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There is a lot of conflicting information online about how to become an interior designer. The confusion stems from a location bias in areas that have legislation (laws) in place that require licensure to practise before you can become an interior designer and an enormous amount of incorrect information based on opinions from blog posts and “regulatory bodies/clubs” trying to persuade you to use their affiliate links and purchase their products.
So how do you become an interior designer? What information do you trust and how do you know the right path for you, in your location and your specific situation? In this post, I’ve tried to provide you with factual information relevant worldwide (rather than location-specific to the USA or Europe), covering commercial and residential design and inter-disciplines of interiors such as interior design decorating and interior design styling, staging and architecture.
There are just as many specialities of interior design as there are paths into the industry, so my mission with this post and the accompanying quiz is to provide you with the information and tools to help you move forward and finally know what the right path is for you to become an interior designer, no matter where you’re located in the world.
Before you can decide on the right path for you to become an interior designer, there are a few things you need to consider that are specific to your situation. Predominantly these things are:
- Legislation of eventual workplace
- Location of eventual workplace
- Commercial versus Residential work
- Disciplines / niches of interiors (such as styling or decorating)
- What stage of life you’re at (straight out of school or transitioning later in your career)
- Amount of finances and time required to become an interior designer
So these are the things we are going to cover in this post.
Let’s start with the most important thing you need to consider. This is whether laws protect you from working as an interior designer, decorator, stylist, stager or interior architect without some kind of qualification that typically requires formal education, degree, examination, regulation and continued professional development and monitoring throughout your career.
These laws are rare, but they are pretty serious when in place, so it is essential to understand whether they apply to you. How do you know there is a law in place? These laws are called title acts and practise acts.
Interior Design Title Act
An interior design title act is a law in place prohibiting the use of the title interior designer, licensed interior designer, certified interior designer, qualified interior designer etc. (You need to read the law in the country/state that it applies to see what is protected in that location because each law varies).
It’s important to note that a title act does not prohibit you from working as an interior designer, decorator, interior architect, or stylist in many cases. It just means you can’t call yourself an interior designer. However, you can still do the job of an interior designer and call yourself something else.
Once again, the law and what is protected varies from location to location, so you’ll need to read the regulations associated with the act to understand what you can’t use. For example, in many places, the act covers only the use of the term licensed interior designer, and you’re free to use the title interior designer, so it’s worth checking the local law.
To find the local law, you’ll need to call the government that regulates it and ask them to confirm what is protected. That is the only way to ensure you’ve got the most accurate and correct information in your area. Most governments provide information on their websites (but make sure you’re on your government website – not one that “looks reputable”).
Interior Design Practise Act
An interior design practise act is where there is a law in place prohibiting you from undertaking the job role of interior designer without licensure, registration or qualification; this can be slightly more complicated because the profession is not only regulated here in terms of title but also in terms of the type of work you’re doing.
Again, to find the local law, you’ll need to call the government body that regulates the law and ask them to confirm what is protected. Then you can also ask them what you need to do to become an interior designer and become qualified under that law.
Once again, if there is a law like this in place, it’s not the end of the world. You will want to try and qualify, but typically that is difficult for most people because it requires many years of study and lots of financial investment, so it is not usually an option for most designers. But you could still work as a designer; you would just need to work under the supervision of someone else who would check your drawings or work that you do, so don’t give up. Find a way that suits your situation.
I touch on this topic here in this video. Sometimes it can be helpful to hear these things explained differently, so hopefully this helps: Do I Need An Interior Design Degree to Be An Interior Designer? Q&A
Why does this matter? The location of where you want to work as an interior designer is important because you may not need a qualification in your state or might be qualified in one state, but your qualifications may not be recognised in another place (which is typically the case!). It can be costly, qualifying in multiple states or countries, making your business or projects much less profitable.
When they say they want to become an interior designer, most people generally want to design residential or private homes for private clients. This is typically seen as relatively low risk in the design industry as you’re providing services that anyone can provide for themselves. Also, your clients are protected by the many laws already in place in your country, such as constitutional, contract, and consumer laws, so no additional precautions are required.
Providing commercial services, however, is seen in a different light many times. So it’s important to distinguish the responsibilities you have as a designer if you undertake commercial work because you can put many people at risk because of the design decisions you’ve made. You could be sued for making a mistake with something as simple as a slip rating on a tile or a non-fire-rated covering on a wall or fire exit surface.
