Becoming an Interior Designer

Interior designers need to be creative, imaginative and artistic. They also need to be disciplined, organized and skilled business people. Combining aesthetic vision with practical skills and knowledge, interior designers work with clients to develop design solutions that are "aesthetically appealing, technically sophisticated and pragmatically satisfying."

Areas of Design Specialization

Designers work in a wide range of settings, both commercial and residential. Surveys indicate that a majority of designers practice at least part of the time in both the residential and commercial areas, although they tend to favor one or the other.

Because commercial designers must be knowledgeable about their clients' business needs, most concentrate within design specialties, such as designing for the hospitality or health care industries. Some restrict themselves to particular subspecialties, for example, designing restaurants or residential kitchens and baths. A few work in highly specialized fields, like designing interiors for airplanes or yachts, or doing historic conservation or restoration.

Skills for Success

As members of a service profession, interior designers' fortunes depend on their ability to satisfy clients. Thus, they must possess three important skill sets-artistic and technical skills, interpersonal skills and management skills:

  • Designers must know how to plan a space and how to render that plan visually, so that it can be conveyed to the client. They must also be knowledgeable about the materials and products that will be used to create and furnish the space, and about how texture, color, lighting and other factors combine and interact to give a space its "feel" or "look." In addition, they must understand the structural requirements of their plans, the health and safety issues, building codes, and many other technical aspects.
  • Designers must be comfortable meeting and dealing with many kinds of people. They must communicate clearly and effectively, as well as be attentive listeners. Because they often must work collaboratively with architects, contractors, and other service providers, designers need to be both good team leaders and good team players. They must be willing to negotiate and mediate when necessary to resolve problems.
  • Designers must have excellent time and project management skills, since they frequently work on more than one project at a time, under demanding deadlines, while looking for new projects or clients. They must be able to develop and execute business plans in order to protect and grow their practices. They need to know how to market themselves to clients, to create informative and persuasive proposals and presentations, and to maintain good client relationships.

Occupational Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, about three out of 10 interior designers are self-employed—four times the proportion for all professional and related occupations. About two out of 10 wage and salary interior designers work in specialized design services. Another one out of 10 worked in firms offering architectural and landscape architectural services. The remainder of interior designers provided design services in furniture and home furnishing stores, building material and supplies dealers, and residential building construction companies. Many interior designers also performed freelance work in addition to holding a salaried job in design or in another occupation.