What is Interior Design?

August 11, 2021 | bestvalue

A lot more goes into interior design than one might think. Just because you remodeled your bedroom or even flipped a house that needed a lot of work, that doesn’t make you an interior designer. It might make you a great DIYer and great decorator, but there is still a big difference, and it does not provide you with the skills you need as an interior designer.

Quite often, interior designers don’t get the props they’re due. Many people think the work is easy and often confuse them with interior decorators, not to say that that work is easy, either. Interior design is a multi-faceted career with many different layers to it, many of which are taken on by just one person, all at the same time. And the responsibilities are huge, dealing with codes, violations, regulations, etc. 

Ultimately, the purpose of interior design is to make use of space efficiently and pleasingly.

Interior Design

Interior design is both an art and science of enhancing spaces to achieve a healthier and more pleasing environment. It’s not just about the look of the space, it’s how it makes you feel. It’s about how the designer can provide the user with an experience that is powerful and becomes part of their daily lives. Sometimes you don’t realize just how powerful until something changes, and it’s as though it messes with the whole flow of things.

Using a broad set of skills and knowledge, they can pull emotions from us, sometimes without our knowledge. Other times, walking into certain spaces can be the difference between a good day and a bad day. For example, walking into an atrium on a sunny day, even a cold one, puts a smile on your face.  

There are several different design styles that an interior designer may specialize in. We’ve mentioned a few below; however, this is not an exhaustive list.

Corporate Design

There are many practical and professional workplaces and many ways to include a company’s branding into their interior space. Each company has a workspace that’s a different size and shape. The scope may be different, but the focus of a corporate interior designer is always the same. To create a space that is efficient and functional.

Corporate design takes the workplace as a whole into consideration and the individual setups and the work each person does. The idea is to have a healthy, ergonomically friendly work environment for all employees.

Healthcare Design

Healthcare designs are for physician’s offices, dental offices, hospitals, healthcare centers, clinics, and residential care facilities. The building plans and renovations are specialized based on what is called evidence-based designs. Researchers and specialists in the fields of the type of offices to be set up work closely with the designers to ensure positive spaces for patients, residents, staff, and facilities.

Kitchen and Bath Design

Just like it sounds, this design is specialized for looking at all aspects of creating, remodeling, or updating the kitchen and bathroom of your home. There are a lot of aspects that people might not think about that a. designer would have. For instance, old homes weren’t built to hold heavy countertops like granite and marble. So, putting one of these countertops in an old house requires updating the floor joists. This example is just one instance where a kitchen and bath designer would help out. Other areas include cabinets, fixtures, appliances, plumbing, building materials, and electrical solutions.

Sustainable Design

Sustainable design often requires a separate certification and shows clients that a designer can design spaces with sustainable practices in mind. The main focus for someone who designs sustainably is using products with a low environmental impact, to reduce energy consumption and waste, to improve indoor air quality, energy, and water efficiency, and to design with efficient use of space in mind. The projects are focused on balancing aesthetics and functionality with reducing environmental impact.

Universal Design

Universal design is about renovating existing spaces to make them more functional and accessible. This type of design is commonly done for the elderly or those with special needs, and it can include adding ramps or widening doorways within the house, having handles in the bathroom, lowering kitchen counters, etc. 

Retail Design

Retail design covers malls, shopping centers, department stores, retail stores, specialty stores, visual merchandising, and showrooms. Retail design is constantly changing. As stores go out of business, the mall wants an upgrade to bring customers back. A small business moves to a new location, but it needs the new space to align with its style and needs.

Hospitality and Recreation Design

Hospitality and recreation design includes hotels, resorts, cruise ships, motels, theaters, cafes, bars, casinos, nightclubs, music and concert halls, restaurants, sports venues, gyms, health clubs, and spas. It’s a long list, and it might be the one with the most different designs under one heading. 

Doing interior design for a cruise ship is going to be a lot different for a gym. You will need to consider many different features when you’re on the water that you don’t necessarily have to worry about on solid ground. Even looking at hotels could be a little different depending on where they are and what materials you are using.

Institutional Design

Government offices, religious facilities, financial institutions, schools and universities are considered institutional designs, although some may look like other categories. Some government offices may look like corporate designs.

Traffic Building Design

Some buildings have different classifications and don’t even need to have four walls and a roof, but they still need to have designed most often. These buildings are for transportation hubs or stops and include bus stations, subway stations, airports, piers, etc.

What an Interior Designer Does

An interior designer wears many hats on a single project. They plan, research, coordinate and manage jobs, a simple and broad explanation of what they do.

To get a better idea of what their schedule looks like, they are the one who does the conceptual development, space planning, site inspections, programming, research, communicating with the stakeholders of a project, construction management, and execution of the design for each project.

This explanation does not consider the redesigns, delays, and mistakes that can occur at any point during the process, causing them to have to repeat parts of the design process. And many have more than one client on the go at once. If you know an interior designer, perhaps you now know why they always seem to be busy and always need to reschedule that coffee date at the last minute.

