Business Tips

What I’ve Learned Since Changing My Career to Become an Interior Designer

Interior designer Heather Hamel shares what she's learned since switching her career to follow her dreams and become a designer.

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Top things to know about becoming an interior designer:

  • As the industry is expanding, more and more designers are finding work without interior design degrees.
  • Doing your research is the first important step in deciding if a degree in interior design is essential for the type of work you want to do.
  • There are multiple resources for learning about interior design available online today.

For a long time, I believed you needed a degree for almost any job to be considered. Thankfully, we are beginning to see the walls of these requirements come to a crashing halt. More and more people can create their careers customized just for them through today's technology and social platforms. But, it still begs the question, is a degree necessary?

When I decided to switch careers, I felt like I had no choice but to get a degree and learn the "proper" way to redesign spaces. What came first? How do you choose a color palette? Where does all the furniture go? How do I make it look like something that belongs on HGTV? What style of chair is that? Do I actually need this to become an interior designer? I had SO many questions, and I was preparing to go back to school to get a four-year degree to be an interior designer.

Thankfully, I did my research first. Becoming an interior designer is much different from becoming an architect or a dentist. You don't need a license to practice. I still had many other questions though, so I eventually found a program that would allow me to study design, and I could do it on my own time. It would land me an official Residential Interior Design Qualifying Certification (RIDQC), which is recognized by the Designer Society of America. Sounds fancy, right? The price was very reasonable, and it seemed like a great stepping stone before committing to a full-on four-year program.

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What I learned by going to school for interior design.

Fast forward to now, I’m just finishing my interior design program, and I wanted to share some realizations I’ve had:

  • I have gotten MANY clients without certification or mention of working towards graduation.
  • Most of my growth as a designer has been working with clients, aka "getting my hands dirty."
  • No one has asked me if I have professional "training."
  • My design networking has been through either Spoak or working with other designers in my local community.
  • School has been great for learning about design's "technical" side (color properties, fabric pattern identification, lighting in layers, etc).
  • Formal interior design training is much different than my design style.

So, do you need a degree to become a designer or not?

Did I need this program to become an interior designer?

This is a question I am still debating, and I think it is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no. If you are someone who has minimal design experience, yes! I think taking an interior design course would be super helpful. You will learn the essentials of starting a project, executing the design, and transforming it. Most courses won't help you develop your design eye, but they will give you a great start and tell you where to look. I believe that developing your design eye is something you can only get in real life, working with clients, messing up, and developing your style.

If you have some personal design experience either through your own home or your friends/family, have worked briefly in the field, and are willing to do some of your own research and reading, I don't believe a degree is necessary. The most helpful information and techniques I have learned have been through my own experiences, and going to school has not enhanced my business so far. The most important learning that I've encountered in beginning my career is that this is MY creative journey just as it is yours. You can do all the reading and research, but at the end of the day, this is your journey, and therefore how you see things is the best. You are the artist here. So take all of the knowledge from wherever feels good for you and make it your own.

These are my favorite interior design resources.

In hopes of spreading the wealth, here are some interior design learning resources I've compiled that have helped me out in my personal journey:

  • BeSpoak School: Of course, I have to mention Spoak. Not only has this platform been a game-changer for my business, but they have a great starter school to get you going in your design business. They cover many topics, from design styles and history to how to charge clients and market your business. Plus, you can sign up for 1:1 mentorship calls or portfolio reviews with real interior design professionals, aka Spoak mentors.
  • The Little Design Corner: This website is geared towards people who already know they want to start their own interior design business.
  • Three Birds Renovation: They have a great styling school, plus a pretty awesome Instagram where they post a lot of free Zoom videos and design content.
  • New York Institute of Art & Design: This is the program I am currently enrolled in. It’s great if you have minimal design knowledge and start from square one. It's a "do on your own time" course, which has been super helpful.
  • How to Decorate Podcast: I haven't found many design-related podcasts, but this one is pretty good and covers all the bases. They talk about everything from hiring an interior designer to designing outdoor spaces, sustainable design, and how to buy furniture!

Photo Credit: (Left) Studio McGee; (Top Right) Sight Unseen

To learn more about interior design, take classes, and explore easy-to-use tools, check out Spoak.

Date Posted
May 19, 2022



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