The interior design industry is a complex and competitive industry which includes careers in residential, business and environmental design. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 57,000 interior designers employed in the United States in 2018, making an average annual salary of $59,120. The BLS reports that interior designers are expected to have a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs, although some employers will accept associate degrees or specific interior design certification.
What is Interior Design?
Interior designers are responsible for designing attractive and functional spaces inside a home or building. They must work within specific guidelines to determine what types of items, lighting and color schemes suit a given space. The role of a typical interior designer may include such tasks as:
- Reviewing design plans
- Interpreting client instructions and goals
- Preparing a projected project timeline
- Estimating project costs
- Ordering items to create the commissioned space
- Working within a specified design budget
A 2019 study by the American Society of Interior Designers projected slow but steady industry growth for designers in coming years, but also notes the potential major job growth in booming economic centers like Denver and San Francisco. The report cites challenges with tariffs increasing the cost of building materials and design technology advancements as primary market trends to watch. Teaching the latest technology and meeting the increased demand for interior designers is the goal of interior design programs across the nation. Interior design colleges and universities provide several educational paths to becoming an interior design professional.
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Types of Interior Design Schools & Programs
Interior design schools introduce students to the fundamentals of design, architecture and color coordination so they can design and develop functional and attractive spaces. Many of today’s successful interior designers work with advanced software programs and CAD to create working designs and blueprints for their designs. Most interior design schools train students in the latest technologies and software programs so that graduates are ready for employment immediately upon graduation.
Vocational or trade schools offering interior decorating programs introduce students to the fundamentals of space planning, computer aided design and color theory for both residential and commercial settings. According to Certified Interior Decorators International, most vocational schools offer only interior decorating certification rather than the more complex interior design certification or degree plans.
Students learn how to work with contractors, understand complex building codes and design specialized environments for a wide range of industries. Students may complete a CID certification program at a vocational school in preparation for an entry-level career in the field without the need for a college degree. Coursework typically ranges from 24 credit hours to 60 credit hours.
Students develop strong artistic abilities and general business management skills at art schools offering interior design programs. Art schools may offer interior design certification or associate degree programs. Many art schools offer design programs with a strong focus on using computer aided design and drafting (CADD) software, traditional art and design theory. Art schools may offer both online and offline programs. Coursework varies between 24 credit hours and 60 hours for interior design certifications and associate degrees, while four-year programs at art schools typically range in credit hours from 120 to 200.
Community colleges offer associate degree programs in interior design to prepare students for entry-level careers in the industry. Classes may include basic design theory, architectural and furniture history, computer aided design (CAD) and color theory and application. Students may also create studio projects where they solve design-related problems using knowledge and skills they have learned in their coursework.
Some community colleges offer an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree or a Certificate of Completion (CCL) in interior design or interior merchandising. Associate programs typically take two years to complete with an average of 60 credit hours. Completing an associate program at a community college may help students transfer in to a university offering a bachelor’s degree in interior design.
Accredited four-year schools offering bachelor’s degree programs in interior design strive to prepare students for work as an interior designer. A Bachelor of Arts in interior design or Bachelor of Fine Arts in interior design degree program typically provides training in the principles of design, computer applications, space planning and problem solving. These programs should be accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). A portion of the program may involve hands-on training where students design a room or building according to specific guidelines and use advanced computer software programs. Some schools offer the opportunity to specialize specific areas of interior design, such as digital technology, historic preservation, sustainable design, retail floor design or corporate design. A bachelor’s degree in interior design typically requires between 120 and 200 hours of coursework.
A few colleges and universities focus specifically on design. These colleges and universities are known for their high-quality interior design programs and specializations. In addition to offering standard coursework in interior design, these schools may host workshops and events with speakers, such as celebrity interior designers or successful interior designers, so that students can learn more about their future careers. Many schools have smaller class sizes so that students have direct access to their professors and can learn from mentors and other professionals. Specialized interior design schools often offer exclusive internships and apprenticeships with some of the top design firms across the nation.