So, when it comes to the parts of a building or house that an interior designer can alter, where are the limits? They can do anything they want; however, if they need a load-bearing wall changed, they must have the design approved by a certified engineer. This process is generally not a problem, as often many of them work closely with a team that includes an engineer, or they at least have a working relationship with one.

Not only do interior designers need to know what colors look good together and how to bring texture into a room, but they need to know a lot about buildings and other spaces in general. For example, they must know building codes and regulations, what the acoustics within a room will sound like once a project is complete, the lighting and shadows of the completed room, occupancy loads, health and safety rules and regulations, etc. 

Difference Between an Interior Designer and an Interior Decorator

An interior designer is mainly responsible for shaping the room and making any large changes, including tearing down walls or adding new ones. They are the ones who need to know all of the codes and regulations, etc., they will be the ones who are responsible for the health and safety of the building and structure of the space.

An interior decorator is responsible for decorating the space. In some instances, the interior designer has a say in the decorating as well, especially if part of it fits in with their design, but that is most often it is left to the decorator.

The interior decoration can choose colors, textures, accessories, etc. to make the room come to life even more. The interior designer will have more control over the permanent structures, whereas the interior decorator will have more say over the removable items.

Job Market for Interior Designers

The interior design statistics show the job market is declining for interior designers and is expected to dip by 5% during the ten years between 2019 and 2029. In the United States, there are an estimated 77,900 interior designers.

Interior design isn’t just for anybody. In most cases, interior designers work for themselves, creating their own business. That in itself is a risk that not everyone is willing to take. You need to be very creative and have the ability to see a finished space out of something that is not there. Again, this is something that not everybody has, and it is a vital piece to becoming an interior designer. Without it, chances are you could have the rest of the criteria but still not be successful.

Another thing you need to think about is stress. As mentioned, a lot is going on in the work of an interior designer, and there are usually several projects going on at once. On top of that, you always have someone calling you, unhappy about something on their project, or wanting to get an update on timing even though you gave them an update yesterday letting them know the counter wouldn’t be in until next week. The stress can eat away at you, but you need to keep calm and keep a smile on your face because you need these clients.

Speaking of clients, since you work for yourself or own your own business, you need to find your clients. It’s not like working for a company, and you work with whichever project is handed to you. So, on top of doing all of the interior designer work, there’s a good chance that you will also need to add business management work to your daily tasks as well, even though it’s not directly related to interior design work.

Don’t be deterred by it all, though. There are plenty of people looking for interior designers, both private clients and companies looking to hire employees, so it’s a good market to get into, with a relatively decent wage, depending on the level you’re at and where you end up working. 

How to Become an Interior Designer

To become an interior designer, you need to attend post-secondary schooling. There are a few options available, and results may vary. Depending on where you live, you may have the ability to sign up for a one-year certificate, a two-year associate degree, or a four-year bachelor’s degree in interior design.

The best option would be to receive your bachelor’s degree, as that’s what most employers are looking for in interior design; however, other available options include fine art, architecture, and computer-aided e-design

While attending school, try to get an internship or job to gain exposure and experience working in interior design to create a  design concept board and start a portfolio. Even if you cannot start a portfolio at this point, take in all of the knowledge and experience you can.

Take on some pro bono work as well if it will help you to build your portfolio and gain some experience. The main focus during this time is to build up your portfolio to have some examples of your work. Taking this approach once you are finished school gives you examples to show prospective employers and clients.

Once you’ve finished school and earned your bachelor’s degree, it’s time to make a few decisions: do you want to pursue further education, work as a consultant, start your own business, or look for a job with an employer? These are all tough questions to ask yourself, and only you will know which route you will want to take.

Whichever route you choose, make sure that you’ve collected samples of the work that you’ve done, both paid and pro bono, over the past few years (you may only want to use the best pieces) and put together a professional-looking portfolio. Nowadays, it’s highly suggested to have an online portfolio, as any prospective employer or client will most likely search for your online. It is also to always have a printed version of your portfolio to bring with you to introductory meetings as well.

History of Interior Design

In the past, there wasn’t anything such as interior design. Interiors went together depending on how the building was built. The first reference to anything resembling an interior designer would be the Indian architect god Vishwakarma, whose designs were found in 17th-century Indian palaces. 

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and even as late as the early 19th century, there still wasn’t anything like an interior designer. Homemakers were decorators, and sometimes upholsterers and craftsmen would provide advice on interior space. Architects were also known to employ craftsmen and artisans to work with them on their designs, in most cases putting the finishing touches on building designs. 

It wasn’t until the middle class in industrial countries grew in size and prosperity in the mid to late 19th century that interior decorating became a thing. Interior designing became a way for the wealthy to show off their status. Furniture stores started the growth by expanding and branching out into general interior design and not just niching down into furniture anymore. 

The professional interior design emerged in the mid 20th century.

