How to Become an Interior Designer: An Entrepreneur‘s Guide

As a small business consultant who has helped dozens of entrepreneurs launch and grow successful interior design firms, I‘m thrilled you‘re considering this creative, rewarding career. Transforming simple spaces into beautiful, functional environments that improve people‘s lives is incredibly fulfilling.

However, the road to becoming an accomplished interior designer can be both exciting and challenging. This comprehensive 7-step guide draws from my experience advising aspiring and seasoned designers alike on how to establish expertise, win clients, manage projects, and turn their artistic talents into thriving businesses.

Step 1: Earn a Relevant Degree

While no single path guarantees success, an interior design or related degree lays a strong educational foundation and provides credibility with many clients.

Consider a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Interior Design, Interior Architecture, Environmental Design, or Architectural Studies. Programs blend visual arts, technical skills, core business savvy, and design thinking. Course highlights often include color theory, building codes, CAD, spatial planning, materials, lighting, sustainability, and more.

Seeking accreditation from the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) or National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) indicates rigorous curriculum aligned with industry needs.

According to recent surveys, over 90% of professional designers hold 4-year degrees. So while some rarely accept those without formal education, prioritizing quality learning sets you up for success.

Step 2: Gain Invaluable Hands-On Experience

Once equipped with fundamental skills from education, actively develop real-world experience. Interior design internships provide exposure to the practical side of commercial and residential projects.

Target well-established multi-disciplinary architecture and design firms to collaborate with experienced mentors on actual client work. Top goals include refining technical abilities, developing your personal aesthetic, learning effective client consultation tactics, and making professional connections.

Common entry-level roles, often obtained shortly after graduating, include:

  • Interior Design Assistant
  • Decorator Assistant
  • Furnishings Consultant
  • Kitchen & Bath Designer
  • Architectural Drafter
  • 3D Rendering Artist

By taking initiative and seeking feedback, these positions prepare you for higher levels of responsibility, such as Interior Designer, Senior Designer, Art Director, Design Firm Principal and more.

Step 3: Showcase Your Best Work in a Standout Portfolio

Your portfolio demonstrates skills and sensibilities that set you apart, making it the most vital tool for winning clients and employment. Thoroughly document 5-10 stellar projects showcasing your versatility through diverse styles, spaces, and challenges overcome.

For each project, include:

  • Summary: Brief description of the client, space function/goals, and design approach
  • Photos: Showcase before and after images highlighting your impact
  • Models & Renderings: Visuals conveying your spatial mastery and vision
  • Materials Board: Fabric swatches, paint samples, furnishings etc.
  • Floor Plans & Elevations: Technical drawings produced using CAD software
  • Lighting Plan: Technical overview of ambient, task, and accent lighting

This in-depth documentation of your design philosophy and technical abilities can open doors both professionally and financially.

Step 4: Build Strong Communication and Business Savvy

Beyond pure design vision, running an interior design business or progressing in a firm requires communication and business capabilities aimed at understanding clients, showcasing ideas, driving projects, and guiding budget or contractor teams.

Client Interactions: Actively listen to determine true needs before tailoring recommendations to aesthetic preferences and budget realities. Summarize agreements clearly.

Presentations: Convey design concepts persuasively through floor plans, 3D renderings, sample boards, and focused messaging.

Relationships: Build trust with contractors, vendors, and collaborators while coordinating efforts seamlessly.

Operations: Estimate costs accurately, outline scopes of work Clearly, prepare proposals and contracts judiciously, manage payment schedules responsibly.

These skills develop over years of practical experience but differentiate those thriving in interior design long-term.

Step 5: Expand Your Reach Through Professional Groups

While natural talent and technical skills are crucial, your network significantly impacts access to mentors, partners, job opportunities, referrals, industry insights, and more.

Actively participate in professional associations like the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and International Interior Design Association (IIDA). Most local chapters host regular educational events, career fairs, industry speakers and allow you to showcase work. The connections made can be invaluable.

Step 6: Consider Specializing as Your Career Progresses

Early on, focus is on developing well-rounded abilities across project types and design phases. But specialization allows you to command higher income and satisfaction from more targeted, meaningful work.

Once established, consider focusing on:

  • Project Type: Hospitality, workplace, healthcare, retail, restoration, sets for media production
  • Client Type: Residential, commercial, mixed-use spaces
  • Services: Kitchen design, bath design, lighting design, feng shui design, aging-in-place design
  • Style Specialties: Modern, traditional, transitional, midcentury, coastal, farmhouse, Scandinavian
  • Sustainable Design Eco-friendly materials, renewable energy integration
  • Space Planning Optimizing room layouts and furniture placement

Choose specialties matching your strengths, interests and regional client needs.

Step 7: Never Stop Learning

Design styles, technologies, codes, and best practices evolve quickly. Commit to continuous education by:

  • Reading industry publications and blogs
  • Attending trade shows and seminars
  • Experimenting with new design software
  • Taking skills-based courses: technical, artistic and business
  • Earning advanced certifications and accreditations

Position yourself at the forefront of industry developments to boost expertise.

Key Capabilities Beyond Design Vision

In addition to innate creativity and mastery of technical skills, succeeding in interior design requires:

Spatial Thinking: Evaluating relationships between physical elements and available space.

Problem-Solving Ability: Overcoming unexpected challenges by thinking laterally.

Project Management Strength: Coordinating myriad details efficiently by planning methods.

Attention to Detail: Ensuring perfection across textures, lighting, furniture scale and placement, sightlines and beyond.

Time Management Diligence: Consistently progressing multiple efforts simultaneously to meet deadlines.

Passion for Design: Channeling lifelong creative curiosity into enhancing how clients interact with spaces.

Without sustaining these talents, executing consistently for discerning clients is extremely difficult.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need a License to Practice Interior Design?

Licensing requirements for professional designers vary by state. For instance, Louisiana, Nevada, and Florida mandate licenses to practice commercial design. Most states offer optional certifications signifying expertise. Voluntary NCIDQ certification is nationally recognized.

What Software Skills Are Essential?

Master technical programs like AutoCAD, SketchUp, Revit, Chief Architect and Adobe Creative Suite. Specialists also rely on kitchen design, lighting design, rendering, analytics, project management, and office productivity software.

How Can I Best Finance Starting a Design Business?

Beyond personal savings, utilize small business loans/grants, crowdfunding, angel investors, and business plan competitions. For early funding, offer interior design services first while refining your business approach. Partnering with established designers on projects provides cashflow.

What Is the Best Way to Find Clients?

Beyond online presence and word-of-mouth referrals, partner with contractors, architects, real estate agents, home stagers, and showrooms. Consider serving residential clients first. Offer free consultations, home styling, and highly competitive rates to build portfolio and credibility.


Launching a thriving interior design career takes considerable commitment across education, technical skills, experience, self-promotion, and business capabilities. While the road is challenging, the financial and creative rewards of enhancing spaces and positively impacting people‘s lives makes the journey incredibly fulfilling. Use this comprehensive 7-step guide to propel your talents, inspiration, and passion into a prosperous and meaningful career.