WHAT’S THE BEST SOFTWARE FOR INTERIOR DESIGNERS TO LEARN?
If you’re researching how to become an interior designer and asking yourself what’s the best software for interior designers to learn, you’re probably already confused with the multitude and variety of answers you’ve found. Software for interior design and architecture is such a vast topic (and business). The answers you get are biased depending on who has sponsored a blog post, who has written it (and what they’re selling), the location and, of course, the writer’s opinion or personal experience (or lack thereof) with any one program.
This is not a sponsored post (we don’t accept them here on this blog), so the information has not been swayed by a particular company paying me to write that their program is the best. Also, after more than 20 years working in the architectural and interior design industry (and counting) and being a tech-savvy/software nerd, you can be safe knowing that I’ve used many of the programs I’m writing about here and come across almost all of the products in the industry. I’m also often approached to test out new software before it goes to market. Finally, my mentees are forever asking me questions about programs they’re thinking of using/learning or purchasing, so I’m constantly checking out the latest software for interior designers (heck, some of our students have even built their own!)
So below are factual answers that I hope you can use to make the best decision for yourself and your interior design career.
So, what’s the best software for interior designers to learn? If you want a quick answer – you’ll see that the safest bet is to stick with the industry standard options. This isn’t ideal for most, though, as these applications and programs typically take a long time to learn, and the licenses are costly.
If you want to see the list of programs and my reasoning behind that answer (and also a second list of non-mainstream programs and when it’s a safe bet to use them), read on.
Let’s start with:
What types of software do interior designers use?
Interior designers use a lot of software throughout a typical project. They use different software depending on the phase of a project and the types of services they provide. For example, a design-only interior designer might use mood board software or presentation software such as Photoshop, PowerPoint, Canva or Morpholio alongside spreadsheets, costing and accounting software.
But designers who provide a full interior design service from concept to completion may use drawing/3D modelling programs (such as Revit, ArchiCAD, AutoCAD, Vectorworks or SketchUp) alongside project management software or sourcing programs such as BaseCamp, Ivy/Houzz, MyDoma Designer Logic etc. (or they might use one piece of software that integrates all their processes into one such as DesignFiles and limit their services to what that software has to offer).
Typically, however, within one design firm, the types of software vary from concept to construction or even install phase, so the truth is that no one ever uses one single program. So which ones are the best for you to learn?
Many programs are designed for drawing, 3D modelling and rendering only, others are designed with project management, organisation, sourcing and presentation in mind, and others include a mixture of both.
If you’re starting out, I would answer the following question first before moving forward: Will I be working for myself or someone else? If you want help deciding, check out this post: https://www.idbs.online/becoming-an-interior-designer-should-i-get-a-job-or-work-for-myself/
And, if you’re planning on working for yourself, what kind of interior design services do you see yourself offering? (Full-service or design only only).
If you want more clarification on the services interior designers provide and differences between the types of interior design professions in the industry, have a read of these posts: https://www.idbs.online/what-do-interior-designers-really-do/ ,and : https://www.idbs.online/interior-designer-interior-stylist-interior-decorator-interior-architect-whats-the-difference/
So once you have decided whether you’ll be working for yourself or someone else, choose the relevant path below:
The best software for interior designers to learn if you’re looking for a job
OPTION 1 | You want to work for a large interior design company.
Suppose you’re planning on working for a firm or getting a job as an interior designer (instead of working for yourself). In that case, it is imperative to know the following before making your final decision on the software you’re going to invest your time learning and note that you’re going to be limited for choice based on the following:
- The software the companies in your area (or where you want to work) predominantly use. (You can find this out by looking at their job descriptions and applications or just give them a call).
- The job role you want to be hired for within the firm (at the beginning, you might not have a choice, so being as skilled and proficient as possible in a broader range of programs might be your best bet).
As I mention in the video, if you want to work for a more prominent firm, learning a niche program (such as RoomSketcher, HomeStyler, SmartDraw, Planner 5D etc.) is a bad idea because you’ll be learning a program that is useless in the broader industry. Large, international firms such as Bates Masi, HKS, SOM, HOK, Hassel, WATG etc. typically use Revit, AutoCAD, 3DS Max and/or SketchUp for drawing, alongside visualisation software such as 3Ds Max, Rhino, Corona/Vray, Enscape & Adobe Suite packages (such as Photoshop).
So if you want to work for a large interior design firm, these are the drawing, rendering and presentation software packages I would be looking into learning.
Remember, these firms have a HUGE amount of CV’s coming through their door every day, so you will want to be proficient in more than one of those programs. To get that type of experience and education, you’ll typically need to have completed a degree in architecture or interior design (or a related area) to gain these types of skills. It’s not something you can learn in a month or on a night course. It takes a couple of years to become “proficient”, especially when also applying your software skills to the field of interior design. So learning these types of programs is a long-term (and costly) commitment.
