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Interior Designer Career Guide

What is an interior designer?

An interior designer is a creative professional who designs functional and aesthetically pleasing interior spaces. They conceptualize and create designs for interior work and living spaces by meeting with stakeholders to assess objectives and requirements. 

These professionals develop concepts reflecting clients’ preferences, needs, and budgets while considering ergonomics, space planning, and building codes. They have an eye for detail and are skilled in selecting colors, materials, furnishings, lighting, and accessories that harmoniously create visually appealing and practical spaces.

Projects may include residential, commercial, and public spaces, where they create environments that enhance the user experience, promote well-being, and support functionality.

Duties and responsibilities

The primary responsibility of an interior designer is to create attractive and functional interior spaces that cater to clients’ needs and preferences. Projects start by meeting with clients to discuss requirements, goals, and budgets. Based on this information, design concepts are developed, which may include creating sketches, digital renderings, or 3D models to help clients visualize proposed designs.

These professionals also research materials, finishes, and products that align with the design concept and meet client specifications. They work closely with architects, contractors, and suppliers to ensure the design is implemented correctly and all elements comply with building codes and regulations.

Another important aspect of the role is project management. This includes preparing cost estimates, timelines, and schedules and overseeing the installation of furnishings, fixtures, and other design elements. These designers may coordinate with various professionals and stakeholders to make sure everything runs smoothly, and the final result meets or exceeds expectations.

Work environment

An interior designer’s work occurs in various settings, such as design firms, architectural firms, or independently as consultants. Retail stores, home improvement companies, or large corporations with in-house departments may directly employ these professionals. The environment can range from office locations for client meetings to on-site visits for assessing spaces and overseeing project execution.

Their work can be both creatively and intellectually stimulating, as developing innovative solutions and creating visually appealing spaces must occur within the constraints of a project’s budget and requirements.

Typical work hours

Interior designers typically work full-time, although some may work part-time or as freelancers. Their hours can vary by project deadlines and client needs. Evenings or weekends may be required to meet with clients or suppliers, visit job sites, and oversee installations. Attendance at trade shows and industry events is typical to learn the latest trends and products.

How to become an interior designer

To become an interior designer, you need to develop creative and technical skills to design functional, safe, and aesthetically pleasing spaces. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to follow: 

Step 1: Understand the role and responsibilities

Interior designers are responsible for planning and designing interior spaces while considering aesthetics, functionality, ergonomics, and safety. They work with clients to understand needs and preferences, create design concepts, develop floor plans and 3D renderings, select materials and furnishings, and oversee the implementation of their designs.

Step 2: Receive the necessary education

A bachelor’s degree in interior design or a related field is typically required. Accredited interior design programs include coursework in design principles, color theory, space planning, computer-aided design (CAD), and other relevant topics. Some aspiring designers may pursue a master’s degree to gain additional knowledge and skills.

Step 3: Develop relevant skills

Successful designers possess many skills, including strong creativity, problem-solving, communication, and project management abilities. Develop these skills through internships, part-time jobs, or volunteering in design-related roles.

Step 4: Gain practical experience

Hands-on experience is crucial, so seek out internships, entry-level positions, or freelance opportunities to gain exposure to various design projects and build a portfolio of work. This experience will help develop design skills, establish connections within the industry, and demonstrate abilities to potential clients or employers.

Step 5: Obtain professional certification (optional)

While not always required, a professional certification, such as the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification, can enhance career prospects and demonstrate commitment to the field. The NCIDQ certification requires a combination of education, work experience, and successful completion of an exam.

Step 6: Apply for jobs or start your own business

Once you have the necessary education and experience, you can apply for jobs at design firms or start your own business. Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight design skills, relevant coursework, and hands-on project experience.

Step 7: Build a strong network

Attend industry conferences, join professional associations, and connect with peers and mentors to expand your network. Building solid relationships with other professionals can lead to new opportunities and help you stay informed about the latest trends and best practices.

Step 8: Engage in continuous learning and professional development

Staying current with the latest design trends, materials, technologies, and best practices is essential. Participate in continuing education programs, attend professional conferences, and read industry publications to maintain expertise and grow professionally. 

You can continue your education online by taking the following courses:

How much do interior designers make?

Interior designer salaries can vary depending on several factors, including geographic location, industry, company size, education, experience, and specialty.

Highest paying industries

  • Architectural: $74,400
  • Custom Design Services: $68,800
  • Government: $68,150
  • Hospitality: $65,300
  • Home Furnishing Stores: $63,300

Highest paying states

  • New York: $74,390
  • California: $73,450
  • Massachusetts: $71,270
  • Connecticut: $69,330
  • New Jersey: $68,360

Browse interior designer salary data by market

Types of interior designers

In this career guide section, we will explore the different types of interior designers, shedding light on their unique responsibilities and areas of focus.

