Interior design programs instruct students in the art and technology of designing interior environments with consideration for the social, psychological, and aesthetic needs of the client. Some programs allow students to select a specialization, such as in environmental or sustainable design, digital design, building codes and systems.
Undergraduate programs for associate and bachelor's degree programs give students a foundational knowledge in the field, with courses covering basic study of materials, furnishings, and lighting and may require a professional internship. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent (GED). A portfolio and/or proficient computer skills may also be necessary.
At the master's level, students look at advanced topics such as inclusive design, theory and technology and often must present a thesis or final project. An undergraduate degree, portfolio, and internship/professional experience is required for admission. Requirements for state certification or licensing vary, but usually mandate a combination of years of education and experience in the field, along with passing competency examinations. Program length for advanced degrees and certification vary based on education and experience.
Associate of Science in Interior Design
A 2-year associate degree program provides training in the functional, psychological, aesthetic, technical and economical requirements of retail, office and residential projects. Upon completion of an associate degree program, students have a collection of work that can be used as a professional portfolio that exhibits an ability to apply both theoretical and technical knowledge to create comprehensive designs. Common course topics include:
- Interior textiles and materials
- Computer-aided drafting
- Design theory
- Lighting design
- Interior construction systems
Bachelor of Science in Interior Designs
Bachelor's degree programs in interior design offer a balance of instruction in design, history professional practice to provide students with the practical knowledge, creative skills and critical thinking abilities needed to succeed in business. Courses in this 4-year degree program may include:
- Construction documents
- Sustainable design
- Interior building systems
- Building codes
- Light design
- Ethics and professional practice of interior design
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Master's Degree in Interior Design
Master's degree programs focus more on the human factors, problem-solving methods and design research that play a role in professional practice. Students further develop design and critical-thinking skills.
Master's degree programs will often culminate in a thesis or capstone project that consists of major design work, a substantial exhibition and a written component. Coursework includes practices within the industry, designing for safety, security, health and welfare, and courses such as:
- Design with digital media
- Ergonomic and humanic design
- Design research methods, criticism, and theory
- Environmental psychology
- Graphic communication
Popular Career Options
Entry-level positions for undergraduate degree recipients may be found among small design firms, retail organizations, consulting firms or home improvement stores. Advanced degree holders may have jobs based in research or supervisory roles such as:
- Interior design educator
- Design consultant
- Chief designer
- Design department head
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Associate and bachelor's degree graduates are prepared to pursue career opportunities ranging from residential or full-service commercial design to specialty interior design for educational, medical, hospitality or retail spaces. Other job opportunities may include museum or exhibition designer, project construction manager, showroom manager or light designer.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported projected employment of designers to grow by 4% during the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported, that as of May 2015, interior designers within the U.S. earned an annual median salary of $48,840. Graduates from a bachelor's degree program are also prepared to pursue a master's degree in design or architecture.
Certification and Continuing Education
According to the BLS, many states require interior designers to be licensed or registered. To become licensed, candidates must pass the qualifying examination administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. In order to sit for the exam, individuals must have at least six years of combined education and experience within the field. The exam is composed of two multiple-choice sections and one design practicum section.
Once candidates have passed the licensing exam, their state will then issue them the title of Registered, Licensed or Certified Interior Designer, depending on the state's terminology. Many states require professional interior designers to complete continuing education requirements in order to maintain their licensure.
Associate and bachelor's degree programs in interior design focus on fundamental concepts, like lighting and furnishings, while master's programs provide an advanced theory-based education. At all levels, internships with hands-on experience may be required.