Interior Design Education: Minimum Qualifications You Need to Become a Professional

Updated on May 26, 2020
viryabo profile image

Working as a professional interior designer for many decades, I've been involved in design-and-build residential building projects.

Becoming a professional interior designer requires that you get a qualitative interior design education. It is not enough to have good taste, be creative, or have a flair for decorating interior spaces.

A good interior decorator can achieve all these, but interior design goes beyond all that. You must have an accredited interior design education and an associate or bachelor's degree is a requisite for working in the field. Today’s building industry seeks professionalism, so, if you desire to be a part of this lucrative industry, you’ll need to get a proper education.

The minimum qualification required for becoming a professional interior designer is an Associate Degree in interior design. This course takes about two years to complete and will provide you with the practical skills you’ll need to build a successful career.

While the associate degree is the minimum qualification needed to get into the industry, the highest degree required is the Master’s Degree program. However, you should have a Bachelor's Degree in either Interior Design, Interior Architecture, or Architecture in order to qualify for the MA study.

Once you’ve earned your degree in interior design and worked for a year or two, you should apply to sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam which qualifies you for licensure. With this, you will become a certified interior designer.

Interior Design Education—What You Will Study

To become a professional interior designer, you do not need any mathematical, technological or science-oriented skills. Taking an interest in art and/or creative subjects generally is of great advantage and if you have an appreciation for the unusual, or if you are “remotely creative”, fashionable or even flamboyant, you will most likely make a great interior designer.

The basic courses you should expect to study in most interior design schools are listed below. These courses which may vary slightly from one college to another is the foundation required for a successful interior design career.

  1. Style and Design
  2. Colour
  3. Surfaces and Surface Finishes
  4. Soft furnishings
  5. Lighting
  6. Presentations

Style and Design

As a professional interior designer, you will have the ability to create schemes that are almost timeless with a striking appeal.

The enduring quality of style is usually a good testimony to the skill of an interior designer, whether it's his or her personal style and taste, or not.

A successful designer must have the ability to design functional, practical and stunning interiors in a variety of styles with each and every style reflecting the tastes and ideals of each individual client. Topics covered include:

  • What Makes Style: You are taught how to analyse the key elements of designs and how to identify a variety of styles.
  • Categories of Style: You will learn about all the major designs and styles around the world, through the times.
  • Eclectic Designs: You’ll be taught how to work and design for individual clients by going beyond style, including how to blend styles and designs of differing periods of time.
  • Elements and Principles of Design: Shape and Form; Pattern and Texture; Rhythm and Harmony; Art and Origin; these are the building blocks of design that you will use to optimal effect in spaces and interiors.
  • Achieving Visual Balance: Balance, symmetrical and asymmetrical aspects of designs will be covered in this class.
  • Space Planning and Design: You’ll learn about open plan designs, and the ways to plan spaces effectively. This is a major aspect of this class.
  • Finishes and Accessories: You will be creating stunning and up to the moment designs using decorative details.


In this section of the diploma course in interior design education, you will explore very important aspects of colour. You will learn how to apply it in interiors as these topics will be covered in great depths.

One of the main reasons why many areas of design fail is because of the inability to use colour successfully. This is the most valuable tool interior designers have at their disposal.

Getting the right colour balance is paramount to the success of any interior space. For example, clashing colours will give you a garish and cheap look.

Whilst designing, the colour scheme is very important to your client, so you can’t afford to get it all wrong.

Some people are naturally gifted and can get creative with colours, but in most cases, the ability to use colour is a skill that can be learnt using powerful yet simple tools and techniques.

Successful interior designers use this time and time again to produce winning colour combinations for their interior design tasks. Topics covered under Colour include:

  • The Science of Colours: Learn about the relationship between light and colour, and find out what light actually is and how it is formed. You will also be taught how the relationship between the two works.
  • The Theory of Colour: Learn about the natural laws of colour and the ways to use them effectively.
  • Colour Combinations: Acquiring skills on how to achieve successful colour combinations and how to make any colour look great is the emphasis in this class.
  • Characteristics of Colour: Using colours as an illusion in interior schemes, so as to disguise, emphasise or accentuate.
  • Psychology of Colour: Why do colours affect us and is it true that they have an effect on our emotions? You will also learn the importance of colour psychology to an interior designer.
  • Colour Notation: Learn to understand colour so that it can be communicated into design decisions with confidence.

Surfaces and Surface Finishes

In interior design parlance, the surfaces referred to here are the floors, the walls and the ceilings. They undisputedly are the largest surface areas in any interior space.

