Is an Interior Design Career Right For Me? - And Where Do I Start?

"How do I get into Interior Design?" There's no one-size-fits-all answer (thankfully!). Few careers require such a unique blend of artistic and technical skills, but Interior Design comes in enough flavors to suit diverse skill sets and personalities.

In General, the profession falls into two distinct categories: Interior Decorating and Interior Design. They are both completely viable avenues and there are many professionals with successful careers in each.

"Interior Decorating": If you prefer residential interiors, and enjoy focusing on furnishings and decor rather than space planning and codes, there are many satisfying and profitable options to explore and Interior Decorating may be your perfect fit. College is not Required, ( but you need to be aware of the laws regulating the practice of ID in your state). Some great options: Decorating for individual home owners, home staging, interior re-design, working within a design/decorating firm or on your own, working for or with builders preparing model homes, or apartment/condo/townhome leasing companies to name a few.

So how do I get there?? - As with anything, the key to your success will be your motivation and commitment! The more you are willing to put in the more you will achieve. The most straight forward way to start is to take classes at a university or community college, but if you aren't in a position to go to school right now, there are still some very practical steps you can take. The Hardest Part is Just Getting Started - SO......GET STARTED!!! There are many paths, but here's a suggested 6-step Action Plan to get you going:

  1. Self-Study - not an online degree (Avoid those completely for Interior Design), but rather to use the available free and low cost resources in a focused, disciplined, and intentional way in order to familiarize yourself with design concepts and to develop practical skills. These resources will not, of course, replace a university degree... but they will help you to explore real issues and topics which designers face on a daily basis (not the 'fluff' seen on TV and in magazines). Some of these skills can legitimately be included on a resume as you seek entry-level design jobs in order to set yourself apart. This is a great first step for those anxious to get started towards their dream, but who can't yet leave an existing job... or for an at-home parent to learn skills on your own schedule...Some examples of free study options are: learn 3d modeling and rendering with Google Sketch-up; learn AutoCad basics - get a starter book, even buy it used, then download a 30 day Acad trial; There are some well done free CEU opportunities aimed at Architects and Designers, but you don't have to be a professional to take them...
  2. Read - Read anything that catches your interest involving Design. This can be library books, grocery store magazines, websites, etc... Fluff is OK here; just absorb all you can about trends, opinions and beautiful design, just keep it in its place and don't let this consume all your time.
  3. Work with a purpose -Secure your first job in a design related area while continuing steps 1 and 2. This may be something you do just a few hours a week in addition to an existing job or while a spouse is home with the kids - be creative and be flexible! this is just a stepping stone!
  4. Build your Resume' and Portfolio
  5. Make your move
  6. Keep Learning!

"Interior Design": Does this sound more like you? Most of the designers and architects I've known are a unique blend of contradicting characteristics. Most have strong creative/artistic components (obviously), but usually also have a keen ability to solve problems and make order out of chaos in three dimensional space. We are usually less thoroughly 'rightbrain' than our artist friends, having varying (often high) degrees of affinity for numbers, science, and geometry. If this sounds familiar, Interior design might be your perfect fit.

Interior design includes the subset of decorating of course, but goes further. More and more in this competitive environment it's expected that an individual working under the title of "Interior Designer" has at least an associate's degree (with Bachelor's preferred) and has a certain minimum of work experience; many states have some form of licensing requirement. Regardless of your state's requirements, it is difficult to be competitive in the field without the accepted qualifications especially if you want to work on commercial projects or with an architectural firm. Steps To Become an Interior Designer:

  1. Achieve a combination of Education and work experience, as prescribed by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). There are (at the time of this writing) 5 'routes' to choose from in order to qualify to sit for the NCIDQ exam...in general,the more design related education you have, the fewer years of work experience is required
  2. Pass the NCIDQ exam...
  3. Register with your state (if required).

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