Dreaming of Interior Design? Here's How to Get Started - IntraBuild Blog | Design-Build insights. (2024)

How to become an interior designer is a question many design enthusiasts ponder. Here's a quick breakdown if you’re in a hurry:

  1. Reflect on your passion and interests.
  2. Understand the distinction between decorators and designers.
  3. Enroll in a relevant degree or certification program.
  4. Gain practical, hands-on experience.
  5. Build a strong design portfolio.

Starting your journey to becoming an interior designer is both exciting and challenging. It begins with self-reflection. Ask yourself what aspects of design get you most excited. Do you love transforming retail spaces or are you fascinated by the charm of heritage buildings? Identifying your passion is essential as it will drive your career and set you apart in the field.

Dreaming of Interior Design? Here's How to Get Started - IntraBuild Blog | Design-Build insights. (1)

It's also important to understand the distinction between interior decorators and interior designers. While both professions aim to make spaces more beautiful, interior designers have formal training in architecture and can make structural changes, whereas decorators mainly focus on aesthetic enhancements within existing spaces.

I'm Nick Chatzigeorgakis, founder of Intrabuild, a leading design-build firm in New York City. With expertise in over 400 renovations and a strong background in architecture and engineering, I’ve helped many aspiring designers navigate the path to success. Transitioning from dream to reality involves obtaining the right education and hands-on experience in the interior design field.

Next, let’s explore each step in detail, beginning with the educational paths you can take to become an interior designer.

Steps to Become an Interior Designer

Earn a Degree

To become an interior designer, the first step is to earn a degree. Most interior designers hold a bachelor's degree, but an associate's degree can also open doors.

Bachelor's Degree:A bachelor's degree in interior design typically takes four years to complete. This program covers essential topics such as design theory, architecture, textiles, and business practices. It also includes courses on color theory, lighting, and furnishings.

Associate's Degree:An associate's degree takes about two years to complete and covers the basics of interior design. While it’s a shorter path, you may need additional work experience to qualify for certification.

Accredited Programs:Ensure your degree comes from an accredited program. The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) grants accreditation to interior design programs that meet industry standards.

Gain Professional Experience

After earning your degree, the next step is to gain professional experience. This is crucial for developing real-world skills and building your portfolio.

Internships:Completing a supervised internship allows you to gain hands-on experience and start logging work hours required for certification. Internships expose you to different types of work environments and help you decide the kind of interior design work you enjoy.

Mentorship:Finding a mentor can be invaluable. A good mentor will push you out of your comfort zone and help you expand your skills and knowledge. Look for someone who respects you and will guide you without micromanaging.

Real-Life Practical Experience:Engage in as many practical experiences as you can. This includes working on small projects, volunteering, or even redesigning spaces for friends and family.

Pass the NCIDQ Exam

Becoming a certified interior designer often requires passing the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.

NCIDQ Certification:The NCIDQ exam is the most recognized certification in the U.S. and Canada. It ensures you meet the industry standards for proficiency.

Exam Parts:The NCIDQ exam consists of three parts:1. Interior Design Fundamentals Exam (IDFX): A multiple-choice test on design principles.2. Interior Design Professional Exam (IDPX): Another multiple-choice test, but more advanced.3. Practicum: An interactive test that assesses your ability to apply design principles in real-world scenarios.

State Requirements:Requirements vary by state. Some states may have additional exams or different certification processes. Research your state's specific requirements to ensure you meet them.

Work Experience Hours:To qualify for the NCIDQ exam, you need a certain number of work experience hours. The requirement varies based on your education level, ranging from two to three years of full-time work.

Build a Design Portfolio

Your portfolio is your passport into the design world. It showcases your skills, vision, and style to potential employers or clients.

Student Work:Start building your portfolio with projects and assignments from your interior design program. These works demonstrate your foundational skills and creativity.

Internship Projects:Include projects from your internships. These real-world examples show your ability to apply what you've learned in a professional setting.

Self-Initiated Work:Don’t hesitate to include personal projects. These can show your unique style and passion for design.

Portfolio Tips:- Use high-quality images.- Include sketches, mood boards, and photos.- Keep it updated with your latest work.- Get feedback from peers and mentors.

Get Hired or Start Your Own Firm

The final step is to either get hired by a design firm or start your own.

Job Search:Look for job openings in specialized design services, architectural firms, or engineering organizations. Networking is key; join industry associations like the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to meet professionals and learn about job opportunities.

Launching a Boutique Firm:If you prefer flexibility, consider starting your own firm. This path can be rewarding but requires effort to attract clients and manage business operations.

Top Design Firms:Working for a top design firm can provide stability and valuable experience. Research firms that align with your career goals and apply to those that interest you.