During the 1950s and 1960s, upholsterers began to expand their business as well, just like the furniture companies before them. Now they were focusing on more artistic patterns and terms. Soon, they had such a demand for their textiles that they were working in offices, hotels, and public buildings. The once small upholstery companies started growing into more complex, larger businesses, brining inplasterers, textile designers, builders, artists, engineers, and technicians. 

It was also during this time that department stores increased in numbers and size, as were other retail shops and spaces. Many had different displays set up for customers to see the examples of what could be. To capitalize on this, there were national and international advertising conventions that set up model rooms in exhibitions for the public to come and take a look at.

Spending on the home has only increased since the 1950s, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon, especially if the need for interior designers continues to rise.

As with many things, every year, interior design trends seem to change. The challenge for interior designers is to keep up with the trends, know what will still be around for years to come, and not get stuck in a fad instead of a trend.

When you think of neon, you probably think of the 1980s. Neon was a popular trend during that decade. Trends don’t always have a color; another trend was to have three neutral walls and one accent wall in a room. Some like to have minimal furniture with a big statement piece. 

When it comes to decorating, it’s not so bad if you get tired of what you’re looking at, or your trend ends up a fad, and it’s more of a miss than a hit. But, when it comes to interior design and the trend is more of a permanent part of your space, it matters. For example, a waterfall in the middle of your room that you continually have leakage issues with is a lot harder to fix than slapping a coat of paint on a wall or switching out a rug.

Some people want more for themselves than IKEA furniture, and for many people, an open floor plan just isn’t working anymore. Some are ready to go back to when homes were built with hallways and separate rooms. Just like with clothes, trends always circle again.

Minimalism always felt like one of those trends that were a competition to see who could go without the least. Who wins in that contest? Plus, it’s not realistic, especially if you have kids. 

We’re ok to say goodbye to slipcovers for sofas and chairs as we didn’t know they were in trend. We still have a hard time trying to get them on properly. Plus, for some reason, they just never look right.

Anyway, you get the idea. There are many good reasons to say goodbye to some of the trends we’ve seen recently. Some will be missed. Others we’re not sure why were trends to begin with. 

So, as an interior designer, not only will you need to research your projects, but you will need to research your field as well. And to keep researching it. You will always need to know what’s on-trend, what trends are coming, and what trends are on the way out the door. Another thing to keep an eye on is colors. More specifically, Pantone’s color of the year, as it’s the most popular, and many other companies will release design products based on Pantone’s choice. For 2021, Pantone released two colors Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.

In Summary

If you’re looking at becoming an interior designer, you will need to have a few different skill sets. The biggest one is creativity, followed by patience, project management, and organization. Interior design is one of those careers that you need to have a passion for because there will be many thankless days. You have to put in a lot of work, and since you’re often trying to make someone else’s vision come true, working with picky clients isn’t always easy.

Seeing the result of all of your imagination, planning, and hard work come together will be awe-inspiring and make you forget momentarily about the rough patches that you had to go through to get to that point. There’s no better feeling than stepping back and taking the final design in, knowing that you’ve brought it from conception to reality. You deserve to pat yourself on the back after every completed job for a job well done.

Don’t ever let someone downplay what it is you do as an interior designer. An interior design career is not for everyone. It is much more than just throwing flowers into a vase and a rug on a floor. It’s not only knowing what looks good but also how to make a room meet its maximum potential. You are working with contractors, architects, engineers to reshape and rebuild homes, buildings, and spaces to make them better, safer, and healthier. 

Interior designers have to do the work of many for each of the projects that they are running, and very rarely do they have assistants to help them out with much of the work. In the middle of running around trying to keep each project on track, they also deal with clients, suppliers, delays, issues, etc.

There are several different areas in which an interior designer may decide to specialize, ranging from corporate design to hospitality design. Each type of design has different codes and regulations that must be followed. These differences are usually why a designer will specialize in one or two instead of being a general designer for all styles.

Due to the complexity of being an interior designer, it’s no surprise that you need secondary education to have a career in the field. Your best shot at becoming an interior designer is to get a degree in interior design and to build a portfolio working on pro bono and paid projects. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is cut out to be an interior designer. Luckily, those who have the imagination to create a customized space out of nothing are one step ahead of the rest. Without the ability to do see and think creatively, there’s not much within the interior design field that you can do.

Keep your eye on current and past trends, what trends may be leaving, popular colors, and even popular fashion items and accessories. The design takes its cues from many different things, so always be looking around you for what’s new and fresh and see if you can start to predict what the new trends will be. 

The need for interior designers is on the rise, and probably even more so now since more people are working from home. The more time they spend in their house, the more things they want to change or improve. Commercial buildings needing to be remodeled, and new construction is always on the rise. Interior design is a great career for those who enjoy the creative challenge and have the business skills to stay ahead of the crowd.

Find the program that’s right for you

Whether you’re trying to start your career or make a big change, we can help you find the perfect school to help you reach your goals.

Degree Finder
BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Woman in graduation cap and gown
Scroll to Top