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How to Become an Interior Designer in 2023

As the interior design industry continues to boom, an increasing number of people are interested in pursuing a creative career in this field.

The appeal is clear to see. If you’ve got an eye for aesthetics and an interest in design, becoming an interior designer can offer you:

  1. a platform to channel your creativity
  2. a pathway to a long and financially rewarding career
  3. an understanding to finding solutions to global issues as related to social justice, environmental, and sustainable development

Nonetheless, for many, the path to becoming a full-time interior designer remains somewhat elusive.

So, let’s clear the air by answering the question: what are the concrete steps one can take to become an interior designer in 2023?

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Self-reflect and plan

Before diving into interior design education and training, it’s important to first reflect on what draws you to interior design in the first place. Doing so will help you make pivotal decisions, like whether or not to go to school for interior design.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What natural talents do you have that would lend themselves well to an interior design career?
  •  Are you interested in designing spaces based on human behavior and psychological needs? 
  • Are you interested in learning about different scopes and spaces, from residential to commercial to corporate and healthcare design?
  • Are you interested in tackling different areas of design such as: products and materials, lighting design and construction?
  • How much time can you put towards learning?
  • Do you see yourself eventually starting your own firm or freelancing? Or do you prefer working for an established company?

Also, use this planning period to thoroughly understand the difference between interior design and interior decorating, as these two careers are often confused.

  • Interior design: Interior designers work on planning and structuring the layout of interior spaces, often collaborating with architects and contractors to ensure the space is both aesthetically pleasing and functionally sound.
  • Interior decoration: Interior decorators focus on enhancing an existing space by selecting and arranging décor elements like furniture, textiles, and accessories to create a cohesive and visually appealing environment.

Step 2: Go to an interior design school or pursue a hands-on apprenticeship

While it is certainly possible to become an interior designer without a formal education, specialized schooling is one of the quickest and most reliable ways to launch your interior design career.

In North America, some common options include:

  • Associate’s or bachelor’s degree in interior design: These are 2 or 4-year programs that teach a blend of design theory and technical skills. 
  • Certificate programs: Many schools also offer shorter intensive programs of 1-2 years that are focused on practical interior design skills.

Some things to consider

  • Is the program CIDA-accredited? In Canada, a CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) accreditation ensures that the program meets industry standards and is recognized internationally. For more information on CIDA, check out our blog on the topic!
  • How long will the program take to complete? Most bachelor’s degree programs take three to four years to complete, so make sure to consider thoroughly how much time you’re willing to commit.
  • Does the program offer an internship? Gaining real-world experience through an internship can be invaluable for networking and building your portfolio.

Yorkville University’s CIDA-Accredited Interior Design Program

Yorkville University’s Bachelor of Interior Design program (offered either on-campus or online) is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) without requiring a residency component. This means you can earn your degree from anywhere, while simultaneously receiving CIDA accreditation. What’s more, Yorkville University is the only school in Canada to offer CIDA accreditation for a completely online interior design program!

Why Choose Yorkville University’s Program?

  • Comprehensive Curriculum: The program covers design theory, drafting, digital rendering, building systems, and social and environmental factors in design.
  • Practical Experience: The program includes 180 hours of internship work and 20 hours of volunteering, providing hands-on experience.
  • Showcase Thesis and Portfolio: Students complete a showcase thesis project and graduate with a robust professional portfolio
  • High Employment Rate: 100% of YU BID grads are employed within a year
  • Accreditations: The program is accredited by CIDA, recognized by IDC and ARIDO.
  • Accessible and rigorous: Available in both delivery modes: online and on-campus and equips students with the skills and knowledge based on industry demands.

Step 3: Work on developing your technical skills

Often people interested in interior design think of it as a highly creative position. But it does involve a lot of technical know-how. As a result, it’s crucial that you continuously build up your technical skills and knowledge in areas like technical.

  • Design software – Proficiency in CAD, 3D modelling, rendering, and design programs like AutoCAD, SketchUp, Revit, and Photoshop.
  • Building codes and standards – Thorough understanding of codes like the IBC and ADA Standards for accessibility, safety, and sustainability.
  • Project management – Ability to manage budgets, timelines, clients, and contractors throughout the design process.
  • Business management – Understand billing, contracts, fees, accounting, insurance, and marketing if running your own firm.
  • Communication – Strong verbal, written, and graphic communication skills to collaborate with clients and team members.
  • Creativity – Ability to conceptualize and problem solve; combine aesthetics and functionality.

Step 4: Gain On-The-Job Experience

In both the United States and Canada, gaining practical experience is a crucial step toward becoming a licensed interior designer. The requirements for supervised work experience can vary between states and provinces, but most require 2-4 years before you can apply for licensure. Here are some common avenues for gaining this essential experience:

  • Internships – Many degree programs in both countries offer internship opportunities as part of their curriculum. These internships provide an invaluable way to gain real-world experience.
  • Entry-level jobs – Starting as an assistant designer or junior designer at a firm is another effective way to learn on the job. These roles are commonly available in both the United States and Canada.
  • Volunteer work – In both the United States and Canada, you can offer your design services to nonprofits or small businesses on a volunteer basis to gain additional experience.

For interior design career opportunities, check out Yorkville University’s job board!

Step 5: Build Your Portfolio

In the world of interior design, having a strong portfolio is an absolute must. As you gain education and experience, we recommend that you carefully curate projects that showcase the full range of your style, skills, and work process on a personal website.

