How to Get Certified as an Interior Designer

hands holding design wood samples
  • Intermediate

Interior design can be a rewarding, creative career. From residential spaces to large commercial buildings, interior designers help clients organize their resources create an environment in alignment with their values and styles. Here's a look at the role interior designers play, and what it takes to earn the credentials you’ll need to become one.

What Interior Designers Do

When you think of interior design, you likely envision your own home or that of someone you know. Picture the pictures, along with other artwork, tabletop and bookcase decor, and furniture selection. Textiles are another huge part of interior design, from sofa upholstery to throw pillows to curtains. The design work also goes deeper, looking to flow of the space.

Interior designers work at every level of home design, from sitting with graph paper or an online computer program to map out the space to placing the last area rug. This happens at the residential level, but can also take place for businesses, hotels, and basically any indoor space.

Job Titles

There is a slight difference between the title of interior decorator and interior designer. While both have to do with the final look of an indoor space, interior design is a more comprehensive involvement in space planning while interior decorating is more about the final touches within the space.

Work Environment

interior designer showing color choices to clients

Interior designers, by definition, work inside. This can be as part of an architectural firm, home office, furniture store, or real estate company, among other options. However, it’s much more than an office job. The job can take you to commercial or residential construction sites, manufacturing lines, or trains, planes, and boats. Interior designers commonly work with other professionals on the job so meetings are commonplace, either on the jobsite or in a meeting space.

Education and Certification

There are many interior decorating and interior design programs available on campus or online across the country. At a minimum, you’ll need to learn about building codes, construction, and local laws. You’ll explore the history of color, art, and textiles. For interior design work, you’ll complete classes in math and related computer software.

Most states do not require a degree or license to work in residential homes. Some states have requirements if working at the commercial level. If you go to work for someone else, the company you work for may also have specific requirements.

An interior decorators certificate can take six months to two years to complete while a degree in interior design is a four-year program. Earning a certificate earns you cred with clients and looks good on a resume. The top-tier achievement in the field is passing the three-part National Council for Interior Design Qualification, or NCIDQ, exam. To take the exam, you must first complete a bachelor's degree in interior design or architecture and obtain two years of work experience.

Strong Personal Characteristics for Interior Designers

hands designing interior space on paper templates

Every job has certain personal characteristics that help the job be a more natural match for the person. Becoming an interior designer requires strong organizational skills, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, natural curiosity, interpersonal and communication skills, a heavy dose of creativity, mechanical, spatial, and math skills, project management skills, and a deep desire to help others.

Salary Range

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in the field of interior design is just over $61,000.

Job Outlook

Interior design is a flexible field that ebbs and flows in both popularity and demand. With the fundamental knowledge established, it’s easy to pivot within the industry without the need to obtain more education. For example, an interior designer who primarily stages houses for the real estate industry can move into hotel, office, or restaurant decorating if the housing market crashes.

One area of particular interest for the future is a specialty in green interior design. To follow the trend of environmentally-friendly construction and interior design, study up on eco-friendly products and companies in order to become a go-to resource for clients seeking out sustainable design.


Interior design is not a particularly dangerous job. However, it’s a hands-on position that can find you on a ladder while hanging art, or replacing light fixtures if the job calls for it. In this realm, there is some intrinsic risk of shock, falls, slips, and other injuries.