Finishes chosen for them are of extreme importance and has an impact on the overall design when completed.

There are many possibilities and choices available, but practicality and functionality must be addressed so that the overall design can stand up to the wear and tear of everyday use

Classes include:

  • Walls and Ceilings: Find out about the available varieties and options. Learn about all the types of installation techniques and the impact of the materials used on your designs.
  • Flooring: The most wear and tear occurs on the floor. Your choices as an interior designer will be determined by its practical implications. You will learn about soft floors, semi-hard floors and hard floors
  • Wall finishes—painting and wallpapering: Learn about calculating requirements and the use of guides. These two finishes play a predominant role in the final works of an interior.
  • Specialist Finishes: Murals, Trompe l'oeil, faux finishes and other unique finishes to achieve dramatic looks
  • Kitchen Designs: Learn how to plan out the kitchen. The various types of layouts such as the L-shape, the U-shape, the work triangle, etc.
  • Bathroom Designs: Learn how to create and use space effectively in the toilet and bathroom areas.
  • Storage: How to squeeze out space for storage facilities is always essential. Learn how to maximise space for an improved living.
  • Practical Planning: Learn about creating a schedule and order of work. Know how to form a logical work pattern.

Soft Furnishings

In interior design and decoration, soft furnishings refer to the curtains, the cushions, sofas, rugs, window treatments, etc...

Window openings determine the view and the amount of natural light that permeates the room. You will know as an interior design student that the window is really about framing the outside view as well as adding style to the interior.

You will be taught how drapes and curtains are made and fitted and how you can use simple techniques to achieve a beautiful and successful interior. You will learn about fabrics and its varied construction.

You will enjoy this interior design subject tremendously. Class topics include:

  • Curtains and Drapery: Curtain headings, bodies and edges and how to vary each of the three elements to make curtain designs
  • Valances and Pelmets: Learn about the many types and styles of valances and pelmets and how to use them effectively to enhance windows.
  • Fabrics: Practical considerations and the ones to avoid
  • Poles, tracks, and accessories: Learn which one works for what style of curtains and pelmets
  • Soft furnishings and curtains (ready-made): Learn how to use them successfully.
  • Ways of using fabrics: Which fabric to use for what soft furnishing, such as beds, upholstery, chairs, etc...


Lighting is used primarily to light up a place but skilfully to draw attention to decorative details. It’s also a great way to create mood, ambience, and atmosphere.

Studies have proved that the right interior lighting is known to enhance health and well-being.

In interior design education classes online, you will learn the different approaches to lighting and the appropriate choices and different types.

At the end of your lighting course, you will be able to incorporate lighting into your interior scheme successfully, whilst possessing the tools to communicate professionally with electricians and architects.

The following topics that will be covered in the diploma class are:

  • Natural and Artificial Lighting: Learn to create effects using natural light on mirrors, glass, stainless steel etc. See the varied effects of lighting and how to use them effectively.
  • Quality of Light: About bulbs, light fixtures, and fittings
  • Adaptation Levels: How to choose appropriate levels of light for different requirements
  • Technicalities of lighting: The relevant lighting used in commercial and residential spaces
  • Wiring and Switches: Practical and safety considerations
  • Electrical Planning and Specifications: You’ll learn how to prepare instructions that are clear for interpretations by electricians and contractors.


A presentation illustrates your skills as a professional interior designer.

After an interior designer develops the design concepts of any project, it has to be communicated to their clients.

The means of communication used to be strictly through drawing plans, working drawings, specifications tables, mood boards, etc... These were/are then presented in a professional manner to clientele and contractors.

Today, the use of interior design software is greatly encouraged and learning how to use it has become a part of interior design education’s curriculum today. Presentations can now be seen virtually with walkthroughs possible, all on a computer screen.

Presentations are important because they allow you and your client to experiment with different layouts, design options and colour schemes before taking final decisions.

This class will teach you how to create impressive presentations that help put your idea forward and sell them. Topics covered should include:

  • Design Preliminaries: You are taught about meeting with your client and defining their design requirements. This is more of an in-depth dialogue period to know exactly what goes on in your client's mind as per what they need to be done.
  • Visual Communications: Exactly what this means - using your mood boards or computer interface to enable clients to flow with your design ideas
  • Site Measurements/Surveying: Teaches you how to do site measurements and record relevant details you will need during the development of your concept.
  • Scaling of Drawings: Step by step drawings to show you how to produce scaled plans, elevations and sectional drawings in a professional manner.
  • Briefs and Specifications: How to present clear and detailed instructions for contractors to enable them to easily interpret and produce your designs.
  • Contracts: You will learn how to deal as a professional interior designer with clients, suppliers and contractors
  • Pricing: Learn how to charge your clients for services rendered.

