How to Become an Interior Designer – In 5 Easy Steps

The interior design field has become incredibly popular in recent years, and it’s simple to understand why.

If you have a passion for bringing out the beauty of a space and the ability to design, interior designing is an ideal career choice to flex your artistic ability and creative muscles.

However, entering the field isn’t as simple as waking up one day and walking into a design firm.

Instead, some steps must be followed, including training or work experience, to achieve your dream career.

Keep reading to learn more about how to become an interior designer!

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5 Steps to Become an Interior Designer

Although a one-size-fits-all approach to becoming an interior designer doesn’t exist, there are several steps to kickstart your career path, including the following:

Step One: Develop Design Sensibility

Regardless of your age or career progress, you can educate your eye anytime!

The most important aspect of developing design sensibility is always being aware of your surroundings.

This means paying attention to the details of landscapes, architecture, clothing, and graphic design, knowing that every point has emotion and meaning.

Visit clothing shops, vintage markets, furniture and art galleries, museums, and bookstores to begin developing ideas of unique design types, like futuristic, classic, playful, muted, or bold.

Understanding what you’re naturally drawn to will help develop your interior design style.

Step Two: Enroll in a Program

Many firms require interior designers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, with a master’s degree being preferred.

Relevant fields like design theory and architecture are the choice for educational training, especially when graduating from a CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation program.

However, if you’re enrolled in another program, take design-related classes to highlight your focus.

Step Three: Build Your Career

After graduating from your training program, it’s critical to start building a portfolio by seeking career-building opportunities.

You typically need two years of firsthand, full-time experience before marketing yourself as an interior designer, so look for entry-level jobs, apprenticeships, and internships at interior design firms.

Step Four: Become Licensed

After completing the previous points, you’re eligible to take the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) exam, which is the official interior design standard in Canada and the U.S.

This certification shows employers and clients that you are serious about the professional and well-qualified to service them, so it’s an excellent starting point for budding interior designers.

Step Five: Find a Job

The last step after licensure is to pursue the career of your dreams.

Some fancy working for an established firm to gain excellent experience, while others want to become entrepreneurs and start a small design business.

Licensing Requirements to Become an Interior Designer

An interior design is a professional certification interior designers earn after gaining a specific number of hours in the field and passing an examination.

The benefits of gaining the license are the ability to practice in some states, credibility in the eyes of employers, and expanded knowledge and skill sets.

The NCIDQ is the most common interior design license that is earned by passing an exam.

This globally recognized certification proves professionals are experienced and competent enough to practice in the industry.

States have different licensure requirements, so it’s important to check locally.

The NCIDQ examination comprises three exams, including the following:

  • Building codes and project coordination
  • Case studies
  • Construction and building

The entire exam is 250 multiple-choice questions and the case study exam.

Several additional licenses complement the primary interior design license, including the following:

American Lighting Specialist Certification

The American Lighting Association offers several interior-design-related certifications, including Certified Lighting Consultant, Certified Lighting Manufacturers Representative, Lighting Specialist, and Lighting Associate.

CHID Certification

The CHID certification is offered by the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers for those focusing on healthcare facility design.

To earn this designation, interior designers must pass the NCARB or NCIDQ exam, boast at least three years of experience in this specialized field, and pass the CHID exam.

Alternatively, designers with at least ten years of experience and a passing CHID exam grad can earn the certification.

Interior Designer and Construction Certification

This LEED-offered certification was developed for interior designers seeking to create sustainable hospitality venues, commercial spaces, retail stores, and other indoor locations.

Navigate to the LEED website to determine if your project meets their criteria then apply for the certification.

NCARB Certification

This certification offered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards is for architects interested in interior design.

Candidates must have an architecture degree from an accredited program and hold a passing score on the Architect Registration Examination.

Other requirements include documented experience and an architecture license in the U.S.

NKBA Certification

The National Kitchen and Bath Association offers several NKBA certifications, including Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer, Certified Bath Designer, Certified Kitchen Designer, and Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer.

Online Training Programs

Ball State University

The flexible online Master of Interior Design program from Ball State University allows students to pursue a Master of Science or Master of Arts degree.

Both programs emphasize theory and research, with coursework covering accessibility, graphic communication skills, environmental psychology, and design theory.

Ball State is an ideal option for those interested in sustainable design due to the socially responsible curriculum.

The resident costs $431, while the non-resident costs $646 per credit hour.

Boston Architectural College

The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)-accredited Master of Science in Interior Architecture program from Boston Architectural College offers a post-professional online degree for interior designers.

The program comprises 30 credit hours and helps students better understand design research and strategies through online coursework and two virtual weekend intensives.

The curriculum includes foundational topics like research methods and design strategies.

The program costs $1,224 per credit hour.

Brenau University

Located in Gainesville, Georgia, this small university offers a Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design for those with a background in the field and who want to expand their skill set.

The program is also an excellent choice for educators as students must develop and teach an undergraduate-level interior design course.

The program comprises several relevant topics, including sustainable interior design, emerging design styles, and computer-aided technology.

The master’s degree is entirely online, CIDA-accredited, and costs $785 per credit.

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

Consistently ranked as one of the top design schools in the U.S., SCAD offers undergraduate and graduate interior design programs that have earned many accolades, like DesignIntelligence’s Best Architecture and Design Schools.

The master’s program is a fully online offering and comprises emerging interior materials, contemporary issues in design, research methods, and environmental psychology for interior design.

The school also boasts SCADpro, an in-house consultant agency that provides students with real-world experience.

Undergraduate tuition costs $869, and graduate tuition costs $890 per credit.

University of Nebraska at Lincoln

This public university in Lincoln, Nebraska offers a Master of Science in Architecture focusing on interior design.

The program is ranked in the top five and top 10 interior design programs by and Value College.

The fully online program is 36 hours with the ability to take some classes on campus with departmental permission.

The degree can be earned in two years, and students are urged to participate in fieldwork and internships to gain firsthand knowledge.

The graduate resident costs $452, while the non-resident costs $1,267.

Note: Here’s the full list of the best online programs for interior design.


The average yearly income of interior designers is around $57,500, but the income varies based on the following:

  • Additional commissions
  • Amount clients are charged
  • Experience level
  • Location and cost of living
  • Number of clients
  • Project size

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