Interior Designer Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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An interior designer's median salary is approximately $48,000, but is it worth the time it takes to earn a degree and gain licensure? Get the truth about job duties and career outlook to decide if this is the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Interior Design

Interior design draws a large number of people who look at an empty room and excitedly see potential in the space. An interior designer can work in residential or commercial construction, designing interiors to hide various structural systems and to create visually appealing, functional and safe spaces for people to live or work in. Job opportunities for interior designers are expected to grow, but you might want to consider the pros and cons before you make a decision about this career.

Pros of a Career as an Interior Designer
Field offers multiple specialties*
Good job growth is expected (19% between 2010 and 2020)*
Most interior designers are employed full-time*
National design organization offers programs to help new designers gain experience**

Cons of a Career as an Interior Designer
Licensure or registration may be required to use the title 'interior designer'*
Eligibility for nationally recognized licensing exam requires a minimum of six years' combined education and work experience**
Home remodeling projects often tied to economic conditions*
May need to work evenings and weekends*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ)

Career Information

Job Duties

As an interior designer, you would be involved in all aspects of a design project, from sketching initial plans and estimating costs to supervising the installation of design elements and following up with clients to ensure that the finished space meets their needs. You would decorate interior spaces, including choosing styles and color palettes, furnishings, floor and window coverings, artwork and lighting. You also would determine how a building's systems, such as heating, ventilation and electricity, could affect the layout and design of a space. All decisions about a project would need to be made with the goals and desires of your client in mind.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

In 2011, there were 41,000 men and women employed as interior designers in the U.S., according to the BLS. Jobs for interior designers were expected to increase 19% between 2010 and 2020. In 2011, interior designers earned a median salary of approximately $48,000. Earnings for interior designers varied depending on industry and location. For example, interior designers employed by home furnishings stores made an average salary of approximately $42,000, while those in architectural services earned about $58,000. Likewise, designers in the District of Columbia made approximately $76,000 a year, while those in Texas earned about $49,000.

Career Requirements

Education Requirements

The BLS reports that a bachelor's degree typically is needed for a career in interior design; however, associate's degree programs also are available in this field. Completion of an associate's degree program might qualify you to work as an interior designer's assistant, while a bachelor's degree program could prepare you for an apprenticeship or entry-level design work.

Bachelor's programs typically include studio courses in which you'll learn about the design process through creation of 3-D models. You'll likely learn to design for both commercial and residential spaces, including exploring how plumbing and utility systems can affect the layout of a space. As part of your studies, you'll develop a portfolio of your work, which you can use in your search for jobs.

Licensure or Registration

Many states require licensing or registration for interior designers. In most states, NCIDQ administers the qualifying exam, which consists of three parts: codes and construction standards, project coordination and a practicum that covers topics ranging from space planning to safety issues. You'll need six years of combined experience and education to qualify to take the exam; for example, if you have a bachelor's degree, you'll need at least two years of experience, while someone with an associate's degree will need a minimum of four years' experience.

What Are Employers Looking For?

Companies seeking interior designers want experienced and sometimes licensed designers who know how to use computer-aided drafting programs to design structural features for commercial and residential projects. An aspiring designer must be independent, able to work with customers and prepared to travel. He or she also should know how to use computer programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Following are some samples of interior design job postings found on Monster.com in March 2012.

  • A supply company in Phoenix was seeking an interior designer to work closely with clients, assessing their expectations about their design plans and making suggestions about product upgrades. Candidates needed a bachelor's degree and 2-4 years of experience.
  • A Georgia-based company sought a licensed interior designer with a minimum of five years' experience to work on large projects. Candidates needed a portfolio and the ability to manage fast-paced projects.
  • A New Jersey-based company was looking for an interior designer with a healthcare background to design care centers, create building designs, plan spaces and coordinate with a construction project manager for scheduling and financial purposes. This individual needed more than five years' experience and a bachelor's degree in interior design or architecture.

Standing Out From Your Competition

With the creative nature of interior design drawing many job applicants, you can take steps to stand out. For example, you might choose to specialize in an area of interior design. You also could obtain professional certification.

Specialization

The BLS notes that interior designers who specialize in a particular area of design could have better job prospects than those who don't. In fact, the bureau projected that jobs for interior designers working for specialized firms could increase by 27% in the decade 2010-2020, which was quite a bit more than the increase anticipated for interior designers in general.

As an interior designer, you might choose to specialize in a specific type of space, such as kitchens, or a specific style of design, such as French Renaissance. Some designers also focus on certain types of buildings, such as residences or hotels, while others concentrate on designing spaces that are energy-efficient or environmentally friendly.

Certification

The Green Building Certification Institute offers professional credentials for interior design professionals, including LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) AP Interior Design and Construction. Candidates for this certification must have previous work experience on a LEED-registered or certified project, in addition to passing an exam.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association offers certifications for designers specializing in kitchen and/or bathroom design, including the Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer and Master Kitchen and Bath Designer credentials. The associate credential requires two years of experience, while the master credential requires seven.

Alternative Career Paths

If you're more interested in the furnishings and décor in interior spaces, you could consider a career as an interior decorator. This career has no formal education requirements; however, some community colleges offer certificate and/or associate's degree programs in interior decorating that include courses in business, color theory and drafting, fabric and materials. Unlike interior designers in some states, interior decorators do not need to be licensed or registered.

You also might consider a career as an architect. You'll have to complete at least a bachelor's degree program and a training period - typically three years - to meet state licensure requirements in this field. Some schools offer professional 5-year bachelor's degree programs, while others offer pre-professional bachelor's programs; if you choose the latter, you might also need to complete a 2-year Master of Architecture program to meet licensing requirements. This career was forecast to grow faster than interior design (24% from 2010-2020), and architects earned a median salary of approximately $73,000 in 2011, which was much higher than that of interior designers.

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