Residential interior designer

Private living spaces are designed and decorated to create comfortable, functional, visually appealing interiors reflecting a client’s taste, lifestyle, and budget. Specialty focus areas include kitchens, bathrooms, or outdoor living spaces.

Commercial interior designer

Commercial designers decorate offices, stores, hotels, and restaurants and may specialize in specific industries like hospitality, healthcare, or retail. Environments are functional, attractive, and aligned with a client’s brand and business objectives. 

Corporate interior designer

Businesses and organizations need functional, efficient, and productive office spaces. Corporate designers consider ergonomics, workflow, and company culture to create environments that promote employee well-being and support an organization’s goals.

Sustainable interior designer

Sustainable designers are committed to creating environmentally friendly spaces and promoting sustainability principles. Eco-friendly materials, energy-efficient lighting, and sustainable design practices minimize the environmental impact of these healthy, comfortable spaces.

Healthcare interior designer

Designing and planning interior spaces for hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities is a specialty focus area. Functional, safe environments support patient care, staff workflow, and the unique requirements of healthcare settings, such as infection control and accessibility.

Institutional interior designer

Institutional designers work with clients in the public and non-profit sectors, such as schools, government buildings, and cultural institutions. They create spaces that are functional, accessible, and aligned with the organization’s mission and goals.

Universal design interior designer

Universal design principles include creating spaces that are accessible and usable by people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Barrier-free access, adaptable layouts, and intuitive wayfinding are incorporated in designs to accommodate diverse needs.

Interior decorator

Decorators focus on interior aesthetics and surface elements, such as color schemes, furnishings, and accessories. This work doesn’t include a project’s structural or functional aspects but is crucial in creating a visually appealing, cohesive environment that reflects a client’s taste and style.

Interior design consultant

Some clients seek professional advice or guidance on interior design and decoration. Consultants may work independently or as part of a large design firm, offering expertise in specific areas such as color, materials, or space planning to help clients make informed decisions.

Top skills for interior designers

Interior designers need creativity, attention to detail, communication, and project management skills. Knowledge of design software, technologies, building codes, and regulations is also essential. 

Unique and innovative design concepts require creativity and thinking outside the box to create functional, aesthetically pleasing spaces that wow clients. 

Every design element must be carefully considered and executed. Paying close attention to details involves identifying and resolving issues, verifying specifications and drawings, and ensuring compliance with building codes and regulations.

Designers need strong verbal and written communication skills to work with clients, contractors, or other stakeholders and convey concepts or specifications clearly and concisely.

Projects often run simultaneously, requiring good project management skills to oversee timelines, allocate resources effectively, and make sure designs are completed on schedule and within budget.

Various software is used to create and present designs, so proficiency in tools such as AutoCAD, SketchUp, and Photoshop is necessary for creating 2D and 3D models.

Designs must comply with local, state, and federal building codes and regulations. Familiarity with the requirements for accessibility, fire safety, and other building codes and regulations guarantees that designs are safe and compliant.

Interior designer career path

An interior designer’s career path typically begins with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in interior design or a related field, followed by gaining practical experience through internships or entry-level positions at design firms, architectural firms, or other related businesses. 

As designers gain experience and develop a portfolio, they may advance within an organization or as freelancers and take on more complex and higher-profile projects.

With continued professional development and a strong track record of successful projects, they may pursue positions such as senior designer or design director, overseeing the work of other designers and managing large-scale projects. Some may specialize in a specific design area, such as residential, commercial, or hospitality, while others may focus on sustainable design or historic preservation. 

They may also establish their own firms or consultancies, providing services to a range of clients or focusing on a particular niche. Additional opportunities exist in teaching, writing, or product design.

One notable trend is the growing emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendly solutions. Many clients seek designers who create spaces that minimize environmental impact and promote energy efficiency. Those who can incorporate sustainable materials, energy-efficient appliances, and innovative green design practices into their projects will be well-positioned for success in the market.

Another trend shaping the future of interior design is the increasing use of technology, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and 3D rendering software. These tools create more realistic visualizations of designs and enable clients to experience the proposed spaces before they are built. Those who stay current with these technologies and effectively integrate them will have a competitive edge in the industry.

Customization and personalization are also becoming more important in design. Today’s clients seek unique living spaces that reflect their tastes, interests, and lifestyles. Those who can successfully tailor plans to meet clients’ specific needs and preferences will be in high demand.