Schools With the Best Interior Design Programs
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An interior design school or program will allow students to enhance their creative skills while learning strategies to become an established professional in this field. To ensure that students enroll in a quality program, we have analyzed every on-campus and online interior design school and program in the country based on our methodology and compiled a ranked list of the best options for students. Learn more about the best interior design schools and programs below.
Best 4-Year Interior Design Programs
The interior design program at Converse College may be a great fit for prospective students who are naturally creative, self-motivating and business-minded individuals. By learning how to create and design spaces for public and private environments, students will be able to influence the experiences other people have in various environments. Students are required to complete a professional internship which will help them network with area professionals and build their resume and portfolio. Upon graduation, students will be awarded with their Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design which may make them eligible to enter a career or continue their education through a graduate program.
Salem College gives students the opportunity to study a career in design with concentrations in interior design, graphic design, and architecture. This program is a good choice for creative and motivated individuals who are interested in learning from trained professionals in the field. The classroom is designed to be a collaborative environment where students share ideas with peers and instructors and then receive feedback. Students are also encouraged to complete area-specific internships, complete specialized projects or study abroad in order to further develop their expertise in interior design.
At Marywood University, students are able to pursue their Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Interior Architecture/Design. This four-year degree program teaches students the skills needed to create and design enjoyable spaces in various environments. Courses are taught by experienced professionals and are designed to cover basic information including aesthetic awareness along with theoretical and technical strategies. Upon successful program completion, students may be eligible for employment or can continue their education through Marywood University’s Master of Art in Interior Architecture/Design degree program.
College-bound students seeking to learn the area-specific skills needed to excel as an interior designer can pursue a BFA in Interior Design at Maryville University. This program was created with quality and proficiency in mind, so students receive a comprehensive education that fosters creativity, technical proficiency and aesthetic awareness. Upon graduation, many students become professional interior designers. St. Louis and the surrounding area is home to some of the most established interior design firms which allows for internships, guest speakers, experienced faculty, and networking and employment opportunities after graduation.
Those interested in designing better spaces for clients may benefit from the interior design degree program at Auburn University. The Bachelor of Science in Interior Design degree program is accredited by the Council for Interior Design, which may ensure that students are receiving the necessary skills and information to become a professional in the field. Students can receive support from program alumni, the Interior Design Advisory Board with opportunities for internships, mentoring programs, sponsorships and hands-on projects with clients. Upon graduation, students may be eligible to work as interior designers for commercial, hospitality, and residential spaces along with other design specialties.
Best 2-Year Interior Design Programs
Students that enroll in the Interior Design program at Metropolitan Community College will have the opportunity to learn about the theory and practice behind the profession. This program is designed to benefit those who are interested in creating aesthetically pleasing spaces in a variety of environments while exercising their creativity and skill. Upon successful completion of the program’s required 100 credit hours, students will receive their Associate in Applied Science degree and may then be eligible to work as professional designers in the field.
The interior design program at Tulsa Community College allows students to study an occupation in the field while receiving the area-specific skills needed to enter or advance a career by blending their academic and professional experience. Offered both online and at the school’s Southeast campus, students are able to complete the required 72 credit hours either in a traditional classroom or entirely at a distance. Courses will cover various topics including cost estimation, display, lighting, sales, and floor plan drafting. Upon graduation, students may be eligible to enter a career or continue their education at a four-year institution.
Johnson County Community College offers various degrees and certificates that prepare students for entry-level jobs in interior design in field areas including kitchen and bath, marketing and management, floral design, sales and staging. All courses are taught by experienced professionals who are able to share valuable, real-world information while delivering quality academics in theory and application. The interior design program encourages students to complete 240 hour internships in order to practice their academics in a professional setting. Upon graduation, students may be eligible to transfer to a four-year schools for further educational advancement.
The interior design program at Mesa Community College covers necessary skills that help students enter entry-level careers as interior designers after graduation. Courses will cover topics such as color and design theory and application, drafting and computer aided design (CAD), and the history of architecture and furniture. Student who complete the Associate in Applied Science degree may be eligible to transfer their credits to Northern Arizona University to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design after graduation. Advisors are also available to help students plan their academic roadmap.