What is considered commercial work? Typically any retail, hospital, hospitality, education ecclesiastical (church), pubs, bars, hotels and office design work are commercial. Still, typically it’s also any “business to business” type of service/transaction too, so if you’re designing show homes for a developer, that would still be considered as commercial work (even though technically you’re decorating homes for private clients as the end-user!)
Even though it isn’t mandatory in most places around the world to be qualified, hold a degree or be educated in any way to undertake commercial work, I would err on the side of caution undertaking such projects until you have a few years of experience under your belt (or you’re working with an experienced design team/builder or under a mentor).
As I mentioned above, however, most people who think about becoming an interior designer just want to undertake residential and private projects for private clients, so in most cases, just knowing the difference between commercial and residential work is sufficient before moving forward and making a decision on how to become an interior designer for yourself.
Interior design services are referred to as different names or professions around the world. Still, typically, the broad term interior designer also includes the job roles of an interior decorator, interior stylist, commercial stylist, interior architect and stagers, kitchen designer and space planners.
In areas where regulation occurs (see above title and practise acts), these job roles might be split by law – but in most other places in the world, an interior designer can also be known as an interior decorator and vice versa. It just depends on the services that that individual interior designer/decorator decides to provide.
If you would like to understand the difference between the roles of each, look at this article which helps to clarify the difference between an interior design and an interior decorator for you:
Interior Designer, Interior Stylist, Interior Decorator, Interior Architect. What’s the difference?
Another thing to consider is that not all interior designers provide the same services! That is why it can be confusing to describe what it is you specifically do! For example, I now offer architectural interiors, but when I first opened my interior design business, I provided everything from styling, installation and decorating/design services.
Before proceeding and deciding how to become an interior designer, the critical thing to understand is what niche of interiors you’re interested in. Are you more hands-on and therefore might prefer to install furniture and décor to sell real estate, or would you prefer to learn how to style properties digitally so that you can provide the same services working from home?
So what if you want to be an interior decorator or stylist, stager instead of an interior designer? You’re still under the professional heading of the interior designer unless you’re in an area that is regulated, and they separate the titles and job roles to distinguish separate professions. To the rest of the world, you’re whatever you want to call yourself, so choose what best describes what it is you want to do. Most people still don’t know what an interior designer does anyway, so you’re the one who needs to clarify what you do in your specific case.
This is often overlooked by many people when they start to research how to become an interior designer! The issues someone faces at the beginning of their career (such as those of you who are straight out of high school) and those of you who are hoping to transition into the interior design later in life are quite different.
If you’ve already had a career in another field or if you have taken a lot of time off of work to raise a family, the chances are that you are going to want to limit your study time and make use of some of or many of the skills you already have to transition into this new career. As someone straight out of school, you have many skills to learn, so a more comprehensive education might be to your benefit, especially if you love to learn to draw or design (not always, but it’s worth considering).
Also, many people who transition into interiors later in life want to work for themselves as the idea of flexible working hours is ideal when raising children. If you have to work nine to five (or seven to seven in most cases), your commitments and priorities are slightly different.
This might also impact the type of workplace you’ll end up working in as if you’re willing to work your way up the corporate ladder. Often working in large commercial design practices has many fantastic benefits for a younger generation of designers. But the working hours are long, and you’ll often be expected to participate in social gatherings as part of the design office/practice outside of work hours.
If you don’t know which path is right for you and you’d like to read a little more about whether you should work for yourself or someone else, have a look at this post:
Becoming An Interior Designer – Should I Get A Job Or Work For Myself?
We can take this for granted, but the reality is that not everyone has the same opportunities. Many people who want to become interior designers are forced out of the profession due to misinformation and a lack of the ability to study or pay for the study.
Having to undertake a degree in interior design can be time-consuming and expensive, especially if you’re in an area that requires qualification. It could take up to 7 or even eight years to qualify! That isn’t available for many, especially if they’re transitioning to interiors later in life.
Equally, some people feel that they want only the best that money can buy so that they have the utmost best education that is possible, and in that case, some people are willing to do what it takes to get the funds and make the time to fulfil that dream or desire. What is right for one person may not suit another, so consider what is suitable and available for you.
If money is an issue, explore your options, don’t give up at the first hurdle! You might be surprised that there are scholarships available and loans that can get you through.
When you search how to become an interior designer, you get a million different responses! As you see, that is because many variables impact the path you might take into interiors and of course, every person is different with a different set of circumstances and preferences, so there isn’t a simple answer or one correct answer.
I hope that the above guidelines and quiz help steer you in the right direction and help you make the right decision for yourself, with factual information relevant to you!
If you haven’t taken our quiz to get your personalised plan on how to become an interior designer yet, you can do that below.