OPTION 2 | You want to work for a small interior design company.
What if you want to work for a small interior design firm? In that case, I’d call around and see what people are using in your city or ask on a local forum (Houzz or local Facebook Groups are gold).
Typically, in terms of programs and software, there is much more variety in what the smaller interior design firms are using, but they usually still lean towards AutoCAD/Revit, Vectorworks, ArchiCad and SketchUp for drawing alongside the Adobe Suite. I guess this is because in the past (things are changing now), the directors of small firms used to work for those larger firms, and they (like myself) continue using the programs they are accustomed to.
What’s the best software is for interior designers to learn? If you’re looking to work for someone else as an interior designer, I would stick to learning mainstream software like the ones mentioned here:
The best software for interior designers to learn Drawing/Drafting 2D/3D
- Revit | https://www.autodesk.com/products/revit/overview
- AutoCAD | https://www.autodesk.com/products/autocad/overview
- SketchUp | https://www.sketchup.com/
- Archicad | https://graphisoft.com/solutions/archicad
- VectorWorks | https://www.vectorworks.net/en-GB
The best software for interior designers to learn 3D Rendering Visualisations
- 3Ds Max | https://www.autodesk.com/products/3ds-max/overview
- Rhino | https://www.rhino3d.com/
- Enscape | https://enscape3d.com/
- VRay | https://www.chaosgroup.com/
- Adobe Creative Cloud | https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud.html
But what if you want to learn to draw plans and layouts for your own projects, or you want to become an interior designer who works for yourself?
The best software for interior designers to learn if you want to work for yourself
If you’re not looking to work for someone else, you’ve got a lot more options to choose from when it comes to interior design software and programs. This is where the vast array of those niche programs on the market can become confusing! To guide you through the maze, here are a few things to consider before making your final decision:
STEP 1 | Ask yourself if you’ll ever need to hire anyone
If you’re planning on using a niche (or non-mainstream) product, take a moment to think about whether you will ever want to hire someone. Using a niche product means that you might have problems hiring someone that knows the same software, which means your choice will be limited, or you might need to spend your money and or resources teaching them the software.
If the likelihood of you hiring anyone in future is low, think about what other professionals you’re likely to work alongside?
STEP 2 | Know the programs your colleagues are using
As an interior designer, you’re rarely working on your own. If you’re working on larger projects that require architects or engineers drawings, would it be easier for them to share their files with you in a native program? What about a furniture designer, visualisation specialist or a cabinet maker/carpenter? Does it make sense to consider using the same (or at least compatible) software to speed up your daily workflow and make life easier?
If you’ve considered the above and have decided that you really are working solo, you can safely assume that the choice you’re making in terms of the best software for you to learn can be based on other factors besides whether they are industry standard or not.
What’s the best software for interior designers who want to work for themselves? Now you can choose from the unlimited number of options out there! But I would still consider the following before making your final decision:
- The services you’re offering
- The ease of use of the program
- The hardware requirements (and their costs)
- The upfront costs of learning the program
- The price and ongoing price of the program/s
So considering the above, I’ve shortlisted the programs that rate medium to high in these areas. Once again, none of these is sponsored, so this is as unbiased a list as you’ll get, and they are not in any particular order! These are also programs I’ve personally used, my mentees use or have discussed with other designers worldwide. Still, before choosing one, check to see which ones are right for the services you’re providing, as not all of them will be relevant to every interior design business.
The best software for interior designers to learn Drawing/Drafting 2D/3D and 3D rendering visualisations
I combined drawing and rendering platforms in this section, as many niche programs are great because they do just that! They not only allow you to source the exact furniture you’re using in your projects (and earn commission on them) but alongside drawing your plans, you can create realistic 3D or elevation views as well as complete project plans and specification sheets – all in the same program or suite.
- SketchUp (has a free version) | https://www.sketchup.com/
- DesignFiles | https://designfiles.co/
- VectorWorks | https://www.vectorworks.net/en-GB
- Blender (free) | https://www.blender.org/
- RoomSketcher | https://www.roomsketcher.com/
- HomeStyler (has a free version) | https://www.homestyler.com/
- SmartDraw | https://www.smartdraw.com/
- Planner 5D | https://planner5d.com/
- Home Designer Architectural | https://www.homedesignersoftware.com/products/home-designer-architectural/
- Houzz Pro | https://www.houzz.com/pro
As you can see, the best software for interior designers to learn depends on whether you’re looking to work for someone else or work for yourself as an interior designer. Suppose you’re looking to work for someone else. In that case, your options are pretty limited, and you’re almost always going to have to choose an industry-standard software compatible with other professionals or designers in the industry.
The good news is that if you’re going it alone, all of a sudden, the world is your oyster, and you can choose the software and programs that you enjoy using and that are in line with your interior design business.
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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