Career Goals:Decide what you want from your career. Whether it’s working for a prestigious firm or running your own business, having clear goals will guide your decisions.

Next, we’ll dive into the essential skills you’ll need to succeed in interior design, from mastering CAD software to developing effective communication skills.

Essential Skills for Interior Designers

To become a successful interior designer, you'll need a mix of technical and soft skills. Let's break it down.

Mastering CAD Software

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Software is essential for modern interior designers. These tools allow you to create detailed 2D and 3D models, making your ideas come to life.

  • Autodesk AutoCAD: A staple in the industry, AutoCAD helps you create precise drawings and plans. It's great for both 2D and 3D modeling.
  • CorelCAD: This software is known for its user-friendly interface and powerful tools for drafting and design.
  • SketchUp: Ideal for beginners, SketchUp is an easy-to-learn 3D modeling tool. It's perfect for quick sketches and detailed designs.
  • Autodesk Revit: Revit is more advanced and used for Building Information Modeling (BIM). It's great for creating detailed architectural designs.
  • Infurnia: A feature-rich tool that allows for complex interior design projects, including space planning and virtual staging.

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Developing Soft Skills

Soft skills are just as important as technical skills in interior design. Here are some key areas to focus on:

Effective CommunicationCommunication is crucial. You need to convey your ideas clearly to clients and team members. Good communication helps avoid misunderstandings and ensures everyone is on the same page.

StorytellingStorytelling isn't just for writers. As an interior designer, you need to tell the story of a space. Explain your vision and how it meets the client's needs. This helps clients understand and buy into your design.

Organizational SkillsBeing organized keeps your projects on track. Use project management software to manage timelines, budgets, and resources. This ensures you meet deadlines and stay within budget.

Time ManagementTime management is vital. Balancing multiple projects and meeting deadlines requires good time management skills. Use tools like calendars and task lists to stay organized.

Dreaming of Interior Design? Here's How to Get Started - IntraBuild Blog | Design-Build insights. (3)

Technical KnowledgeBeyond CAD software, you need to understand building codes, construction methods, and local laws. This ensures your designs are not only beautiful but also safe and compliant.

Project ManagementManaging a project from start to finish involves planning, executing, and closing projects. Good project management ensures your design is implemented smoothly and efficiently.

In the next section, we'll explore how to choose the right design school to help you acquire these essential skills.

How to Choose the Right Design School

Top Interior Design Schools

When you're dreaming of becoming an interior designer, choosing the right school is crucial. The right school can set you up for success by providing top-notch education, networking opportunities, and a strong alumni network.

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is a top choice. SCAD reports a 99% employment rate in the interior design industry within 10 months of graduation. That's impressive!

Parsons School of Design in New York is another excellent option. Known for its rigorous curriculum and innovative approach, Parsons offers a comprehensive education in interior design.

New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) boasts a 95% job placement rate for undergraduates and 98% for graduates. NYSID's focus on practical skills and industry connections makes it a solid choice.

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is renowned for its strong emphasis on creativity and critical thinking. RISD's interior design program is highly respected in the industry.

Pratt Institute in Brooklyn offers a well-rounded program with a focus on both traditional and modern design techniques. Pratt's location in New York City provides students with ample opportunities for internships and networking.

Vetting Design Schools

Choosing a school involves more than just looking at rankings. Here are some key factors to consider:

Accredited ProgramsEnsure the program is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). CIDA accreditation means the program meets high standards in terms of curriculum, faculty, and facilities.

Site VisitsVisit the schools you’re interested in. This gives you a feel for the campus, facilities, and overall environment. You can also talk to current students and faculty to get their perspective.

Curriculum EvaluationLook at the curriculum to see if it aligns with your career goals. Does it cover essential topics like CAD software, color theory, and project management? Are there opportunities for hands-on learning through internships or real-world projects?

Faculty ConsultationMake an appointment with a faculty member. Ask about their teaching philosophy, the types of classes offered, and what percentage of graduates actually pursue careers in interior design.

Student ExperienceTalk to current students about their experiences. Are they happy with the program? Do they feel supported by the faculty? How is the campus life?

Post-Grad Job PlacementTop design schools have a stellar record for post-grad job placement. For example, SCAD reports a 99% employment rate in the interior design industry within 10 months of graduation. Similarly, NYSID touts a 95% job placement rate for undergraduates and a 98% rate for graduate students.

Taking the time to thoroughly vet design schools will help you make an informed decision and set you on the path to a successful career in interior design.

In the next section, we'll explore how to become an interior designer without a degree.

How to Become an Interior Designer Without a Degree

Online Learning Resources

You don't need a degree to become an interior designer. With the right resources and dedication, you can learn the necessary skills and build a successful career.

