Interior Designer

The Job and What's Involved

Interior designers plan the design of living and commercial environments. They may then project manage the work of turning the plans and ideas into a reality.

A designer may be asked to create or renovate spaces within:

- Private homes
- Offices and industrial units
- Shops, hotels and restaurants
- Public buildings
- Historic buildings
- Cruise liners, ships and aircraft

Interior designers need to design a space that is practical for its purpose as well as visually pleasing. Projects can be broad in scope, ranging from structural alterations to the choice of furnishings, curtains, wallpaper and lighting. Designers may be commissioned to transform existing interiors, or to produce designs for a building that has yet to be finished.

Tasks may include:

  • Working to a brief which details what the space will be used for, and finding out the client's personal ideas and requirements.
  • Inspecting and surveying buildings.
  • Negotiating fees.
  • Setting schedules for the project.
  • Carrying out research, to make sure that plans are technically feasible.
  • Producing rough sketches and a mood board - a collection of suitable images, colours and materials.
  • Developing detailed designs, often using computer-aided design (CAD) software or small-scale models.
  • Choosing the most appropriate materials for the design and budget.
  • Advising clients on progress, and providing them with samples of paints and fabrics to be used.
  • Supervising the work as it is carried out.

As well as advising clients, interior designers must work closely with other professionals. They may consult architects, quantity surveyors and engineers. They may place orders with manufacturers and suppliers, and supervise builders and decorators on site.

Some interior designers also work on exhibition design.

Many interior designers are self employed, setting their own working hours that may include evenings and weekends. Part-time work is possible.

The work is based in design studios, although a lot of time is spent on location. Self-employed interior designers may work from home. Some time is spent traveling to visit clients and sites. Designers in some companies travel abroad to work with international clients.

When supervising building works, designers need to wear protective clothing, including a hard hat and overalls.

Junior interior designers may start on between £15,000 to £26,000 a year. Freelance designers set their own hourly rates, which could start at around £18 to £20 per hour.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The main employers are design consultancies and architectural practices. Some interior designers are self-employed.

Opportunities exist throughout the UK. The biggest concentration of consultancies is in the south east of England. There are good opportunities for interior designers, but competition for places can be keen.

Vacancies may be found in trade publications, such as Design Week and Architects' Journal, and in specialist design and interior websites. Many jobs go unadvertised, so networking and making speculative applications can be useful.

Education and Training

Almost all interior designers will have an art or design based higher national diploma (HND), foundation degree or degree. This may be in interior design or in a related subject such as 3D design, graphic design, fashion and textile design, architecture or fine art. Courses are available at universities and colleges across the UK. The British Interior Design Association (BIDA) website lists several universities that offer interior design courses.

Many students take a one-year foundation diploma in art and design before applying for a degree or diploma course. This is a useful way to try a variety of art and design subjects, and build up a portfolio of work.

A foundation degree in interior design is also available. This takes two years, full time and includes 16 weeks' work experience. Entry requirements vary, but are usually similar to those for an HND. Students may be able to progress by transferring to the third year of an honours degree course.

For a degree, a minimum of two A levels are usually required, including at least one art-related subject, as well as five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications.

For an HND, entry requirements are usually a minimum of one A level in an art and design subject plus three to four GCSE's (A*-C) or a BTEC National Diploma/Certificate in a relevant subject, such as 3D design, or equivalent.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work.

There are also a number of alternative courses, including City & Guilds, in design craft, interior design and CAD skills.

A design consultancy or architectural practice may offer a trainee post to candidates without a degree or diploma, although they would expect the applicant to demonstrate a high level of relevant experience, flair and enthusiasm.

It is important to have a portfolio of varied designs to present to potential clients and employers. A work placement, paid or unpaid, in the field is invaluable for building experience and contacts. Employers often expect new entrants to be familiar with all the major computer design software.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Besides on-the-job training, employers may offer short courses in specific areas, such as presentation skills and using CAD and other IT packages.

Interior designers are expected to keep up to date with new trends and products. They may attend trade fairs and exhibitions.

Designers who have completed a diploma or degree in interior design are eligible for associate membership of BIDA. They may apply for full membership after six years' practice. It is also possible, on assessment, to gain membership of the Chartered Society of Designers.

Postgraduate degrees and diplomas are available in specialised areas of interior design.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An interior designer needs:

  • Creativity and imagination.
  • An eye for design, including colour, and good 3D awareness.
  • The ability to visualise concepts and explain them to others.
  • Good drawing and computer aided design (CAD) skills.
  • Good organisational skills to ensure each project is completed on time and within budget.
  • An understanding of building and health and safety regulations.
  • An awareness of technical building issues and the range of relevant products and materials available.
  • Strong communication and negotiation skills.
  • The ability to cost out projects and work within budgets.
  • Self motivation and discipline, especially if self employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

With substantial experience, it is possible to progress to partner status within a consultancy. After building a reputation, many interior designers choose to become self-employed or work on a freelance basis.

Interior designers may move into related areas, such as theatre set design or exhibition design.

There may be opportunities for interior designers to work overseas.

Get Further Information

British Interior Design Association (BIDA),
Units 109 - 111 The Chambers,
Chelsea Harbour, London SW10 0XF
Tel: 020 7349 0800

Chartered Society of Designers,
1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard,
Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA
Tel: 020 7357 8088

Design Council,
34 Bow Street, London WC2E 7DL
Tel: 020 7420 5200

How to Become an Interior Designer


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