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A Day in the Life of a Interior Designer

An interior designer is responsible for the interior design, decoration, and functionality of a client’s space, whether the space is commercial, industrial, or residential. Interior designers work closely with architects and clients to determine the structure of a space, the needs of the occupants, and the style that best suits both. The position is a combination of engineer and artist, and it takes a unique type of mind to handle both of those concepts well. Interior designers have to be good with more than color, fabric, and furniture; interior designers must know materials, have budgeting skills, communicate well, and oversee the ordering, installation, and maintenance of all objects that define a space. They also have to know about electrical capacity, safety, and construction. This broader range of required knowledge distinguishes them from interior decorators. Interior designers have to be able to work with contractors and clients alike, planning and implementing all aesthetic and functional decisions, from faucet handles to miles of carpeting —and all this usually must be done within a fixed budget. Interior designers are hired for their expertise in a variety of styles and approaches, not merely their own personal vision. Therefore, they have to be able to balance their own tastes and their clients’ tastes—and be willing to put their clients’ tastes first. This requirement can be frustrating at first for many who enter the profession. Interior designers are often asked to begin their planning before construction of a space is finished; this means that they must be good at scheduling and comfortable reading blueprints. This element of the job comes as a surprise to many new interior designers, who expect to have less of an administrative and technical role and more of a role in influencing the overall feel and appearance of a space. Those who thrive in the industry say this ability to balance the practical with the aesthetic is crucial to being a successful interior designer. Interior design is hard work, but those who do it well find the work very satisfying.

Paying Your Dues

The academic and professional requirements for most areas of design are fairly general, with the emphasis on portfolio development and professional experience. Interior design, however, has nationally–standardized requirements. Interior designers must have a bachelor’s degree. Employers look favorably on those who have studied engineering, design, and art. Those who want more specific study complete interior design programs. Across the United States and Canada, there are 105 colleges and universities accredited by the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research. Interior designers must also be familiar with federal, state, and local interior design codes (involving such issues as capacity, flammability, and stress levels). To be federally licensed, prospective interior designers must pass the qualification exam given by the National Council for Interior Design. Professional organizations are significant in this field, and many interior designers find it helpful to join one or more of them. To become eligible for membership, one must have completed two to three years of graduate work, worked in the field for two to three years, and passed the federal licensing exam.

Present and Future

In years past, only the wealthy could afford to hire an interior designer. Most people designed their interiors themselves. With the expansion and popularization of the field, along with significant reductions in the cost of materials, even modest-income families may now hire interior designers. However, many still design their interiors without professional help. Interior designers should have a bright future and are expected to be in demand. Many owners and occupants of professional and residential complexes are turning to professional interior designers to shape their spaces. There is also significant age-pressure in the industry, and a significant number of interior designers are expected to retire soon. This will open additional positions for younger interior designers. Discussions about making the requirements for the profession more stringent have been broached, but no specific legislative proposals have emerged to date.

Quality of Life


Two years into the profession, many aspiring interior designers are working as interns or assistants, as entry into the field is competitive. A number of students make connections through relationships their schools have with major employers.. During these first two years, many act as assistants, learning budgeting, competitive pricing, and client communication skills. Salaries are low or nonexistent in these early years, hours are long, and satisfaction may be low. About 20 percent of potential interior designers leave the profession within the first three years.


After five years, interior designers have significant professional experience and a paying job in the industry. The large majority have passed the federal licensing exam. Many have associate-level responsibility for projects and work relatively unsupervised. Budgeting and cost-estimating are still reserved for more senior members of the profession. Many consider starting their own interior design firm during these middle years. Hours become more stable, and salary increases.


Ten-year interior designers have significant budgeting and cost-estimating responsibility and extensive client contact. The majority of those who wanted to start their own interior design firms have done so by this time, and many can point to a number of homes, offices, or stores where potential clients can see living examples of their work. Hours remain stable, and salaries increase.