. They specialize in making design decisions based on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients, residents, and the facility.

Sustainable designers use strategies to improve energy and water efficiencies and indoor air quality, and they specify environmentally preferable products, such as bamboo and cork for floors. They may obtain certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the U.S. Green Building Council. Such certification indicates that a building and its interior space were designed with the use of sustainable concepts.

Universal designers renovate spaces in order to make them more accessible. Often, these designs are used to renovate spaces for elderly people and people with special needs; however, universal designs can benefit anyone. For example, an entranceway without steps may be necessary for someone in a wheelchair, but it is also helpful for someone pushing a baby stroller.

Kitchen and bath designers specialize in kitchens and bathrooms and have expert knowledge of the variety of cabinets, fixtures, appliances, plumbing, and electrical solutions for these rooms.

Corporate designers create interior designs for professional workplaces from small office settings to large-scale corporations within high-rise buildings. They focus on creating spaces that are efficient, functional, and safe for employees. They may incorporate design elements that reflect a company’s brand in their designs.

Work Environment for Interior Designers[About this section] [To Top]

Interior designers held about 58,900 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most interior designers were as follows:

Specialized design services 30%
Architectural, engineering, and related services 15
Furniture stores 8
Wholesale trade 6
Residential building construction 4

Most interior designers work in clean, comfortable offices. About 1 in 4 interior designers were self-employed in 2014. Technology has changed the way many designers work. For example, rather than using drafting tables, interior designers now use complex software to create two-dimensional or three-dimensional images.

Work Schedules for Interior Designers

Most interior designers work full time. They may need to adjust their workday to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines, meeting with clients during evening and weekend hours when necessary. Interior designers also travel to the clients’ design sites.

How to Become an Interior Designer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Interior Designers near you!

Interior designers usually need a bachelor’s degree with a focus on interior design.

Interior Designer Education

A bachelor’s degree is usually required, as are classes in interior design, drawing, and computer-aided design (CAD). A bachelor’s degree in any field is acceptable, and interior design programs are available at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels.

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits about 320 postsecondary colleges, universities, and independent institutes with programs in art and design. The Council for Interior Design Accreditation accredits more than 180 professional-level (bachelor’s or master’s degrees) interior design programs.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association accredits kitchen and bath design specialty programs (certificate, associate’s, and bachelor’s degree levels) in 45 colleges and universities.

Applicants may be required to submit sketches and other examples of their artistic ability for admission to interior design programs.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure requirements vary by state. In some states, only licensed designers may do interior design work. In other states, both licensed and unlicensed designers may do such work; however, only licensed designers may use the title “interior designer.” In still other states, both licensed and unlicensed designers may call themselves interior designers and do interior design work.

In states where laws restrict the use of the title “interior designer,” only those who pass their state-approved exam, most commonly the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam, may call themselves registered interior designers. Qualifications for eligibility to take the NCIDQ exam include a combination of education and experience. For example, applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree in interior design and 2 years of experience.

California requires a different exam, administered by the California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC). Qualifications for eligibility to take the CCIDC exam include a combination of education and experience.

Voluntary certification in an interior design specialty, such as healthcare interior design, allows designers to demonstrate expertise in a particular area of the occupation. Interior designers often specialize to distinguish the type of design work they do and to promote their expertise. Certifications usually are available through professional and trade associations and are independent from the NCIDQ licensing examination.

Important Qualities for Interior Designers

Artistic ability. Interior designers use their sense of style to develop designs that are aesthetically pleasing.

Creativity. Interior designers need to be imaginative in selecting furnishings and fabrics and in creating spaces that serve the client’s needs and fit the client’s lifestyle.

Detail oriented. Interior designers need to be precise in measuring interior spaces and creating drawings, so that it can be used by other workers such as engineers or other designers.

Interpersonal skills. Interior designers need to be able to communicate effectively with clients and others. Much of their time is spent soliciting new clients and new work and collaborating with other designers, engineers, and general building contractors on ongoing projects.

Problem-solving skills. Interior designers must address challenges, such as construction delays and the high cost or sudden unavailability of certain materials, while keeping the project on time and within budget.

Visualization. Interior designers need a strong sense of proportion and visual awareness in order to understand how pieces of a design will fit together to create the intended interior environment.


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Interior Designer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for interior designers was $48,400 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,170, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $89,700.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for interior designers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services $55,710
Wholesale trade 50,470
Residential building construction 48,890
Specialized design services 46,470
Furniture stores 44,100

Most interior designers work full time. They may need to adjust their workday to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines, meeting with clients during evening and weekend hours when necessary. Interior designers also travel to the clients’ design sites.

Job Outlook for Interior Designers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of interior designers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. Designers will be needed to respond to consumer expectations that the interiors of structures such as residential homes or office spaces meet certain conditions, such as being environmentally friendly and more easily accessible.

Although only about 5 percent of interior designers are directly employed in the construction industry, many interior designers are heavily dependent on that industry to generate new construction and renovation projects for them to work on. Overall employment in the construction industry is projected to grow over the projection period.

Long-term funding plans help ensure demand for interior designs. Remodeling of large public spaces and facilities, such as hospitals, hotels, and schools, often is funded as part of a long-term project. Companies typically budget money over many years, so that they can afford remodeling efforts when necessary, regardless of economic conditions. In addition, as part of creating their corporate image, more companies are expected to take advantage of opportunities to use new furnishing and design concepts, to make their interior space easily identifiable.

Employment of interior designers in specialized design services firms is projected to grow 8 percent from 2014 to 2024. As interior designers focus on increasingly specialized design areas such as hospitality, healthcare, and commercial and corporate design, there will be a greater need for them to collaborate with other designers and in other design-related fields.

Interior Designers Job Prospects

Job prospects should be better in high-income areas, because wealthy clients are more likely than others to engage in remodeling and renovating their spaces. Keeping up to date with the newest design tools, such as three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) software, also will improve one’s job prospects.

Interior designers who specialize, such as those who design kitchens, may benefit by becoming an expert in their particular area. By specializing in a unique area of design, interior designers can use their knowledge of products to better fulfill customer requests.

Employment projections data for Interior Designers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Interior designers 58,900 61,100 4 2,200


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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