Must-Have List: Choosing an Interior Design Program
Explore Online Degree Programs to Become an Interior Designer
Look for interior design schools that offer flexibility with class schedules or the option to take some or all of your courses online. These programs can help you achieve your educational goals without compromising career or income.
Interior design programs should be accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). Some programs are also accredited by industry organizations such as the National Kitchen and Bath Association and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Some employers may prefer to work with interior design school graduates that have completed an apprenticeship program prior to graduation. Look for schools that offer some assistance in finding or recommending apprenticeship programs for new grads.
Some interior design schools have an internship component built into the program so that students can acquire valuable work experience before they graduate. You may be able to secure an internship working at an interior design firm, architectural firm or design company in your local area while attending school.
Many interior design programs include studio hours offering hands-on practice with CAD software programs, design blueprints and project completion in individual or group settings. Studio hours give students a chance to apply a variety of skills while working on specific projects.
Some schools, colleges and universities offer job placement assistance so that students can secure a job before graduation. Job placement can be valuable for new graduates entering the workforce and may open doors to other opportunities. Some schools work closely with local and regional interior design firms, architectural firms, independent designers and other design professionals to match up students with employers for entry-level jobs or specialized positions.
Interior Design Degrees and Certificates
According to the American Society of Interior Designers, at the minimum, most states require an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in interior design. The ASID states that 26 states currently have licensing requirements before job seekers are allowed to call themselves an interior designer. Many of these states require interior designers pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam before becoming listed as an interior designer. The ASID recommends that students complete at minimum, a four-year program of study in interior design before entering the field.
Explore Online Degree Programs to Become an Interior Designer
|Degree-Level||Program Length||Credit Hours|
|Certificate||3 to 18 months|
(typically completed in
addition to a four-year
|24 - 30|
|Associate||24 to 36 months||60|
|Bachelor's||48 to 60 months||120 - 200|
INTERIOR DESIGN CERTIFICATE
Certification programs may be offered through the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), a supplementary program to an interior design degree. Other certification programs can serve as a supplement to a bachelor’s degree in architecture, the arts or a related field.
Students learn how to use basic drafting tools and work with space and furniture plans. They learn the fundamentals of elevations, perspective drawings, lettering and drafting techniques.
Students study uniform building codes and design requirements for different types of buildings. This is a crucial component of designing spaces for various environments and requires a basic understanding of room arrangements, lighting and color.
HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURAL INTERIORS
This course includes the study of furniture and decoration styles throughout history with an emphasis on specific designers and their crafts. Eras of study may include the Renaissance period, Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt.
INTRODUCTION TO DESIGN SKETCHING
Students learn basic drawing techniques to draw a variety of objects, including furniture, appliances and different types of materials.
INTERIOR DESIGN ASSOCIATE DEGREES
Students can complete an interior design associate degree program online or on campus at an accredited school. Associate degree programs typically take two years to complete, but may take longer. Associate programs are designed to prepare students for an entry-level interior design position or serve as foundational training for an undergraduate degree program. Certain accredited associate programs provide the basic knowledge and training to sit for the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.
Examples of courses offered in an associate degree program include:
Covers the basics of color and its implications for designers and artists. Students study color wheels and color spheres, and learn techniques to incorporate color into their work.
An introduction to different textile fibers, yarns, fabrics and textile products. Students learn how to describe different types of textiles for use in a variety of applications and basic fabrication techniques, such as knitting and weaving.
ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING DESIGN
Students learn the basics of lighting and the functions of illumination in interior spaces. They learn how to choose the right types of lighting fixtures for different spaces, such as classrooms, residences, offices and retail spaces.
An introduction to the specialized area of commercial design where students learn how to work with commercial design teams, review code issues and design spaces for corporate business offices.
INTERIOR DESIGN BACHELOR’S DEGREES
The bachelor’s program for interior design is designed to introduce students to basic design concepts and architectural styles. The program also introduces students to theories and practices for developing solutions for a variety of design problems. Students are typically exposed to a variety of media and take course in graphic arts, digital design, art history and general education courses. Some schools provide students with access to a lab or design studio where they can work on projects and make use of advanced computer software programs used in today’s design world. Many bachelor’s programs include a portfolio component where students can take professional development courses and work on projects for their portfolio.
