Is Interior Design a good career? That is a loaded question. The short answer is yes, it can be a great career.
However, being an Interior Designer certainly is not easy, despite what some people might think. It is also not as glamorous a job as it sounds, because there can be a lot of stress, hours of research, and incredible responsibility involved in the daily tasks.
Overall, it can be exciting, extremely creative, and very rewarding, but you have to possess the ability to multi-task, be confident in making hard decisions, and have thick skin.
There are so many hats a designer wears every given day, it’s like a juggling act of sorts. Our job is to design a space, whether it be residential or commercial, that looks pretty but is also cohesive and functional. That may sound simple, but there is so much behind the scenes that our clients don’t see.
We interior designers are also a unique bunch with artistic tendencies. According to Career Explorer by Sokanu:
Interior designers have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.
I am going to tell you everything you need to know by walking you through all the important steps of the job, what it means to be and how to become an Interior designer.
Interior Designer vs Interior Decorator
I think it is important to first clarify the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator. Interior design is a profession that requires specific schooling and formal training. Their work usually involves the scope of studying colors and fabrics, learning CAD (computer-aided design), sketching, space planning, and sometimes architecture.
They tend to work with spatial planning and renovating interiors to enhance the design and overall feel of a home. Interior decorators aren’t required to have any formal training or degree because they focus mainly on aesthetics and do not frequently participate in renovations or structural planning. A decorator comes into the picture after the structural planning and execution are completed to focus on the surface appearance of the space.
Many professional interior decorators do have college degrees in related design fields, but it is not required to have this profession. Recently, I’ve noticed the lines becoming blurred between the two professions. Some decorators lean into the space planning and architectural side of things depending on the project and how long they’ve been on the job.
For those who don’t know CAD, they simply just sub-contract someone who does. You can also use your local college to scout emerging design talent fresh out of learning CAD or other design software and offer an internship in exchange for work. This can give you a leg up in business and allow you to take on bigger projects.
Interior Design Governing Bodies
For those who want to go the formal route, there are many different governing bodies in the Interior Design world and certificates that you can obtain, depending on your interests. I’ve listed them all, according to how they are found on Google, along with a brief description.
- ALA (American Lighting Association) is a trade association representing the lighting industry. Its membership, which includes lighting designers, is dedicated to providing the public with the proper application of quality residential lighting.
- ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) represents practicing professional interior designers, students, and industry partners. The ASID Educational Foundation sponsors scholarship competitions, finances educational research, and awards special grants.
- CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) is an independent, non-profit accrediting organization for interior design education programs at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
- IALD (International Association of Lighting Designers) The IALD strives to set the global standard for lighting design excellence by promoting the advancement and recognition of professional lighting designers.
- IDS (Interior Design Society) is one of the country’s largest design organizations dedicated to serving the residential interior design industry.
- IIDA (International Interior Design Association) represents professional interior designers and conducts research, student programs, and continuing education programs for members.
- NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) is an independent, nonprofit organization of state and provincial credentialing bodies, NCIDQ establishes standards of competence for interior design/interior architecture professionals.
- USGBC ( U.S. Green Building Council) is a non-profit community committed to the adoption of green building practices, technologies, policies, and standards.
Of course, it’s always important to have as many certifications under your belt, but you also need an arsenal of skills to effectively deliver a successful design. You will need a good aesthetic eye. This means you need to be able to look at an empty or furnished space and understand how it should be laid out and what story it needs to tell.
The entire design must flow throughout the home and that is why you must pay attention to the details. You should always maintain good communication skills with every client, contractor, and vendors throughout the process. If there is a lack of communication, then the overall design has the potential to fail.
You must be extremely organized during each project. Keeping tabs on all client needs, orders and receipts is crucial to running an effective business. Being aware of the latest trends and sustainable products can be equally important and it will keep you relevant.
The last but most essential skill needed in today’s world is being technologically savvy. You don’t have to become the next Bill Gates or anything, but you must know your way around a computer and the many design apps. They will make your job easier and allow you to grow more efficiently.
Carolyn Ames Noble, chair of the American Society of Interior Designers, or ASID noted:
Having your short- and long-term goals charted out with an outline of when you want to reach them helps tremendously in keeping you motivated. That being said, it’s also important to remember that it’s okay if not all of your goals are met, but that it’s the journey along the way that helps mold your character and career.
Once you have completed formal training and honed your skills, you might want to decide what type of design to specialize in. The easiest and most popular career to transition into is residential design. Residential design specializes in interior spaces within a person’s home or apartment.
Another avenue you can take is going into commercial or kitchen and bath design. Commercial designers create interiors for professional workplaces such as offices or retail stores. Kitchen and Bath design is for those that solely enjoy the renovation or development aspect of a kitchen or bathroom.
Healthcare or hospitality design is probably the least-known specialty that involves the renovation and design of hospitals, doctor’s or dentists’ offices, and hotels. Finally, the most rewarding and niche would be universal design. It encompasses the designing and renovation of a specific environment to make it more accessible to the elderly or those with special needs.
Use Contracts When Hired for a Project
The first thing I recommend, immediately when you get hired to design a project, is writing a contract. Be sure to state the entire scope of the job and the payment agreed upon between yourself and your client. An interior design contract is important, as it outlines how you will perform and helps protect you and your client.
