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Top Specialized Fields in the Interior Design Industry

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There are many ways to specialize within the interior design industry.

There are many ways to specialize within the interior design industry.

Interior Design Specializations

The interior design industry has a whole range of specialized fields and niches that go beyond simple design tasks of enhancing the quality and functionality of interior spaces.

As the industry keeps evolving, interior designers are redefining their roles in the profession, with many of them reassessing what it means to be a professional interior designer.

While most people are of the opinion that the scope of interior design services is strictly confined to the inside of buildings—homes, offices, schools, health facilities, restaurants, etc.—it’s now known that exterior spaces, merchandising, and architecture are also fields within this occupation.

What exactly is the job of interior designers?

An interior designer’s job is basically to create interiors that are not only aesthetically pleasing with the use of decorative furnishings, colour schemes, lighting, and materials but also versatile, functional, efficiently laid out, and safe to live within.

Professional designers are also expected to be skilful in technical drawing and space planning and must be able to read blueprints and be aware of building codes, universally accessible standards, and inspection regulations.

Knowing how to use design software (CAD) is always an added advantage.

However, there is an ocean of career opportunities in the industry, and a designer can become a specialist in a specific field and provide professional interior advice in any of these fields. There are many obvious reasons why choosing a special niche is preferred over becoming a Jack-of-all-trades.

Interior Design Services

The demand for professional interior design advice by homeowners, architects, the real estate industry, retailers, hotels, home improvement stores, restaurants, etc., has never waned, and this demand is expected to continue to spur job growth for interior designers each year.

As a designer gains more experience and understanding of the business aspect of the trade, including managing clients and work teams, drawing up work schedules, projection plans, and relevant financial reports, he or she may decide to branch out into only one facet of the profession that is of more interest, and, provide interior design services for such.

However, many interior design students choose a line of specialization (or have decided on one) while still in design school.

Specialization differentiates professional interior designers from creative interior decorators or design enthusiasts. Specialized career niches in the interior design industry include the following services, which are listed in no particular order. Each field is discussed in detail in the sections that follow.

Specialized Fields in Interior Design

  1. Residential interior design services
  2. Commercial interior designing
  3. Retail Design
  4. Interior design consultancy services
  5. Lighting design
  6. Space planning consultant
  7. Exhibit design
  8. Sustainable design
  9. Set Design

There are many other specialities that may be of much interest to interior designers who wish to specialize in a field in the industry. Though they are not usually mentioned, you can create a career of them, and they are equally lucrative interior design jobs. They include:

  • Boats and yacht interior design
  • Aeroplane interior design
  • RV’s interior design
  • Interior design project management services
  • Department store design

1. Residential Interior Design Services

Residential interior designers can provide services for homeowners, home improvement stores, architects, and real estate companies. Most residential designers have their own businesses and are therefore self-employed. They can also work as freelancers in small interior design firms, architectural firms, or for interior design consultants.

As a residential designer, it is expected that you can carry out minor (or major) home renovations, which may include developing plan layouts and blueprints. Renovation services can include anything from removal/repositioning of doors, windows, and walls to more tasks like space allocation, building custom cabinetry (kitchens, storage facilities, and wardrobes), custom furniture, and flooring.

Residential interior designers will also help clients choose furniture items, furnishings, textures, general interior décor, and lighting and its effective use, space allocations, and colour schemes. You may also advise on style selection, use of artwork, flooring, and window treatments.

2. Commercial Interior Designing

Interior design services provided for public spaces and commercial buildings are referred to as commercial interior design. Commercial interior designers provide interior design advice and services for clients seeking tasks like space planning and design of offices, restaurants, hotels, entertainment centres, community centres, studios, shops, boutiques, museums, banks, schools, and libraries.

In many instances, as a commercial interior designer, you may work closely with architects, builders, and engineers to ensure the overall design meets functional goals and is within a stipulated budget. Professionalism must be reflected in creating interior spaces that are conducive, aesthetically pleasing, functional, and empowering for the employees, their customers, and/or clients.

Commercial interior design services also include selecting appropriate interior finishes for floors, walls, and ceilings, allowing for acoustics and effective lighting, choosing furniture and furnishings, and ensuring that all interior elements are well placed together and arranged in a manner appropriate for the commercial venue.

3. Retail Design

Retail design services can be related to a variety of sites like shopping malls, strip and mini-malls, shopfronts, boutiques, small shops, and big shops and have proved to be an exciting, though challenging, specialized field in interior design.

It is challenging because it requires talent and skill and may be procedural and complex, depending on the size and scale of the store, while it can be exciting because it involves the incorporation of architecture, extensive space planning and composition, lighting design, display design, graphics of signages, store fixture designs, and enhancing colour schemes, just to mention a few.

The experience of successfully melding all these into the interior of one building structure is quite enjoyable for many retail designers.

Retail environments allow the interior space to reflect the interior designer’s point of view, like a work of spatial art that is open to the sight and admiration of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of customers. Designs with elegant solutions are built into an environment that must meet the needs of not only clients but by users and customers too.

The retail interior designer has one sole purpose, and that is to entice (or seduce) a potential buying customer to walk into space and be in a relaxed area that is conducive to making at least a purchase or two.

4. Interior Design Consultancy Services

An interior designer may prefer to be specialized only in the consultancy services aspect of interior design. Professional services as an interior design consultant entail advising clients on anything related to the design of any interior space.

As an Interior design consultant, you can work for an architectural or design consulting firm. Reals estate firms also employ the services of interior design consultants to help 'up' the appeal of the property to potential buyers. You can also work with furniture firms, be self-employed, or work independently.

