HOW TO BECOME AN INTERIOR DESIGNER
This is the golden question! Where do I start, what do I do to become an interior designer? As easy as this question sounds, the answer is not so straightforward and that is probably why there is so much unhelpful information around this topic worldwide!
That is why I set out to write this post, to clarify the confusion that the internet has created around this topic, mainly due to the fact that much of the information online comes from places around the world that dominate the internet but may not actually be presenting information that is useful for the world wide web.
A lot of the confusion does also stem from the United States of America, which has probably one of the most confused system of becoming an interior designer in terms of one country, mainly because their rules vary from one state to another.
For most other countries, there is usually one system, and now having worked with designers in many places around the world, I can tell you that the rest of the world’s systems are actually pretty similar to each other, and the one that varies is indeed the US system.
So I have written this post with the international reader in mind. It is relevant for interior designers around the world, including Australia, Canada, Europe, South America, Scandinavia, Africa, Asia including the United States of America.
So let’s get to it! These are the steps to take if you want to become an interior designer (anywhere in the world).
STEP 1 | Clarify What Is Required (In Your Area)
So let’s start with getting clarification on what is required in your own country as well as your local state. Laws vary and overall it does depend on what area around the world you live in, but the first thing you need to do is get clarification of a few things.
For example, there are a few areas in the United States of America that require a full degree to get a license to call yourself and practice as an interior designer, but for the majority of the rest of the world you do not need a degree to practice or call yourself an interior designer and you do not need a license. But, just to clarify, even in those parts of The United States where you need a license to call yourself an interior designer, you can still work in the industry without a degree, you just use another title, such as Interior Decorator.
To calm your nerves, just call up the governing body in your state or country (if one exists) and just ask whether you need a license to call yourself an interior designer or ask them whether the title of interior designer is restricted to registered interior designers. If they say yes, just ask them what you need to do to register (and make sure you get a written response or ask to see the formal guidelines – don’t ever just take someone’s word for it over the phone, that’s how disappointments happen).
You could also ask them what the typical route to registration is and they will most likely say to undertake a course and then get around 4 years of experience and a portfolio to sit an exam.
So what do you do?
- Look up the national interior design body that governs your country and call them. Don’t be surprised if there isn’t one – try searching for architects bodies if you hit a dead-end, they may be able to guide you in the right direction.
- Ask them if you need a license to call yourself or practice as an interior designer.
- Ask them what you need to do to qualify as an interior designer or register (if registration is required).
- Get written evidence of the requirements and save them.
Just a note – even if you want to just undertake online interior design services as a freelance interior designer, your business wherever it will be registered will most likely be governed by your local countries’ laws, so you will still need to check what laws apply to you.
STEP 2 | Decide What Kind Of Interior Designer You Want To Be
So this may not be as easy as you think! Do you really want to be an interior designer or do you actually want to be an interior stylist? What about an interior architect or an interior decorator? You need to know what role you want to be undertaking because, like many other things in this industry, there is a lot of confused information out there.
You might want to read this article I wrote on what’s the difference is between an interior designer, an interior decorator, an interior stylist, an interior architect and an interior stager, where I have tried to clarify it easily and with pictures and downloadable charts, just for kicks.
You also need to decide on a few things like:
- Do I want to work in the commercial, hospitality, health or domestic sectors?
- Do I want to work for a corporate company, a private interior design firm or for myself?
- What kinds of things do I want to specialize in or do I just want to be a good “allrounder”?
Once you know what kind of interior designer you want to be and you are confident that you are clear about what role you want to be undertaking, then you will be one step closer to actually knowing what the next steps are going to be for you.
STEP 3 | Research What Skills You Need In Your Chosen Niche
As we have seen, not all interior design is considered equal, so the skills you will require as an interior architect will be different to those of an interior stylist. So once you have clarified what kind of interior designer you want to be and which sector you want to work in (commercial, domestic etc.) then you will start to get clarity on things that might not and what will be required.
For example, if I want to work as an interior designer and interior stylist in the UK for example, I don’t need to have a degree or a license and I don’t need to be registered with any body (although I may choose to once I have worked in the industry for a few years). I will, however, need some kind of experience and knowledge to do my job well.
So if I decide that I want to freelance for myself and work on domestic projects, such as single-family homes, (rather than work for a large firm on healthcare projects), then I know that the skills I need will be more along the lines of:
- Gaining key interior design skills, such as how to create a good scheme.
- Know how to work to a budget and project manage a typical project.
- Learn efficient ways to communicate ideas to clients, builders and trades.
- Learn the skills needed to set up and run my own interior design business.
- Know how to create a competent plan to get clients.
- Understand and practice how to run a project from start to finish.
As opposed to skills required to work in a large office on commercial projects which will require things like, how to use Autocad to a high standard, or how to prepare a CV and portfolio to get a job.
