Interior designers plan and design the interior spaces of all types of buildings, from business offices and restaurants to hospitals and schools. It is the job of these creative and analytical professionals to design interiors that are functional and aesthetically pleasing. Their work covers areas like lighting, colors, windows, floors, artwork, and furniture. If you want a career in this competitive industry, you will need to complete a certificate, associate, or bachelor's degree in interior design. These types of programs are typically available through a professional design school, college, or university. Once you earn a bachelor's degree, you may qualify for an interior design apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships allow entry-level interior designers to gain one to three years of experience working under the supervision of more experienced designers.
Licensure is all about the state making sure that people who practice a given profession won’t harm individuals.
Jeff KennedyExecutive Director of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification
Getting Interior Design License or Certification
There is more to interior design than meets the eye. A discipline that involves more than just decorating, interior designers have to make sure the insides of buildings enhance livability, increase productivity, and adhere to building and fire codes. Because of the level of responsibility this entails, interior designers are regulated by state agencies and professional associations through licensure and certification.
While there are no national requirements, many states have enacted legislation regarding the profession and have designated state boards or agencies for interior design. Some states require designers to have a license before they can provide professional services to consumers. Licensure is something required of individuals as a privilege to work in the profession, said Jeff Kennedy, executive director of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. "The standard of licensure is that individuals have to demonstrate a level of competency whereby practicing they protect the public safety and welfare," he said. "Licensure is all about the state making sure that people who practice a given profession won't harm individuals."
Others states might require designers to meet minimum qualifications before they can use the title of "registered interior designer." Currently, California is the only state that requires designers to become certified through a professional organization. The American Society of Interior Designers provides information regarding state licensing regulations for interior designers.
Ann Newton Spooner, president of the Interior Design Society's Council for Qualification of Residential Interior Designers Advisory Board, said certifications and designations are proof of interior designers' professionalism. "Educated/certified designers do more than just place pretty things and 'play' with color," she explained. "They need to know why they’re placing them. They need to know who they’re working with, and when not to place them. Designers must know and understand the effects of product composition, lighting, pattern, and space among many other things that have an impact on the lives of their clients."
In virtually every profession, there's a national test that becomes a part of the state's requirements for licensure, said Kennedy. For interior design, many states require designers to pass the licensing exam for interior design qualification, known as the NCIDQ Examination, administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. According to NCIDQ, 27 U.S. states and Canadian provinces require interior designers to take this professional competency exam. Additionally, those who earn the NCIDQ Certificate will fulfill the legal and regulatory standards established by 29 U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
Candidates taking the examination for state licensure only have to meet the requirements set by their state, while those who are taking the examination for NCIDQ certification have to meet the Council's requirements. To be eligible to take this examination for NCDIQ certification, you must have a minimum six years of educational and professional experience, with at least two of those years being in higher education. Most exam candidates hold a bachelor's degree from a CIDA-accredited interior design program, although those with a non-CIDA interior design degree may also be eligible to take the exam.
A considerable amount of qualified work experience is also required, from 3,520 to 7,040 hours depending on educational background. Professional experience is essential, as class work itself is not enough to adequately prepare prospective interior designers for the NCIDQ examination. "We know that the profession is complex enough that when someone comes out of school, they only have foundational knowledge and not practical skills. We need them to obtain the practical skills, as they are part of what we test on the exam," Kennedy explained.
According to Kennedy, when it comes to the NCIDQ examination for certification, there are three standards. "We often refer to it as the three-legged stool of education, experience, and examination," he said, "and a competent practitioner has to achieve minimum requirements in all three. Our standards are based on the current state of the practice, the current complexity of the practice, and where people can get the most knowledge and assessment."
Other examinations that states may require interior design professionals to take include the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) or IDEX California. In addition, a state board examination may also be required depending on where you wish to work.
Maintaining an Interior Design License or Certification
To maintain licensure, registration, or certification, interior designers may be required to participate in continuing education. The purpose of continuing education is to ensure that design professionals are up to date on industry standards and are continuously acquiring new knowledge and skills relevant to their profession. According to Spooner, continuing education is important in interior design because it has become a constantly-changing business. "Trends used to change about every seven years, they now change every year," she said. "New products and methods are constantly being introduced. Color trends change each year and with the advent of technology, worldly influence has had its impact. Our business and the way we market ourselves has significantly changed the way we work due to the constant updates in technology."
In recent years, the advent of green design has made us realize the need for changes in our business that preserve the environment.
Ann Newton SpoonerPresident of the Interior Design Society’s Council for Qualification of Residential Interior Designers Advisory Board
While the National Council for Interior Design Qualification does not require NCIDQ certificate holders to participate in continuing education, their state board for interior design might. It is up to each state to set continuing education requirements for renewal of interior design license, certification, or registration. Typically, interior designers are required to complete a certain number of hours every one to two years to stay current and retain their designation. Continuing education courses are available through professional organizations, many of which offer online courses that can be completed at your own convenience.
Additionally, those who wish to continue their education beyond general interior design have the option to earn a certification in a specialized area like kitchen design, bath design, residential interior design, or green design. Green design in particular has become an in-demand specialization, said Spooner. "In recent years, the advent of green design has made us realize the need for changes in our business that preserve the environment," she said. "For instance, the simple production of textiles has a significant impact on the environment and that’s only one small area of product we work with in this field." These types of certifications are available through associations like the National Kitchen and Bath Association, Council for Qualification of Residential Interior Designers, and the National Association of Green Designers. Many of these organizations have their own continuing education requirements for certificate holders to fulfill every few years.
Even interior designers working in states that do not require them to take the NCDIQ exam for licensure have the option to take it to earn the NCIDQ Certificate as an additional designation. The certificate is beneficial for professionals of entry-level competence, meaning they are able to practice independently without supervision and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public, said Kennedy. "It's a standard, a benchmark that they can use to help them in marketing themselves to clients, or to employers, that says that they have achieved a certain level of competence in the profession," he said. "It's a great way for individuals to stand out and show that they are dedicated to being a professional and also that they have an independent body assessing their skill set."