Not to be confused with certification, a certificate is a short curriculum that typically teaches the fundamental skills and knowledge of interior design, decorating, and architecture. In contrast, certification is a credential that, for interior design, may require a degree plus experience. The leading provider in the United States is the Council for Interior Design Qualification (C.I.D.Q.) that offers the N.C.I.D.Q. Certification. This credential is a testament to a designer’s expertise to uphold current codes protecting clients’ health, safety, and welfare.
A certificate program usually includes:
- Design and Visual Concepts
- Design History
- Space Planning
- Color and Finishes
- Materials and Textiles
- Basic Drafting
Students can take the courses full or part-time online or onsite. The New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) in New York City, for example, offers a Basic Interior Design Certificate Program online or on-campus. Some graduates of the 24-credit curriculum have a college degree in another discipline but wanted to pursue interior design. Although this is a non-degree program, you can apply the credits to an Associate of Bachelor of Fine Arts at NYSID.
N.Y.S.I.D. boasts that more than 100 faculty members are practicing designers at some of the top interior design firms across the nation. Some teachers are owners of their own firms; for example, Kati Curtis of Kati Curtis Design, Stefan Steil of Steilish Interiors & Architecture, and Warren Ashworth of his self-titled architecture firm.
Not all certificate programs are standalone – some have the prerequisite of a degree. The University of California Berkeley Extension has a Certificate Program in Interior Design and Interior Architecture. Applicants need a bachelor’s degree in any major or prior related coursework, work experience, and portfolio review. Therefore instead of a degree, the institution will accept applications from individuals who meet these criteria.
The above curriculum consists of 21 courses or 57-semester units plus four semester units of electives for 61 units in total. Students must maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and complete the coursework within five years.
One of the Berkeley program’s benefits is that the certificate provides the educational credits to qualify for the California Council for Interior Design Certification and the N.C.D.I.Q. examinations.
Both the U.C. and the NYSID programs aren’t cheap. The tuition per credit at the latter is $1,060. The former has the cost of its certificate at $23,500 plus books and course materials.
What about a more reasonable tuition expense? Aspiring and existing interior designers should look at the Interior Design Certificate program at the College of Graduate and Professional Education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. The cost of the Residential Interior Design Education (R.I.D.E.) 120 credits coursework is a non-refundable $2,095! You will learn how to plan functional and visually attractive spaces, understand the history of design, create floor plans, learn business practices, and design skills to boost employment opportunities, or start your own business.
What a Certificate is not
States have different laws or statutes regarding the use of the term – Registered or Licensed Interior Designer. The Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau, for example, does not allow an interior designer to use the title of licensed or registered unless he/she has registration by Examination or Reciprocity application and approval. Those with a two-year certificate require at least four years of full-time work in the profession. Applicants also need to pass the NCIDQ exam and submit the scores. For comparison, a four-year baccalaureate degree from an accredited interior design program requires only two-years of experience.
In Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation oversees several professions regarding licensure. Interior design applies to someone who provides consultation, drawings, non-structural contracts, specifications, and interior plans for commercial and residential buildings. Before designers can seal and sign documents for permit purposes, they must register with the Department. Registration requires proof of passing a Council for Interior Design Qualification exam.
Similarly, in Indiana, you must have a current NCIDQ Certificate to use the Registered Interior Designer title. Designers need more experience with an associate’s or certificate than a bachelor’s or master’s degree to take this exam. Three years of full-time or 5,280 work-hours are necessary for a graduate with a certificate. Individuals with a degree require two years of supervised (by a professional designer) experience—different rules for different educational levels.
What about job listings? If you check employment sites like SimplyHired, you see different qualifications for interior designers. Some stipulate a bachelor’s degree, and others require only certification. A company (Columbia Cabinets, LLC) in the kitchen and bath design business seeks a computer-literate designer, excellent communication skills, proficient in managing architectural blueprints, and drafting. No mention of educational requirements.
Therefore, a certificate is a viable option to enter the business with less expense and time spent completing a college or university degree. Your career goals might reflect on the best route to pursue. Do you want to join a prestigious firm in NYC? If so, then a degree would be advantageous. Or do you prefer to work from home on a modest scale? In this instance, a certificate combined with your creative talents may suffice.