WHAT’S THE BEST COURSE TO DO TO BECOME AN INTERIOR DESIGNER?
To be clear, this is not a sponsored post. In this post, I link to other websites that I believe provide superior schooling. This is my opinion from my experience as an architectural and interior designer and a mentor with over 20 years of industry experience. Our mission at the interior designer’s business school is to be reliable with our information, relevant and at the forefront of the interior design industry.
There are many bias posts out there that were specifically written to boost the SEO of particular companies or schools (a bit like Pfizer sponsoring some research on how effective Viagra is). At IDBS, we’re on a mission to create transparency in interior design, which has traditionally been exclusive and secretive – a well-known fact by anyone who has previously tried to become an interior designer or get a job in interiors.
Just one more thing before we start. If you want to know what an interior designer does, then please read this post first – What Do Interior Designers Really Do – and if you want to know the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator, then please read this post before moving on – Interior Designer, Interior Stylist, Interior Decorator, Interior Architect. What’s the difference?
There is so much you need to know as an interior designer! It’s an extremely rewarding profession but it does require quite a lot of knowledge – but that doesn’t mean you necessarily need exceptionally high schooling, degrees and years of experience to get into this industry. Many people starting out in interiors believe that the majority of the role is creative. It is, but there are so many other skills that you’ll need to compliment those creative skills if you want to be a successful interior designer.
The creative parts of interior design include solving problems and coming up with design schemes, but the daily life of an interior designer requires many other skills, namely effective communication (visual and verbal), exceptional organisational skills and project management.
Also, interior design can cross over into other professions and for that reason, you’ll need to know some important boundaries as to what you can, can’t and shouldn’t do as an interior designer, as well as, some important rules about buildings (such as structure, regulations and historic or protected buildings).
My graduates, colleagues and I get asked daily which course is the best course to do if you want to become an interior designer, and honestly, to be able to give you the best answer, I would suggest you think about the answers to the next two questions before reading on:
- Do you want to work on large commercial projects such as shopping centres, municipal buildings and airports or are you interested in just designing people’s houses and working on small domestic projects?
- Do you have the life and professional skills or experience to run a project and deal with the daily problems that a building site can bring (such as solving complex problems and making difficult decisions quickly)?
Notice I didn’t ask the question – “do you have any interior design specific experience “? That’s because there are thousands of interior design graduates that don’t have (and won’t ever get) work experience – so, in my opinion, this is a completely different subject to what we’re talking about in this blog post which is what course is the best course to do to become an interior designer. But more on this later!
So, firstly, the reason I feel it’s important to know what type of projects you want to work on before you make a decision about a course is because you’ll want to be taking two very different routes into the profession. SO knowing your end goal is important so that you don’t waste time and money on courses that aren’t right for you and get straight into the goodness that is working as an interior designer.
Also, I’d suggest two very different courses to people who want to work in the commercial sector or the domestic one. If you want to just design people’s houses, spending 4 years doing a degree and wasting thousands is actually the worst possible route into interiors for you (and one that many people make). But if you want to design multi-storey building interiors and wish to work on complex commercial projects as part of an inspiring team in a large office, then I’d say that the degree route will be the fastest route (and possibly the only route) into interiors for you – unless of course you “know someone” who is willing to give you a job (like a mentor).
If you’re unsure whether to try to gain work experience in a firm or just start working for yourself straight away, you can read a post about that here – Becoming an interior designer – should I get a job or work for myself?
So before I tell you what’s the best course to do to become an interior designer, it’s important to know what KIND, of course, you should look out for, because not all courses and routes to the interior design world will get you on the path to achieving your interior design goals.
But firstly, I want to let you know that doing a course isn’t your only option! In the past interior designers also got into the industry by doing apprenticeships or just started their own business because they felt they had enough experience on their own projects to succeed. Others chose to work with a mentor. None of these routes into interior design require a degree or any previous knowledge of interior design.
So, the main courses that you can do to become an interior designer are:
- Diplomas & Vocational Courses
- Hobby Or Arts Classes
So let’s discuss which type of course you should look out for.
Get A Degree
If you want to work on large commercial projects that require a group of people to complete, then I would start looking at doing a degree rather than just an interior design course or diploma. Design diplomas or courses rarely have enough information in them to give you the schooling required to work on large projects, also, unless you’re really intuitive (or have had great guidance from a mentor) you’ll totally miss the mark on what they are looking for or expecting from you in terms of a design portfolio.
Large firms have a big say in the direction of an industry and have connections with universities to help graduates gain employment. That’s how I got my second job in architecture – I was chosen to interview for a position when a director of a firm, who was at my final crit, saw my graduation project.