So the next step is to make a list of the skills you need and search out the places that will give you the information that is relevant to your own career. If you want help creating a skills list, you can download a checklist from my blog post What Do Interior Designers Do.
There are a lot of interior decorating courses out there that teach you things like how to create a mood board. These are really useful for anyone who wants to get creative or do a creative course as a hobby, but not very useful for anyone who wants to work in the industry. Equally, spending years undertaking an interior design degree may be unnecessary and may not give you the required skills to run an interior design business.
In short, if you want to work for a big commercial firm designing large projects you will most probably need a degree, so searching out the best degree that you can afford and that sounds right for the type of work you want to do will be where you want to put your energy.
Alternatively, if you want to work for yourself, you’ll need to decide what services you want to provide and to which sectors, then write out the list of skills you think you need and then set out to get them!
STEP 4 | Gain the required skills
So as you can see, you may be wasting your time undertaking an expensive and lengthy degree in interior design if all you want to do is decorate domestic houses and start an online styling business.
The easiest and fastest way to gain the skills you need is to undertake a course in the area you want to specialize. If you want to be a good all-rounder then, in my opinion, you will need a few courses to get all the skills you need as there is no single program out there that teaches you everything you need in order to be everything (you would need to be me and you wouldn’t want that!)
I have done hundreds of courses, have 2 degrees, set up wayyyy too many businesses and received business and life coaching from some of the biggest names in the industry.
I’ve also got over 20 years of experience in a wide range of interior design and architectural projects from around the world from commercial, hospitality, healthcare to domestic, large and small, complicated and simple! There is so much to know, you will never feel ready and you will most probably never get everything you need from just one place.
So that is why you need to look at the skills you want to gain and research the courses that are right for you and the direction you want to go in. All interior design schools are going to say that their courses are the best and there are hundreds of thousands of courses for interior design, professional and just for interest. Your list of skills will be your filter when searching through the myriad of courses.
The one thing that you cannot get from any course, however, is real-life experience. You have to do that yourself. There are programs like my 90 Days To A Freelance Life Mentorship Program that help you to gain the required skills and find your first clients, but nothing beats getting out there and undertaking your own projects, even if its just starting with designing your own house (or even a rental apartment).
STEP 5 | Start Getting Real Experience ASAP
Whether you want to work for yourself or for someone else, experience is better than any course you are going to take when it comes to learning the required skills as an interior designer.
Degrees will give you theoretical knowledge and lots of opportunity to develop your creativity and problem-solving skills, but having a degree alone is not going to get you very far in the industry (there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed interior designers to prove this).
The biggest reason people can’t get a job as an interior designer is because they don’t have experience. That isn’t really an issue if you want to work for yourself however because there are other ways of finding clients without showing a portfolio of work (that’s what I teach in my mentorship program by the way…).
Although if you want to set up your own interior design business or freelance as an interior designer, the more experience you gain, the larger projects you will be able to take on, the more services you’ll be able to provide and your business will usually succeed much faster (like mine did).
So where do you get experience? The best way is to start doing projects for yourself and for your friends. That is how I started (although in fairness I also worked for architects and designers for 17 years!)
If you want to get a broader range of experience, then start researching businesses related to your niche of interior design, and get creative in terms o how you can help them with your specific services. I find you are much more likely to get a yes from a building company or developer to help them out on a project than an established interior design firm who get lots of CV’s each day from aspiring interior designers!
Interior designers will tell you it’s hard to get the experience or it’s hard to get work. That might have been true for them but it doesn’t have to be true for you. The world of interior design has changed a lot I just the past few years. Affordable homewares and high street brands, social media, blogging and online interior design have all changed the scene for interior designers. Create your own reality. I never had problems getting jobs or finding clients and you don’t have to either.
So I hope that gives you clarification on how to become an interior designer wherever you are in the world! I hope you found this article before you had to trawl through hundreds of websites and thousands of sponsored articles and if you did, let me know your thoughts and comments below.
About the author
Jo Chrobak is the founder and CEO of The Interior Designer’s Business School. She has over 20 years of experience working in architecture and interior design, across the world on commercial and domestic projects from international hotels to developments and new builds. Her vast experience transcends industries to give her unique knowledge of processes and strategies which she passes on to her students to help them succeed as interior designers as quickly as possible.
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Jo decided to travel the world in her twenties to gain experience and education from as many sources as possible. She graduated with first class Honours, top of her graduating class and a Bachelor of Architecture in 2007 and since then has worked on projects in Norway, Oman, The UAE, Egypt, Australia, Canada and across the UK and Europe.
She currently runs her architectural and interior design studio (www.jochrobak.com) and specialises in complex projects that require both architectural and interior design knowledge.
Jo is also trained as an Ashtanga yoga instructor, a life and business coach and is a passionate artist creating bespoke artwork for clients.
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