There are many fundamental tasks associated with consultancy services, and they include first meeting with prospective clients to assess their design needs, creating schematic floor plans for new or existing spaces, formulating plans and blueprints that also specify all materials, where to source for products and budgeting.

A high level of creativity and the ability to use CAD (computer-aided drafting software) is essential because there must be presentation drawings and a going back-and-forth between designer and client until the desired concept is achieved.

5. Lighting Design

Lighting design is very important for all interior spaces, and many interior designers work solely in this niche. Lighting design for special effects is an art on its own, and tasks include developing lighting designs for residential and commercial projects ranging from homes and offices to theatres, museums, stages, event locations, malls, shops, cinemas, etc.

Lighting design services may also include creative illuminations of exterior structures like fountains, parks, monuments, and many other outdoor landmarks. As a lighting designer, you must decide and choose the types, styles, arrangement, and amount of lighting that's best for the purpose of the interior space. It is likely you may have to work with electrical engineers and lighting fixtures merchandisers to achieve a successful implementation of your project.

For instance, in the movie industry, a lighting designer will work in collaboration with stage managers, set designers and costume designers to best design lighting schemes that spell the mood of the story whilst ensuring safety requirements are met.

6. Space Planning Consultant

This field in interior design can also fall within the interior design consultancy niche; however, it can equally be a specialized field (stand-alone). It involves space planning, space allocation, and a functional and adaptable interior design layout.

All professional interior design advice commences at the start and is interpreted through space planning, and whether you are developing a layout for a single room, an apartment, or an entire building, it is necessary to identify space requirements and functions based on the client's needs and space availability.

. Before a space planning consultant proceeds, he/she will need to determine:

  • Where furniture and furnishings will be placed
  • Whether space expansion or reduction is required
  • How to create a traffic flow that works efficiently
  • How to meet the stipulated building codes
  • How it will fit into a pre-determined budget
  • How to ensure the space design is practical

Space planning consultants can work as interior design assistants in interior design firms, architectural firms, home improvement stores, and the real estate industry and must be able to use computer-aided design (CAD) software programs to create 2D and 3D design presentations.

7. Exhibit Designer Services

Specializing in exhibit designing is another top choice for interior designers. Exhibit designers, who also come under the group of commercial interior designers, provide interior design services for trade exhibition purposes. They create displays, fittings, and fixtures for large exhibitions, shows, businesses, museums, libraries, trade shows, fashion shows, art galleries, and private corporations.

An exhibit designer’s tasks which include planning, designing, and implementing, may run on for several months, for instance, in a museum, or they can be completed within 24 hours for business expos. They may work full-time for a museum or for an independent events manager or producer.

Skills in conceptual design are essential to be successful in this field, and computer-aided designs (CAD) and model-making, important aspects of the job, are required in order to develop and present interior design ideas in a professional manner.

Asides from developing the design concepts, an exhibit designer may also have to oversee the construction and installation of the exhibit, order for the necessary supplies, and may have to work with other specialists like lighting designers or visual media artists.

8. Sustainable Interior Design

This is one of the fastest-growing areas of interior design specialization in the 21st century. Sustainable interior design services incorporate healthy living and a "green" or sustainable lifestyle with conventional interior design. It focuses on improving the quality of indoor life as well as saving energy, reducing pollution and the impact that interior decoration materials have on our environment.

From the collection of rainwater to supplement wastewater needs to using eco-friendly materials like bamboo and organic cotton, innovation is high because there are several ways to take a green approach when it comes to designing a sustainable interior space.

As a sustainable design specialist, your projects must reflect the following:

  • Efficient use of space (e.g., micro-housing developments) by reducing interior construction materials, using built-in amenities, and generally reducing other resources to a bare minimum.
  • A reduction in energy consumption – flooring with ‘warm’ materials like sustainable wood, windows and doors that maximize energy efficiency, and water-saving fixtures.
  • Waste reduction by using reclaimed/recycled materials. For instance, furniture and furnishings are repurposed or refurbished to give them a new lease on life.
  • The use of energy-efficient lighting by maximizing the use of natural daylight and minimizing the use of excessive artificial lighting.
  • A conscious effort to use non-polluting materials and products and use safe, chemical-free products like woods that haven’t been treated with pesticides and hypoallergenic furniture.

9. Set Design

A set design specialist designs and creates the sets used by performing artists, movie makers, and theatre plays. Also referred to as 'scenic design', most of a set designer’s job is in the field of entertainment, though there are a few other industries that employ the services of these specialists.

The magnitude of a set designer’s job varies and may be as simple as just setting up furniture on a stage or as complex as recreating an intricate location like the interior of a spaceship or the entire indoor space of a medieval castle.

As a professional set designer, you must possess spatial sensitivity and knowledge regarding functionality and artistic aesthetics. You will find these qualities among the most successful set designers. The design process includes reading scripts and 'living' in the story, researching extensively on the narrative, and paying careful attention to the settings and background descriptions.

While creating set designs for today’s movie and theatre production may be less challenging for set designing, there is a need to still explore and investigate by making physical visits to a location or through studies of journals, photographs, and books.

Further Reading

7 Ways Interior Designers Charge for Interior Design Services

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2010 viryabo


khaniimalik on June 11, 2020:


viryabo (author) from Lagos, Nigeria. on February 25, 2014:

I think it should be introduced into the curriculum. Yes, absolutely!

TotalHealth from Hermosa Beach, CA on February 23, 2014:

Good information about interior design and specializations within the industry. Would you recommended as part of the interior design curriculum that people should study feng shui?