But don’t be fooled by the importance of your degree – what you’ll be getting is a well-rounded education that makes you more likely to get into the industry – it’s definitely not a guarantee!
I get CV’s and resumes weekly from unemployed graduates hoping to get a position and in many cases, unless you’re one of the top few students – you’ll have to depend on who you know to get a job in a big design firm, rather than your framed certificate and graduate portfolio.
Do A Vocational Course
The majority of courses you see out in the wonderful world of the internet are vocational courses. These are usually much shorter and less expensive than degrees and usually focus on the creative side of interior design. These include diplomas, certificates and countless other names that provide you a qualification (that often don’t actually mean anything).
I have never seen anyone complete an online course or even a level one, two or three diploma in interior design and get a job in a commercial interior design firm (let me know if you have, I’d love to hear from you!) The main reason being is that you just don’t learn the right skills to work in a commercial interior design environment by doing a vocational interior design course.
Doing a vocational course, in my opinion, is best suited to you if you want to work in the domestic interior design sectors such as interior decorating, interior styling or interior staging and even more so if you want to work for yourself – mainly because the skills you’re learning aren’t always useful to an interior design firm (if you want to know why – check out the first part of my webinar – How To Start An Interior Design Business – 5 Things You Need To Guarantee Success
In many ways, these vocational courses are outdated because interior design has changed a lot in the past few years. These courses used to appeal to the “interior design as a hobby for mums and teenagers” market before the internet inflated their importance. I have mentored many students who have multiple diplomas and courses and still don’t have the skills to be an interior designer past that of putting together a design scheme.
Get A Mentor
If you know that interior design is meant for you, you don’t know whether you want to work in the commercial or domestic sectors (but might want to start in the domestic and then move over to the commercial sector later) and you’re motivated and mature enough to know that you can problem-solve the rest out as you go, then a mentor, instead of a degree or course might be the right path for you.
Mentorships and apprenticeships were how architects historically got the education they needed in order to become professionals themselves (before everyone made us believe that we needed a degree).
This is the perfect way to learn interior design if you can’t afford the time or money to do a degree or if you are determined and or believe in your skills enough to do whatever is required to become an interior designer by working on projects rather than studying.
A great mentor can help you get into both the commercial or domestic sectors of interior design – so choosing the right mentor for you is also key. If you don’t want to spend years studying an academic degree at university, you can just get straight out there and start working with an experienced mentor.
Do A Short Course
After reading all of this you might feel like you just want to do interior design as a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that and many interior designers have eventually become professional designers this way too.
You might feel like at this point in time, just a short, fun, creative and inspiring course is what you need to get an understanding and a feel for the wonderful world of interiors and there are plenty of fantastic courses out there that will be extremely enjoyable if this is what you want to do.
Now before we go on to which course is the best course to do to become an interior designer, there’s one more important question I asked you to consider: Are you mature enough or do you have the life and professional skills or experience to run a project?
I can imagine this isn’t as easy to answer, but it is a really important question that will help you decide what type, of course, will be right for you. If you don’t consider yourself mature enough to run a project from start to finish, or deal with clients day to day, or builders and suppliers directly, then you should automatically discount working for yourself. Can you see that your end goal is really important here?
If you want to become a commercial interior designer but don’t want to go to university, mentorship or apprenticeships might be the only answer for you, so you won’t have to waste all that time trawling through millions of useless diplomas and courses that will rarely ever see you succeed in working as a commercial interior designer anyway.
To help you with this, as a rule of thumb if you’ve already have a previous career and a passion for interior design (no matter what career you’ve been in) then you’re probably mature enough, but if you’re in school, at university or probably under the age of 25, I’d say you might want to go down the degree rather than the diploma or course route because you’re still at the very early stages or your career and require more skills than those that any single course can offer.
These are just my rules of thumb. Honestly, I know a 16-year-old who had more business sense and communication skills than I did at the age of 30. It wasn’t until I started my own business that I realised that I was pretty emotionally immature, even though I had an exceptional amount of architectural and interior design experience! Everyone is different, the only rule is to be honest with yourself.
Ok, let’s do this!
After much research and investigation, here are the best interior design courses, out there today, that I feel will help you achieve your goals of becoming an interior designer, taking note that my bias is towards creating a well-rounded professional and an above-average level designer:
1 | The Best Interior Design Degrees
Interior Design Degrees fall into a few categories – more technical degrees such as Interior architecture, more creative or artistically focussed such as furniture or textile design or a more academic and theoretical/critical thinking and philosophical approach. All should have a basic understanding of the history of design, should teach you how to draw and present or communicate your ideas effectively and also, obviously teach you how to design, whilst allowing you the space to experiment with ideas and push the boundaries in a safe, explorative environment.