Self-Taught Skills: Many successful interior designers started out by teaching themselves. Focus on understanding design principles, color theory, and space planning. Books, blogs, and YouTube channels are great places to start.

Online Courses: Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning offer courses on interior design basics, CAD software, and more. These courses are flexible and can be done at your own pace.

Webinars and Design Tutorials: Webinars and tutorials by industry professionals provide valuable insights. Websites like Skillshare and MasterClass host sessions where you can learn from experts.

Virtual Mentorship Programs: Some organizations offer virtual mentorship programs. These programs connect you with experienced designers who can provide guidance and feedback on your work.

Building a Portfolio Without Formal Education

Your portfolio is your passport into the design world. Here’s how to build one without formal education:

Self-Initiated Projects: Start with your own home or those of friends and family. Document your designs with before-and-after photos, sketches, and detailed descriptions.

Freelance Work: Offer your services on freelance platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. Even small projects can add valuable experience and pieces to your portfolio.

Mood Boards and Renders: Create mood boards to showcase your design concepts. Use tools like Pinterest or Canva to compile images, textures, and colors. For renders, software like SketchUp or Autodesk Revit can help you create 3D models of your designs.

Community College Programs: Some community colleges offer interior design courses that don't require a full degree. These programs can provide foundational knowledge and hands-on experience.

Certification Alternatives: Certifications like those from the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) or the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) can boost your credibility. These certifications often require passing an exam and meeting work experience requirements.

By leveraging these resources and opportunities, you can build a strong foundation in interior design and create a portfolio that showcases your skills and creativity.

Next, we'll answer some frequently asked questions about how to become an interior designer.

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Become an Interior Designer

How long does it take to become an interior designer?

The time it takes to become an interior designer varies based on your chosen educational path and work experience.

  • Bachelor's Degree: Typically takes four years. This degree covers a broad range of topics, including design theory, architecture, and business skills.

  • Associate's Degree: Usually takes two years. This is a quicker route but may require additional work experience to meet certification requirements.

  • Work Experience: After earning a degree, gaining professional experience is crucial. For the NCIDQ exam, those with a bachelor's degree need at least two years of full-time work experience. Those with an associate's degree need three years.

Do you need qualifications to be an interior designer?

Yes, qualifications are essential for a career in interior design.

  • Degree Requirements: Most interior designers hold a bachelor's degree. However, an associate's degree can also be a stepping stone, though it may require more work experience.

  • Certification: Many states require interior designers to be certified. The most recognized certification is the NCIDQ, which tests on design development, bidding, and project completion.

  • State Regulations: Requirements vary by state. Some states require the NCIDQ exam, while others may have different exams or no certification requirement at all.

Is it hard to get into interior design?

Getting into interior design can be challenging, but with the right education and experience, it's achievable.

  • Education and Experience: A solid educational background and hands-on experience are crucial. Internships and mentorships can provide real-life practical experience.

  • NCIDQ Exam: Passing the NCIDQ exam is a significant milestone. It requires a combination of education and work experience.

  • Job Market: The job market can be competitive. Building a strong portfolio and networking can help you stand out. Many interior designers start their careers by working for design firms, while others may launch their own boutique firms.

By understanding these aspects, you can better prepare for a successful career in interior design.


Becoming an interior designer is a journey that involves several key steps. Let's recap:

  1. Earn a Degree: Start with a bachelor's or associate's degree in interior design. Accredited programs are essential for quality education.

  2. Gain Professional Experience: Internships and mentorships provide real-life practical experience. This experience is crucial for building your skills and resume.

  3. Pass the NCIDQ Exam: This certification is a significant milestone and often required for licensure. It combines education and work experience.

  4. Build a Strong Portfolio: Your portfolio showcases your skills and design vision. It's your passport into the design world.

  5. Get Hired or Start Your Own Firm: The job market can be competitive, but a strong portfolio and networking can help you stand out. Many start by working for design firms, while others launch their own boutique firms.

Importance of Education and Experience

Education and experience are the backbone of a successful interior design career. A solid educational foundation provides the technical know-how and design principles needed. Meanwhile, hands-on experience hones your skills and builds your confidence.

Intrabuild's Innovative Approach

At Intrabuild, we understand the importance of both education and experience. Our interior design services integrate innovative design, construction, and client collaboration. We aim to support you from concept to completion, ensuring that you gain practical experience alongside your academic pursuits.

Believing in your abilities is crucial. It takes bravery to pursue any creative profession, but without risk, there's no reward. So, take the leap, acquire the right skills, build a wide network, and continually learn and develop your abilities.

Ready to get started on your interior design journey? Explore our services and see how Intrabuild can support you in achieving your dreams.

Dreaming of Interior Design? Here's How to Get Started - IntraBuild Blog | Design-Build insights. (2024)


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