Examples of courses offered for interior design bachelor’s degree programs include:
BUILDING STRUCTURES AND SYSTEMS
An in-depth study of the laws, regulations and standards for interior design practices for different types of building structures and systems.
An understanding of research methodologies and techniques that can be applied to a particular project.
LIGHTING LAYOUT AND DESIGN
Study of the theoretical, technical and practical applications of lighting strategies for different types of environments.
INTRODUCTION TO SUSTAINABLE DESIGN
Principles of sustainable design and the importance of creating eco-friendly spaces for residential and commercial buildings.
INTERIOR DESIGN MASTER’S DEGREES
A master’s in interior design can be completed online or on campus, depending on the school. Master’s degrees in interior design typically take two years to complete, but may take longer. Some schools offer weekend programs and evening classes for greater schedule flexibility. Courses focus on critical thinking, an in-depth review of design concepts and exploration of interior spaces over time. Courses typically include a hands-on project segment. Coursework is usually a combination of theoretical courses and creative courses. Master’s degree programs prepare students for leadership and management positions within the interior design field.
Examples of courses offered for interior design master’s degree programs may include:
PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE OF INTERIOR DESIGN
Consideration of interior design office practices, marketing strategies and the legal aspects of coordinating different types of interior design projects.
INTERIOR ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGIES
Study of different environmental conditions that take psychological factors, health, safety and human sensory reactions into account.
ADVANCED ARCHITECTURAL INTERIORS
Solving advanced design problems in different types of urban settings, public places and other environments.
COLOR THEORY PLANNING AND PRACTICE
A through examination of the art and science of color theory as it relates to interior design and creating aesthetically pleasing spaces.
INTERIOR DESIGN PHD OR DUAL DEGREES
Doctoral students work with a professor or mentor on interior design projects and complete advanced studies in their field. Completing an interior design doctoral program can prepare students for research opportunities in the field of construction, planning and design. Students need to complete a certain number of credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree, typically ranging from 30 to 40 credit hours. Some schools may accept transfer credits from a graduate program in a related field, which can reduce the time it takes to obtain the degree. Students complete a series of interdisciplinary courses that cover theories and history of design, textiles and other design concepts. Some doctorate degree programs incorporate computer sincere theory and practice. Courses may encompass advanced research methods, interior design systems and advanced design planning and analysis protocol.
Doctoral students may choose to specialize in a certain area, such as green design or historic preservation of buildings. The educational track for a doctoral program or a dual degree program in interior design and related fields is customized for each student.
Interior Design Toolbox/Checklist
According to the American Academy of Interior Designers, one of the best educational career moves an interior design school student can make is to complete an apprenticeship or internship before applying for a full-time career. The AAID states that employers look for students who have completed an accredited program and have a strong portfolio of past projects. Even though schools may offer studio or portfolio development courses, hands-on training with a design firm or other design professionals is usually an invaluable asset to the student. Here are some essentials for any interior design school student:
Students completing an interior design program learn a variety of skills related to design, color theory, planning, communications and business management. Basic training programs usually cover concepts such as design theory, space planning and design software. Students develop strong artistic, technical, interpersonal and creative skills to design different types of spaces.
Essential Interior Design Software
Students will benefit from proficiency in a variety of standard computer and design programs including: Adobe Suite (PhotoShop CS, Illustrator CS, Indesign CS, Acrobat 9 Pro and Premiere Pro CS), Autodesk (AutoCAD 64-bit, Revit and 3D StudioMax), AutoDesSys (bonzai3d SE and form7), Bentley (MicroStation V8i), Google SketchUp Pro, Material Connexion and Microsoft Office. Students will need access to a computer that can run these programs with ease.
Internships and Apprenticeships
Completing an internship or apprenticeship program during school or immediately after graduation can provide students with invaluable work experience for their future careers. Internships can give students a chance to build work history, develop professional contacts and populate their resume with projects and references. Completing an apprenticeship program is proof of work in the field and can also give the apprentice access to industry professionals and mentors.
NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) certification from the Council for Interior Design Qualification.
Obtaining an interior design licenses is not required but can be an attractive addition to a graduate’s resume. Students will need to pass the National Council for Interior Design (NCIDQ) exam on their own time to become a licensed interior designer.
Interior Design Industry Snapshot
Employment of interior designers is expected to grow 4.5% percent through 2026.
The American Society of Interior Designers projected that total industry sales would generate more than $10 billion in 2019. The BLS shows the highest concentration of interior designers are employed at specialized design firms, in small businesses serving a variety of clients or for specific industry segments, including architectural firms, engineering companies and other service industries.
Additional certifications are available for interior designers. To be certified, students must pass a test given by the National Council for Interior Design. Creative workshops can be a valuable addition to any interior design educational track as they give students a chance to exhibit designs and develop a strong design portfolio.
Specializations Within Interior Design
Interior designers work on enhancing the quality, function and aesthetics of a residential or commercial space. Designers often specialize in a specific area of design, such as the specializations listed below:
Residential Interior Designers
The majority of interior designers work in the residential sector where they are responsible for designing and decorating living spaces. Residential designers may work closely with architects, builders and home decor specialists to create the ideal living environment for a client.
Corporate Interior Designers
Corporate interior designers are responsible for creating practical, functional and efficient workspaces for a company or firm. They may work with a team of designers, architects, builders and engineers to create the ideal workspace for a variety of business industries. They may be responsible for choosing a theme and working with office floor layouts to create a productive work environment.
Retail Store Designers
Many retailers work with interior designers to create attractive and inviting retail spaces. Interior designers may work closely with merchandising specialists, store managers, product buyers and other retail specialists to ensure the aesthetics of the space accommodate different store themes, merchandise and decor.
Stage and Set Designers
Interior stage and set designers work on television sets and performance stages in order to create realistic-looking living spaces, rooms or other sets. Interior designers interested in working in the film, television and theatre industries may start as a set designer or decorator.
Kitchen and Bath Designers
Kitchen and bath design specialists are typically responsible for working on kitchen and bath spaces to create attractive environments using the right types of fixtures, appliances, cabinetry, lighting, decor and electrical solutions to create inviting and functional bathrooms and kitchens.
Interview with an Interior Designer
Melissa Coufal is a student at San Diego State University planning to complete her bachelor’s degree in interior design in May 2015. She made the switch from real estate to interior design when she discovered her passion for designing interior spaces. Find out more about Melissa’s interior design path in this interview:
After Interior Design School: What’s Next
Students who have successfully completed an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or advanced degree at an interior design school can explore apprenticeships for hands-on training, or enter the workforce as an interior designer or assistant interior designer.
Those who already have some work experience and an advanced degree may consider teaching positions at an educational institution or leadership positions at a design company. Continuing education courses in a particular field and specialization related to interior design, such as textile design, graphic design and furniture design, can help professionals stay competitive and advance in their careers.
|Job Title||Annual Mean Salary||Hourly Mean||No. Employed||Growth||Minimum education|
|Interior Designer||$59,120||$28.42||57,070||4.5%||Postsecondary certification|
|Commercial and Industrial Designers||$71,430||$34.34||33,200||4.3%||Postsecondary certification|
Interior Designer: Discuss wants and needs of clients, including budget. Prepare and present design ideas to clients. Research and locate specific materials, including furnishings, paint, tile and more for a project. Keep abreast of project and update client. Ensure finished product is acceptable to client.
Commercial and Industrial Designers: Consult with clients and conduct research to develop and design industrial spaces and workspaces to fully optimize space. Consider and work with space limitations and challenges. Research and suggest building materials and analyze costs. Prepare and present designs to client in a way that can be understood.
Advice from an Interior Designer
Know that this program is very demanding! Effective time
management will be your best advocate for success. When choosing a program, look at the size of the classes because your professors will be your greatest resource. Architecture is becoming more relevant to the interior design industry; we aren’t just simply decorators. Research how prominent architecture is incorporated into the program because even a basic education in that capacity will make you a better candidate when entering the professional field.
Melissa Coufal, Interior Design student at SDSU