Employment projections

The outlook for interior designers is promising, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a growth rate of 4% through 2032, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. This positive trend is fueled by the growth in construction and renovation activities, the emphasis on sustainability, and the adoption of new technologies. 

Interior designer career tips

Develop strong design skills

Strong design skills are critical to success in interior design. Focus on enhancing these skills, including conceptualizing and sketching design ideas, creating mood boards, and developing 3D visualizations.

Become familiar with design software

You must be proficient in design software like AutoCAD, SketchUp, and Adobe Creative Suite. Become familiar with these software programs and develop skills to make the design process more efficient and effective.

Develop strong communication and interpersonal skills

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are essential for communicating with clients, contractors, and other professionals. Focus on improving listening and speaking skills, and learn to ask effective questions to gather information.

Stay up-to-date on design trends and technologies

The field is constantly evolving, with new trends and technologies always emerging. Stay current on industry news and advancements to stay ahead of the curve. Attend conferences and seminars, read industry publications, and network with professionals in the field.

Build a professional portfolio

A portfolio is an important tool for showcasing design skills and experience. Build a substantial collection demonstrating your best work and highlighting your design aesthetic.

Develop excellent time management skills

You must often manage multiple projects simultaneously, which requires strong time management skills. Focus on improving your ability to prioritize tasks, manage workloads, and meet deadlines.

Build a professional network

Professional associations and organizations, such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), can help to make meaningful connections and stay up-to-date on industry news and trends.

Continue learning

Continuing education is important in interior design, as new materials and technologies are constantly emerging. Pursuing relevant certifications, such as the NCIDQ certification, can demonstrate expertise and make you a more competitive candidate. Conferences, seminars, and online courses can help you stay current with new design trends and technologies.

Where the interior designer jobs are

Top companies

  • Gensler
  • Perkins and Will
  • HOK
  • Stantec
  • Jacobs Engineering Group

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor
  • ASID Job Bank
  • IIDA Career Center


What education and qualifications are required to become an interior designer?

A bachelor’s degree in interior design or related field is typically required. Some states require designers to be licensed or registered, which may include the NCIDQ examination. Internships or entry-level positions help to gain relevant work experience. Professional certifications like the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) can further enhance qualifications.

What are the primary responsibilities of an interior designer?

Primary responsibilities include meeting with clients to determine requirements, developing design concepts and layouts, selecting materials and furnishings, creating detailed drawings and 3D models, and coordinating with contractors and vendors to ensure successful project execution.

What skills are essential for a successful interior designer?

Essential skills include creativity, spatial awareness, attention to detail, communication, problem-solving, and time management. They should also be proficient in various design tools and software, such as AutoCAD, SketchUp, and Adobe Creative Suite.

How can an interior designer stay informed about industry trends and best practices?

Staying informed involves reading industry publications, attending design conferences and trade shows, participating in webinars, and networking with other professionals. Professional associations like the ASID or the IIDA can provide valuable insights, resources, and learning opportunities.

How does an interior designer collaborate with clients and other professionals?

Collaboration with clients includes discussing needs, preferences, and budgets; presenting design concepts and proposals; and incorporating feedback into the design process. Working with various professionals, such as architects, contractors, and suppliers, also ensures a cohesive design approach and successful project execution.

What is the role of an interior designer in sustainable design?

Sustainable design focuses on creating spaces that minimize negative environmental impacts, promote health and well-being, and conserve resources. This may involve selecting eco-friendly materials and finishes, incorporating energy-efficient technologies, and designing for flexibility and adaptability to accommodate future changes.

How can an interior designer effectively manage a project budget?

Effectively managing a project budget involves developing a detailed cost estimate, carefully selecting materials and furnishings within budget constraints, negotiating with suppliers and contractors, and closely monitoring expenses throughout the project. Regular communication with clients and stakeholders can help meet budget expectations.

What are the different specialties or niches within the interior design field?

Specialties or niches include residential design, commercial design, healthcare design, hospitality design, retail design, and sustainable design. They may also specialize in specific design aspects, such as lighting, acoustics, or ergonomics.

How can an interior designer build a strong portfolio?

Building a strong portfolio involves showcasing a diverse range of completed projects, including high-quality photographs, detailed drawings, and descriptions of design concepts and processes. Including examples of different design styles and project types can help demonstrate versatility and creativity. Additionally, regularly updating your portfolio with new work and seeking feedback from peers and mentors can help ensure continuous improvement.

What are the career growth opportunities for an interior designer?

Career growth opportunities may include moving into senior or management roles, such as design director or principal designer, or specializing in a specific niche or industry. Some start their own firms or transition to related fields, such as architecture or product development.