Business Tips

How To Become an Interior Designer: Step by Step

Learn how to become an interior designer at your own pace and in a way that works with your lifestyle. Start a new career with Spoak today.

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Let’s set the scene here: you’ve redesigned, then rearranged every room in your own home, moved on to tweaking those of family and friends, and now you’re creating mood boards for rooms in homes that don’t even exist. Does this sound familiar? If the answer is yes, and you love interior design work but aren’t sure how to break into that industry, chances are you’ll get a lot of value from this article. 

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Becoming an interior designer isn’t like joining an ancient mystery cult (although with the gatekeeping these days, it might feel like it). There are easy, clear-cut steps to turn your love of designing (ahem, then redesigning) interiors into a fulfilling business that gets your creative juices flowing. 

What Is an Interior Designer?

Not to be confused with interior decorators who decorate the surfaces of a home, interior designers dive deep into space planning. They have a skill set that goes beyond paint and furnishings to develop a new build or change the structure of a building, if necessary, to accomplish a client’s goals. 

As a designer, you’ll work with clients to flesh out plans for interior spaces and ensure they are as functional, beautiful, and sustainable as possible. You’ll also get to have fun with paint, furnishings, and other styling for the space. 

What Does an Interior Designer’s Day-to-Day Look Like?

A typical day in the life of an interior designer is full of tasks for ongoing projects in various stages that require creativity, effective communication, and a whole lot of follow-up. At the beginning of your day, you might discuss a client’s dreams for their space and work through the budget with them. Then, you might spend the rest of the morning studying existing blueprints and photos to create a functional layout and mood board for them to approve. 

The late afternoon might be all about visiting a work site and ensuring construction is progressing as it should. You’ll check that the products you spent time sourcing the week before have been delivered and installed properly. As you can see, a designer wears many hats! 

The most important quality (other than creativity) that you can develop is effective communication skills with everyone involved: potential clients when bidding on a project, contractors, suppliers, and architects.

You’ll need to keep your clients informed every step of the way, allowing them to tweak your plans at any time. An online project planner, like Spoak’s project editor, makes keeping clients updated and getting their constant feedback easy. 

How Do You Get Into the Interior Design Field? 

Future interior designers (you!) have several ways to enter this field, depending on their personal situation. We’ll be the first to champion that you don’t need a degree to jump into the field (more on that later) — but if you do want to go that route, you can put the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam on your list. 

Prerequisites are either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, plus some work experience. Designers who go this route might pursue their interior design degree at a school with a Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). They could later benefit from several professional organizations that work closely with CIDA, like the American Society of Interior Designers. Ultimately, deciding whether or not to go (back) to school for design is a big one, and it depends so much on someone’s personal circumstances.

While formal education would benefit any designer, it’s not necessary to work as an interior designer, nor is licensure required in all but three US states. (And two of those only regulate commercial interior design through certification.) There’s an alternate interior design career path that works at your pace and with your particular situation — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Step One: Learn the Fundamentals

Every designer, no matter what aspect of design they focus on, needs mastery of basic design principles. A simple way to gain this knowledge while already taking on design projects or before you begin is to take online courses.

Take Online Courses

Online interior design schools should include coursework that delves into the whole design process, such as:

Beyond the basics, you can continue your education with added interior design program certifications on focused areas of study, like getting certified as an American Lighting Specialist or receiving accreditation in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. These certifications are great ways to specialize and offer unique benefits to potential clients and help you stand out in the crowd. 

BeSpoak School offers interior design courses covering the basics of design theory while covering topics professional designers wish they’d known when they were starting out. They bring the actual design process to life with design problems for you to solve from real-world scenarios. You learn by practicing your burgeoning skills — the best way to learn, in our opinion. 

Master Interior Design Tools and Software

To communicate design plans with clients and builders, designers must have experience with computer-aided design or some type of design program. Very few designers draft plans by hand today, instead relying on programs that make developing and sharing renderings more efficient. 

These programs are costly and can take time to master, but Spoak’s interior design suite includes layout tools to communicate the proposed plan with your client in minutes. The room visualization tool is intuitive and allows you to take a product image of anything online and drop it into your mock-up, adjusting size and perspective with ease. Say goodbye to the days of confusing design software.

Step Two: Practice What You’ve Learned in Your Own Home

You’ve likely been practicing your interior design skills in your own home for years. Practicing on your own space is the easiest way to work through typical design dilemmas a homeowner might face. So, if you are already doing this, make sure you document the process. No one said a fantastic portfolio couldn’t include photos and information about redesigning your own home! This is your #1 canvas to play around and experiment with different designs.

Step Three: Take on Some Freelance Design Jobs (When You Feel Ready)

Taking on some freelance jobs, especially before you are ready to go full-time with your design business, is a smart way to build a portfolio while perfecting your skills. Start with your friends and family. Working with people you know can help you feel more comfortable, especially if you already have a general idea of what they do and don’t like. 

Once your personal circle is raving about you (it’s only a matter of time), ask your family and friends to write up those recommendations or send your portfolio to their acquaintances. 

Take before and after photos and save your mock-ups and mood boards for later use in your portfolio. Even if you design a space free of charge, it is your design skills on display. You’ll gain experience by being exposed to all sorts of design situations, each one honing your artistic abilities further.

Attend a Job Fair

Did you think job fairs were just a high school thing? No way — they are alive and thriving, especially post-pandemic, and they can be incredibly useful.

Besides local fairs, the opportunities to attend virtual job fairs have dramatically increased and made getting yourself in front of the people you want to meet a snap. The Spoak Job Fair regularly posts opportunities with design firms or individual clients, giving you the opportunity to submit a proposal online. 

Step Four: Promote Your Design Services Online

You must have an online presence to promote your interior design business, whether you create a website or keep a profile on a parent site, like Spoak, that contains your portfolio. Use your online portfolio to organize information about your skills, goals, and previous work on the same platform you will use to keep track of clients’ projects. 

You’ll be glad you documented all those design projects for family and friends. Such projects allow potential clients to preview your style before a face-to-face meeting, and they’ll give you conversation starters to kick things off with. Combine this with a curated social media presence, and you have given potential clients the accessibility they need to see your business and familiarize themselves with you, as a person, for a lasting positive impression.

Step Five: Keep Looking for Work Experience in the Design Industry

If you want more direction and mentoring at the beginning of your career, look for professional-level internships with interior design firms. They offer opportunities from junior designer up to project management status and can assist you in finding clients as you build your portfolio. 

Working with more experienced designers who give valuable insight from their years on the job will speed up your learning curve. You can develop these relationships by working together or through a mentoring relationship. 

Be open to all types of clients (especially while you’re just starting out), from in-person to online consultations only. You can sharpen your skills on any design opportunity, even if just making a mock-up and handing it over to the client to complete on their own. 

Learn All About Interior Design With Spoak

Maybe it’s time to stop creating those mock-ups for imaginary design projects and actually take on some interiors! Take a look at Spoak’s business tools and discover how they can jumpstart your interior design business. 

Get inspiration from experienced designers and those at the same stage as you in Spoak’s community. There are private message boards, meetups, and mentoring opportunities to boost your budding interior design career. 

Photo Credit: (Left) Design Files


How to Become an Interior Designer | A U.S. News Guide

Interior Designers: Occupational Outlook Handbook | BLS

Understanding Building Codes | NIST

The Art of Color: Color Wheel & Color Relationships | Maryville University

Sustainable Design | U.S. General Services Administration

Starting your own interior design business doesn’t have to be complicated. Sit back and let Spoak walk you through the creative process. 

Date Posted
March 1, 2023



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