Include polished project images, sketches, CAD drawings, 3D renderings, construction drawings and detailing, and thorough project descriptions. Showcase both residential and commercial work if possible. Aim for 12-15 stellar projects in your portfolio.

For some great examples, check out this blog!

Step 6: Earn Certification and Licensure

Once you’ve enrolled in a CIDA-accredited program, earning recognized certifications and licenses will give your career a major boost.

Our recommendation is to sign up to write to the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.

It’s an industry standard certification, and passing signifies your qualifications and abilities. However, do note, that to qualify to take this exam, you must:

  • Have 60 semester credits or 90 quarter credits in interior design coursework from an accredited program.
  • Have worked under the supervision of a qualified interior designer, architect, or someone else who meets their criteria for a supervisor for two years full-time or 3,520 hours. 1,760 hours can be earned prior to graduation.

After passing this exam, you receive a license to practice interior design throughout North America. Although not all provinces and territories require the NCIDQ license, it can help to convince potential employers of your skills. Some provinces and states require, in addition to your NCIDQ certification, that you register with the respective association to be able to use the title of  “Interior Designer.”

Step 7: Network and Market Yourself

Getting your name and work in front of potential employers, clients, and collaborators is crucial. Some networking tips:

  • Attend industry events, conferences, mixers, and seminars.
  • Join relevant professional associations like ARIDO, IDC, ASID, IIDA, and local AIA chapters.
  • Do pro-bono work for nonprofits to expand your portfolio and connections.
  • Start developing an online presence through websites, social media, LinkedIn, and participate in design competitions
  • Partner with architects, builders, suppliers, vendors, and other designers.
  • Consider volunteering for Habitat for humanity to gain experience.

The interior design industry is complex, competitive, and requires real dedication. But with proper education, skills, experience, and self-promotion, you can turn your creative passion into a thriving, meaningful career as an interior designer. Use these key steps to thoughtfully move forward in 2023.

Career Outlook in Canada

The career outlook for interior designers in Canada is strong. According to the Government of Canada, the job market for both interior designers and interior decorators is expected to have 10,100 new positions available between 2022 and 2031, driven by industry growth and the need to replace outgoing professionals.

During the same period, it’s anticipated that 8,600 individuals will enter this job market, coming from educational institutions, immigration, or other sectors, making them available to fill these roles.

According to Glassdoor, the annual average salary for an Interior Designer is approximately $59,616 in Canada.

The Future is Bright

In conclusion, becoming an interior designer in 2023 requires thoughtful planning, education, hands-on experience, and continuous skill development. By pursuing formal education or apprenticeships, building technical skills, gaining on-the-job experience, and earning certifications, you can establish a successful career in this thriving industry.

Elevate Your Career with Yorkville University’s Interior Design Program

Ready to fast-track your career in Interior Design? Yorkville University offers a CIDA-accredited Bachelor of Interior Design program that not only covers all facets of design theory but also includes 180 hours of real-world internship and 20 hours of volunteering.

Our next Virtual Open House is Thursday, November 16th!

How to Become an Interior Designer FAQ

How to become an interior designer?

In order to become an interior designer, you typically need to earn a bachelor’s degree in interior design or a related field. It is also beneficial to gain practical experience through internships or entry-level positions in the industry. Additionally, obtaining professional certification can enhance your credentials and increase your job prospects.

What are the requirements to become an interior designer?

The requirements to become an interior designer may vary depending on your location and the specific job position. However, most interior designers must have a bachelor’s degree in interior design or a related field. Some states or countries may also require interior designers to be licensed or registered. It is important to research the specific requirements in your area

Is a degree in interior design necessary to become an interior designer?

While a degree in interior design is not always mandatory, it is highly recommended. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with formal education and training in interior design. A degree provides you with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in the industry and may give you a competitive edge in the job market.

How long does it take to become an interior designer?

The time it takes to become an interior designer can vary depending on your educational path and personal circumstances. Typically, it takes around four years to complete a bachelor’s degree in interior design. If you choose to pursue additional education or gain practical experience, it may take longer to establish yourself as a professional interior designer.

What career opportunities are available in interior design?

There is a wide range of career opportunities available in the field of interior design. Some interior designers work for design firms, while others may choose to start their own businesses or work as freelancers. Interior designers can specialize in residential, commercial, or hospitality design, among other areas. They may also work in sector specific areas, as in lighting design, product design, renovation and restorations, etc.

Can I become an interior designer without a degree?

You cannot call yourself an interior designer without the right education, examination (as NCIDQ) and being registered/licensed in your province or state (such as ARIDO in Ontario). You may pursue different diplomas and certifications but, in Ontario for example, it is illegal to call yourself an interior designer without the proper education, examination and registration. ARIDO set these guidelines to protect the profession of Interior Design.

What skills are needed to be a successful interior designer?

Successful interior designers need a combination of technical, artistic, and interpersonal skills. Technical skills include knowledge of design software, building codes, and construction techniques. Artistic skills include an eye for aesthetics and an understanding of human psychological needs and spatial arrangements. Interpersonal skills are important for working with clients, contractors, and other professionals in the industry.

What is the difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator?

While the terms “interior designer” and “interior decorator” are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. A common misconception within interior design is the interchangeability of interior decoration and design. According to the CIDQ, “Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.”

What is the average salary for interior designers?

The average salary for interior designers can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and specialization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for interior designers was $56,040 in May 2020. However, salaries can range from around $32,000 to over $100,000 per year, depending on various factors.

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