In my opinion, if you’re going to spend all that money on doing a degree, the best degree for you is the one that provides the things you’re specifically interested in. There’s no point in me doing a doctorate in textiles and curtain making as I have very little interest in that part of interior design, but it doesn’t make me less of an interior designer if that isn’t the area I want to focus on.
So the best interior design degree for you to choose is the one that specifically covers the areas of interior design you’re interested in and want to work in. If commercial interiors and complex buildings are your thing, then an architecturally focussed interior design degree is going to be the right focus for you. If, however, you’re interested in experimenting and getting creative then a more heavily design focussed degree that has facilities such as an art room or studio are going to be top of the list for you. Again, if you’re academic and you love to critically analyse absolutely everything and would rather spend your days writing essays and reading about the theory of design rather than the practical aspects of it, a degree more focussed on design theory is the right degree for you.
After having worked in both the commercial and domestic sectors of interior design as well as having worked with and mentored hundreds of interior design professionals, worldwide, the small list below is my pick of universities to choose from if you want to go down the degree route:
Yes, the majority of courses I have chosen are 4-year honours undergraduate degrees as nothing less is worthy in my mind if you want the best degree in interior design. Sorry!
- AFRICA | Currently, I only know of architectural courses in Egypt and South Africa that can get you into the interior design industry in this region. Overseas, online degrees and courses might be your only option at this point in time if you’re in Africa and want to become an interior designer.
- ARABIA | My pick would be Heriot Watt University Dubai – BA (Hons) Interior Design – CLICK HERE
- ASIA | Of course, it would have to be Architecture, Interior and Environmental Design Course (4 years) from Kyoto University of Art and Design – CLICK HERE
- SOUTH-EAST ASIA | Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) Diploma in Interior Design: CLICK HERE
- AUSTRALIA | This is hard for me to say as a Sydney girl, but it’s a draw between RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) Undergraduate Associate Degree in Interior Decoration and Design – CLICK HERE
- CANADA | Honours Bachelor of Interior Design, Bachelor – Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Oakville, Canada – CLICK HERE
- SOUTH AMERICA | University of Sao Paulo (the architecture building is amazing) –At the moment, in my opinion, the best path is to study an undergraduate degree in architecture – CLICK HERE … and then masters from IED – CLICK HERE
- UK | Glasgow School of Art – BA(Hons) Interior Design (hands down!) – CLICK HERE
- USA | There’s a reason why this school is consistently at the top of every list: The New York School of Interior Design (which focusses exclusively on interiors)- Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design – CLICK HERE
- EUROPE & SCANDINAVIA | … honestly in my experience, the average European interior design (and architectural) education is exceptional and I would recommend any European school, degree or course (at this point in time!)
2 | The Best Interior Design Courses
The problem with interior design as a profession, however, is that the vast majority of people who want to become an interior designer, just want to create beautiful homes for families and work on small or non-complex projects. The good news is, that there is a strong market for this type of designer, the bad news is though, that this area of interior design has a mass amount of confused and incorrect information out in the world!
In most parts of the world, we don’t complicate this. We don’t put rules on interior design and we don’t pretend to be anything we’re not. In some places in the world (including some states in the USA) the title of interior designer is protected – as is the title of architect for example – so you can’t just call yourself an interior designer like we can pretty much everywhere else in the world.
If you feel that doing a vocational course in interior design is going to be the best route into the interior design world for you, then I would suggest looking out for courses that specifically give you the information relevant to the type of interior design work you want to do as an interior designer. For example, if you want to be more of a decorator or stylist, then a styling course will be more appropriate than one that goes into detail about using CAD and detailing lighting designs.
Also, looking out for some kind of accreditation MIGHT be necessary – although I wouldn’t dismiss courses if they haven’t got one. Accreditations give you an inflated sense of importance but all they do to a course is make it the same as every other course.
I’ve been through this process a few times now and what I see is that in order to check a box a course must include certain things. Yawn. Certain things that someone who doesn’t know anything about interior design has specified in order to make the accrediting job a lot easier for the accrediting body or so that they can justify their fees to “monitor the quality” of a specific course or program. (This is a whole other article so I won’t go on about this here, it’s just a note not to dispel a course you’ve fallen in love with if it hasn’t got a stamp of “approval” by no one that matters).
I’ve seen fantastic courses with zero stamps and I’ve seen the worst courses on the planet with accolades shining out of every orifice – that still won’t get you any closer to becoming an interior designer.
