Interior designers are responsible for making the interior spaces of buildings safe, functional, and attractive. The newest trends in interior design emphasize sustainability and barrier-free access while also valuing traditional design aspects. Students earning interior design bachelor’s degrees study the underlying concepts of design, interior architecture, and design technology. Students can also branch out into specific design topics, such as computer-aided design, which can lay the foundation for graduate coursework in those areas.
At the undergraduate level, there are Bachelor of Arts, Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Science programs. The interior design science curriculum comprises a combination of classroom and hands-on instruction in areas such as independent research, design technology, drafting, and design presentation. Students learn how to operate computer-aided design technology, read blueprints, understand building codes, and decipher market trends. Specific courses might include the following:
- Lighting design
- Residential interiors
- Non-residential interiors
- Computer-aided design Basic drawing
A Bachelor of Fine Arts will generally include these courses:
- Architectural Detailing and Construction: Emphasis is on advanced training in the preparation of two-dimensional design development and working drawings through the development of basic architectural details.
- History of Interiors and Architecture: Students survey the development of interiors, architecture, and furniture from pre-history to the mid-19th century. The coverage is primarily Western, though some non-Western cultures are presented.
- Portfolio for Interior Design: Students learn about the tools and techniques needed to support success in identifying and obtaining an entry-level position in their field and producing a resume and portfolio.
A Bachelor of Arts program includes design and graphics classes with digital and traditional media, color theory, art history, and general education courses such as math and English. In addition, students will take a variety of courses to prepare them for professional practice, including Building and Interior Systems, History of Furniture, Building Information Modeling, Contract Documents, and Human Factors/Ergonomics. An array of design electives is available in art or architectural history, traditional media art classes, and advanced classes in digital media.
All three will afford the education required to apply for entry-level jobs in interior design upon graduation. Some of the more important courses required by employers are 3D AutoCAD, materials, architectural detailing, design in 3 dimensions, and advanced CAD rendering.
At the graduate level, a Master of Arts in Interior Design offers the student an opportunity to specialize. This program helps students develop an understanding of contemporary interior design issues through specialized research and design skills. This concentration prepares students with prior interior design training for more specialized career fields and for a career in academia. Students may have the option to choose either a thesis or applied project during the completion phase of the degree.
The master’s degree builds on your education from your four-year program. Some of the courses may seem redundant; however, what you learn will broaden your knowledge. A 60-credit studio-based and research-oriented curriculum challenge students to analyze the relationship between human behavior and perception of the interior. Courses investigate materials and their environmental impact, fabrication and manufacturing processes, building systems and operational energy consumption. Coursework studies drawing and digital representation and the history and theory of interior design.
As mentioned above, there are more programs where you can specialize at the graduate level. Students may combine interior design and lighting design in a Master of Fine Arts. Students explore the relationships between theory, technical application, energy conservation, and social and environmental aspects of electric and natural light. Particular attention is given to the relationship between diurnal patterns, qualitative aspects of habitation, energy conservation, solar heat gain, and illuminance requirements.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported (May 2017) the median at $51,500 for interior designers with a Bachelor’s degree. Expected job growth is 4% through 2016 or a change of 2,900 jobs. According to PayScale, an entry-level Interior Designer with less than 5 years of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation of $41,000 based on 3,012 salaries provided by anonymous users.
It may be more advantageous to earn experience in this profession, rather than pursue a Master’s degree. You can add the pertinent certifications to your undergraduate degree instead. For example, there are states where laws restrict the use of the title “interior designer.” In the title-restrictive states, only candidates who pass their state-approved exam may call themselves registered interior designers. The most common is the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification. Qualifications for eligibility to take the NCIDQ exam include at least a bachelor’s degree in interior design and 2 years of work experience. Professional interior designers who possess this Certification have distinguished themselves by demonstrating a specific set of core competencies, supported by verified work experience and a college degree.
A hot commodity in design currently is kitchen and bath remodeling. The number of employers seeking candidates in this specialty supports this. To advance your career in this direction, you may apply for Certification is available from the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) and may be preferred or required by an employer.
The NKBA also provides a list of affiliated schools that have joined the Association to promote best practices in education and opportunities for the next generation of kitchen and bath professionals. These professionals will enter the thriving field of kitchen and bath design, which has become a $147 billion industry.