This is one of the most important classes in interior design diploma course because it doesn't matter how good a designer you may be, only presentations that are professionally put together “lands” you the job!

Traditional College or Distance Learning?

If you wish to pursue an interior design education, you can study at a traditional institution and live on or off a college campus. However, today’s busy schedule for those who wish to further their education is somewhat a challenge. For instance, if you are married, already have a job, or have other commitments, you may find it difficult to create time to study. If you fall under this group, you can always consider the distance-learning option.

There are various online educational institutions that offer students the opportunity to earn a degree from home. The convenience of home study has been a saving grace for many students from all over the world, and an online study in interior design is no exception.

The advantages of studying online, if you fall within this group of intending students, far outweighs its disadvantages but if you can manage your time effectively, commit as much as 10 hours a week, and study hard, you will complete your interior design education within the stipulated timeframe given by the institution This can vary from one college to another.

The duration for an interior design education program will also vary, depending on which degree program is being sought—associate degree, a Bachelor of Arts degree, or Master of Arts degree.

You can get an interior design from outside your region, meaning you can study from anywhere in the world. So, even if the course is not offered in the country or region you reside in, you can still study to become a professional interior designer in the comfort of your home.


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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 viryabo


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    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Kareni, thank you.

      I will recommend you enrol with an online school to finish your certificate program and perhaps go a step further if you so desire.

      Try any of the Art Institutes - Atlanta, Dallas, California, Pittsburg, etc... There are over 20 of them across the United States that offer online courses.

      To find them, just Google "Art Institutes".

      You can start off from there. :)

      Hope that helps.

    • kareni profile image


      2 years ago from NJ


      Your style of writing is so engaging. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I would love to finish the certificate program in Interior Design that I started so many years ago. A lot of life happened in the interim. Are there any online programs that you recommend? Thanks so much.

    • ecamper23 profile image


      9 years ago

      Do most online schools help you get internships in the area?

    • bdouble28 profile image


      9 years ago

      I'm glad I can take courses online, I really think some lecture courses can be easily taken without having to pay so much.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Mariline, it is receiving a boost and its like re discovering a new way to approach interior design. So exciting.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving nice comments.


    • marilnelanoon233 profile image


      9 years ago

      I can certainly see this field receiving a boost with all the environmental and green conscious buyers and builders out there.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks for the visit Ken. I hear that as we move into the future, many shall pursue an education, attending distance learning classes.

      Its good to know that many from all corners of the earth can receive quality education from great schools.

      Thanks for finding time to leave a nice comment.


    • profile image

      Ken Abrams 

      9 years ago

      Very nice article on distance learning in the interior design field. I am sure many people who consider getting distance education will benefit from this.

    • profile image

      Afshan Razzak 

      9 years ago

      We run a private IT institute and are seeking interior design courses which are affliliated with either Uk or US schools of interior design. Do you offer any interior design programs which can be affiliated or provide partnership for future collaberation?

      Thanking u sincerely

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Thanks Opismedia, glad you like the article. Thanks for stopping by and finding the time to leave a comment.


    • opismedia profile image


      10 years ago

      Such a detailed article, thanks for sharing it with us all. Best of luck to you.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Im glad you find the info good Neil. Thanks for being encouraging and for your valued visits.


    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      That's really good info, thanks for sharing.

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Hello Neil,

      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave a nice comment.


    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great content for a hub. I'll bookmark this one for later...

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Thanks RosWebbART, glad you find it informative.

      Nice to see you again.


    • RosWebbART profile image

      Ros Webb 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Nice article, heading back later for another look...

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great hub!!! Love it..

    • profile image

      erhimu ejiro 

      10 years ago

      how do i register in this program

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Hi Amanda, what technology does today would amaze our forefathers. A continent away feels like your next door neighbour's house. Amazing. The impact of this on education is awesome. I agree with you. It's wonderful.

      Thank you for visiting Amanda.


    • profile image

      Amanda Yu 

      10 years ago

      Technology such as the internet have really helped bring distance gap together. Getting education can be done right at the comfort of our own room. Wonderful!

    • viryabo profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Thanks so much for being a big fan of mine. I'm so honoured to hear that nice comment. And thank you for visiting Keira.


    • keira7 profile image


      10 years ago

      I am a big fan. Love it. See you soon. Take care.


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