Again, we have to single out those unique states in the USA who do protect the title of interior designer and inflate the importance of interior decorators by “certifying them” and therefore have to have courses that are accredited by bodies such as the CID. If this is relevant to your state in the USA, I feel for you, as you’ll have another task to add to this and that will be needing to check what accreditations your courses (supposedly) need as well. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s the only way.
There is a lot of scaremongering going on by bodies who try to tell you that you have to be accredited but it’s absolute nonsense. Check it out for yourself and get the facts – don’t just listen to what someone has written on a blog (like this one!) Call a government body in your state (if this applies to you) and get the answers from someone who knows and understands the law SPECIFICALLY to the state you want to practise interior design in.
And just a note about the BIID. The British Institute of Interior Design, besides its impressive name is not a governing body and has zero power over interior designers anywhere in the world. It is simply a club that you can be part of, just like the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects). Just a side note – I have nothing against the BIID or the RIBA, in fact, I feel that they should govern the title of architect in the UK over the current body.
Phew. Now that, that’s out of the way, here are my list of top interior design vocational courses – I have chosen online ones because the majority of people who want to do a course like this are thinking of transitioning into interior design and are most probably working full time or working around a family (ok the KLC one is an online degree – but it’s exceptional and I wouldn’t propose anything else!)
- USA | New York Institute of Art & Design Online Interior Design Course – CLICK HERE
- EUROPE & UK | Online Structured Interior Design Degree – CLICK HERE
- AUSTRALASIA | International School of Colour & Design – Online Certificate In Interior Decoration (MSF40113) – CLICK HERE … although if you could make it to study in Sydney, I’d choose this course from the Sydney Design School: Advanced Diploma of Interior Design MSF60118 – CLICK HERE
3 | The Best Interior Design Mentorships
Obviously, the traditional type of mentorship used to be more like an apprenticeship. You’d work (very long hours) underneath an established designer with whom you respect and then would learn their specific way of working. Finding a mentor like this is much harder these days, as the abundance of graduates eager to work for free that have skills useful from the get-go create a much more competitive market.
That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to find a mentor though – I just find that more often than not it will usually be through someone you know rather than randomly sending out your folio and CV.
The world has come a long way though and these days there are mentors and business coaches out there who are willing to share their knowledge with you too.
- IDBS.ONLINE | We offer an online group mentorship program that is available to students worldwide. Obviously, I think our program is the best and if you would like to get into interior design in a non-traditional way, then please do have a read through our signature 90-day program here: CLICK HERE
There are two other paid mentorship programs that I would recommend:
- Capella Kincheloe | One is run by a business coach called US-based Capella Kincheloe (she’s lovellllly) – CLICK HERE
- Terri Taylor | and the other is Terri Taylor – CLICK HERE
There are more and more mentorship/coaching business coaching courses and programs springing up every day. If you find one that piques your interest, research the past career of the coach/mentor. Ask yourself, did they run a successful interior design business and were they able to make success as an interior designer? And, are they able to teach me what I need to know as an interior designer (not just marketing strategies they learned from another coach)? Then compare the experience and success of the designers against the ones above who I have taken the time to thoroughly research before you make your final decision.
Also, consider the background of the person too, as unfortunately, not all advice is good advice. As much as I highly respect (and adore) my university lecturers, I would never take business advice from them for example, but I would respect their design advice, so be smart, don’t take guidance from people who don’t know what they are talking about (even if they think they do!) Yes filtering these people is harder and harder but you’ll usually spot them a mile away because they’ll start the conversation with “being an interior designer is hard” or “get ready to struggle your whole life” and more negative nonsense that you don’t need to hear, especially when you’re just starting out!
4 | The Best Short Courses
These courses as I mentioned above are to either gain knowledge in a particular area or to dip your toes into the wonderful world of interiors and see where your interest takes you. Honestly, when it comes to art classes and courses like this, personally, I would explore the ones locally to me that allow me to get some hands-on experience and fun. There’s nothing more lonely than taking up a hobby on your own!
- Maria Killam | Specify Colour With Confidence – CLICK HERE also Live Colour Workshop – CLICK HERE
- Trendimi Interior Design Courses | Ok, they are just plain courses, but the written content is better than I’ve seen elsewhere – even if the delivery is a bit bland but you can get them for like £12! – CLICK HERE
- Sydney Design School | Interior Decoration Workshop – CLICK HERE
I’ve done a lot of courses over the years and now I have spoken to hundreds of interior design students worldwide who have also completed courses and who have mentioned how good or bad the programs are.
Some of these courses I have completed myself and others I hope to complete soon! I want to keep adding to this list, so if you can recommend a course (with a good reason) please do post below or write to me about it!
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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