The sole purpose is so you and the client can completely understand the terms of your working agreement. It’s a way to guarantee that you will get paid for services rendered because I can’t express to you how vital a contract is, especially if you are a small business owner. It’s up to you how to structure your contract and you can google ideas and suggestions for the best outline.
According to Google, these are the best points to include in a contract: A statement of the work, your purchasing and warranty terms, a clause for outside consultants and contractors, the terms for photographs and publicity of your work, an intellectual property clause, and termination terms.
I would also include a clause that states any deposit made up-front is non-refundable and you, as the designer, can terminate said contract immediately due to lack of payment. You want to make sure both parties sign the contract and that your client gets a copy.
Believe me, when I say that, inevitably there will be issues that emerge. This way, you are protected legally from any problems or disagreements that may arise during the project.
Tasks, Project Scope and What Kind of Things Interior Designers Do
Depending on the scope of the project, you may be in charge of many tasks. After you are hired, you will need to measure every inch of the room or building that is being designed. This is extremely important because you will be sketching or creating a floor plan on your computer and this will indicate the scale of furniture needed and the layout of each room.
If you don’t measure correctly, you could risk buying furniture or rugs that don’t fit the space and that is a very expensive mistake. You will often meet with your client at the beginning to discuss color schemes, interior styles they like, and the overall function of the room will be. I always make sure to take extensive notes on every site visit.
It’s an easy way to keep track of what is needed and it gives you a reference point, in case questions arise later about an earlier decision. Once you have a good understanding of what is needed, you might create a mood board displaying items that you’ve spent hours sourcing online or in person. I usually create “concept boards” for my clients, showcasing furniture and accessories you’re considering using in a project.
The next meeting you have with your client, you can present this board along with the floor plan for the furniture layout you have painstakingly created on one of many software apps available. This is usually called a presentation and, depending on the client, it doesn’t have to be super formal. Most clients prefer it to be casual and have an open discussion on what works best.
If your client is gutting a home or doing a remodel, then you will meet with the contractor that has been hired. Sometimes the contractor will be someone on your team that you have worked on other projects and other times it’s someone the client has hired. It’s important to get on the same page and become familiar with whomever the contractor is, from the beginning, so that the job can run smoothly.
You inevitably end up overseeing a large portion of the project on many of your job sites. Even though that is not technically your job description, you may need to keep tabs on contractors to make sure the job is being carried out efficiently according to the overall design plan. Sometimes the lines can get blurred on a project, between the contractor and the Interior Designer.
Usually, the contractor is in charge of estimating the cost of the work, getting building permits, and completing the construction. Whereas the designer is responsible for designing the space and finding all the furniture and finishes. The contracting world sometimes feels like the wild west, where anything goes.
To keep tabs on the overall project, the designer might become the undesignated project manager once the work has begun. Celebrity contractor, Stephen Fanuka, writes in Architectural Digest Pro:
Managing a project isn’t as hard as it seems if done right; it’s all about managing expectations and follow-up. Renovations move at a fast pace. If you don’t have a paper trail to follow up, you might miss something. The easiest way to smoothly manage an entire project? Set up weekly site meetings. These should be the same day and time each week. This way, the clients can attend if they choose to. Make it mandatory for the contractor too.
How much to charge clients for interior design services
Another element of importance in this line of work is setting your pay rate. “How much do you charge and how much do you expect I’ll pay throughout this project?” This is always one of the first questions my clients will ask when they are considering hiring me. I find that the first question is much easier to answer than the second.
Usually, there are two ways to bill the client, hourly or charging a flat rate. A designer charges anywhere from $50-$300 an hour, depending on their experience level and the scope of the job. This can be very lucrative, especially if you log many hours or a project gets extended.
You can also up-charge a percentage or commission on goods that you sell or source through vendors for your clients, and usually, it will be around a 30% fee. Others might charge a flat rate per room, which will vary. The advantage of charging a flat rate, sometimes, can be if the project is large but completed quickly.
Therefore, you can make more money in a short amount of time. The most common question asked by clients is how much they will spend overall during the design project, and this is hard to gauge. Even the most experienced designers can’t always predict how long a job will take from start to finish.
This is why it’s important to set a budget right away with your clients and ask them what they plan to spend overall and how your design fees will factor into that equation. Always remind them from the start, that if they change the direction or if construction is altered in any way, then the due date could risk being pushed back. This will result in costs being inflated and the expansion of the overall budget. I see it happen all the time; it’s almost always expected.
Considering you end up working so closely with clients during the design process, you might develop a more personal relationship with them. It may sound strange, but as a designer, I sometimes feel like a part-time therapist. Sometimes, if I’m sourcing items for a particular space, I often find myself asking if they think a piece of art or a certain paint color evokes happiness.
Depending on the answer, I will make my final decision because most clients want to live in a space that makes them feel happy. Many times they will tell me that the sofa I picked out is so comfortable, they can curl up and relax at the end of the day and forget all the stress on their minds.
Sometimes clients message me to say the art we chose made them reflect on their childhood and reminded them of memories forgotten. It is a very humbling and wonderful feeling all at the same time.
I know I feel the most satisfied with my career choice when I can create positive feelings for my clients and also make them reminisce about the important things in their life. This is exactly what I mean by it being a rewarding career.