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Interior Design as a Career

If you enjoy designing and redesigning your personal space, possess a creative or artistic flair and work well solving problems as part of a team, interior design may be a good career choice for you. Take time to investigate the many types of design and the wide range of programs before you get started.

Growth in the interior design field is slower than average, and the median salary in 2017 was $51,500. In 2016, 19 percent of interior designers were self-employed, which may provide portability in your mobile military career path.

Interior designers create a wide range of interior spaces, making them functional, safe and beautiful by determining space requirements and selecting décor including colors, lighting and materials. They read blueprints and understand building codes and inspection regulations.

As an interior designer, you might find yourself designing spaces at hotels, restaurants, hospitals, nightclubs, stores, medical offices, showrooms, museums, shopping centers, libraries and homes. You might also decide to specialize in a specific area like bathroom or kitchen design, building finishes, ceramic tile design, design for children or a host of other specialties.

Two-year, three-year and four-year programs may be offered at universities and private art schools. So make an informed decision on your program and school of choice by asking questions about the following topics:

  • Type of design program(s) the school specializes in
  • School accreditation
  • Program costs
  • Types of classes offered
  • Department teaching philosophy
  • Percentage of graduates pursuing interior design and types of positions they’ve landed 

Keys to success

Successful designers must possess attributes including the following:

  • Artistic and technical skills
    • Plan a space and visually present and communicate the plan to a client
    • Know how materials and products can be used to create and furnish the space
    • Understand how texture, color and lighting combine and interact to make a space
    • Determine structural requirements including health and safety issues, building codes and other technical aspects
  • Communication skills
    • Meet and work with many types of people
    • Communicate clearly and effectively and be a good listener
    • Work with architects, contractors and other interior designers as a team player
    • Negotiate and mediate to resolve problems when necessary
  • Management abilities
    • Manage time, projects and deadlines
    • Create proposals and presentations to help sell ideas to clients
    • Develop and maintain good client relationships

Professional organizations and networking

Jump-start your career as an interior designer by getting involved in your future profession at the same time you enroll in a college or university program. Design associations have student sections on their websites highlighting volunteer opportunities, along with award programs and competitions where you can highlight your design skills and earn recognition as a junior interior designer. Having a professional affiliation and perhaps an award or two on your resume when you enter the workforce may get you noticed by potential employers.

Associations assist you in understanding current industry practices and policies and possibly continuing your education through workshops and conferences. Networking with other professionals in your industry may assist you in finding the connections you need to obtain an interview at your new location. They may provide important information about the interior design field including learning the latest technology and materials, understanding historical precedents and being aware of demographic shifts in new client needs.

Read The Value of Professional Associations for more information on how becoming a member can help enhance your career. Joining an association can assist you in forming network connections to help you find employment.

Internships and employment

Seek volunteer opportunities and internships while you are in school to assist you with the following:

  • Building your network
  • Learning about design resources and suppliers
  • Watching designers interact with clients, architects, builders and other professionals
  • Gaining practical skills and experience that will be useful as you start your career

A recent search of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Job Search using the keywords ‘Interior designer’ provided job listings with the following companies:

Next steps

To learn more about interior design careers, review the Research Occupations tool on MySECO and investigate your options. Take self-assessments to make sure your skills and interests align with your career choice. Talk to others in the field and get their feedback. Call 800-342-9647 and speak with a career coach to discuss career or education choices, searching for a job or overcoming challenges. Coaches are available to review your resume, practice interviewing, discuss networking or assist you in understanding employer requirements for this field.

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