Interior Design Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

College tuition costs have been steadily increasing, so it's no surprise that students are looking for majors which offer more lucrative returns. For those seeking a steady income post-graduation, interior design is among the highest-paying degree paths to consider.

The field has had significant contributions to the realm of human comfort, especially when people are forced to stay indoors for long periods. As such, many people are deciding to finally build their dream homes or renovate their personal spaces. Interior designers, much like other professionals, are going online. Experts predict that this trend of virtual design consultations will outlast the pandemic.

Aspirants will find this guide useful as it will give them an idea of how to become an interior designer and what kind of jobs await them after pursuing a degree in this field. It will also allow them to gain insights into why they should choose an interior design career among their many options and what benefits will come with this decision.

Interior Design Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in Interior Design?
  2. Interior Design Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Interior Designers
  4. How to Start Your Career in Interior Design
  5. How can I advance my career in Interior Design?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Interior Design

Why pursue a career in Interior Design?

1. Interior designers are generally happier than other professionals.

In a survey by CareerExplorer, interior designers rated their happiness 3.5 out of 5, which puts them at the top 30% of the happiest professionals (CareerExplorer, n.d.). This is not surprising considering even people who are not interior design practitioners can find it quite joyful to design spaces, especially their own homes. Imagine doing that on an everyday basis!

2. Interior designers contribute to human well-being. 

Interior designers work to give us comfortable, organized, visually appealing, and relaxing home environments. A consultation with them can improve our spaces and positively impact our well-being.

3. Interior designers deal with real-world problems.

The pandemic has been reshaping interior design. People are creating learning and working spaces in their homes, establishments are putting two-meter distance signposts, and shared spaces are either closed or controlled. Interior designers are helping us deal with all these issues.

4. Interior designers help us make sustainable choices.

Interior designers can help us make informed decisions and understand why it matters that we choose eco-friendly products for our homes. When we consult with sustainable interior designers, we are not only helping ourselves but also our environment.

5. Interior designers are paid well.

Is interior design a good career? It certainly is in terms of compensation. Interior designer salaries averaged $22.43 per hour or $53,907 per year (PayScale, 2023). The highest-paying industry for this position is the architectural, engineering, and related services, which gives interior designers an average of $63,210 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). The highest-paying state, on the other hand, is Arkansas, followed by the District of Columbia and New York (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Interior Design Career Outlook

What is the job outlook for interior design? Experts projected a CAGR growth of 7.8% in the global interior design services market in their 2020-2027 report (Research and Markets, 2021). This suggests that the interior design market will grow from a $150.7 billion market in 2020 to a $255.4 billion market by 2027.

In the United States, this industry can become quite competitive in the coming years as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a decrease in employment in the next decade. However, with an increasingly globalized job market, graduates of interior design can work anywhere in the world, while still staying at home in America, as is also the increasing trend. After all, in 2019, already more than two in 10 are self-employed and can take advantage of this flexibility.

Depending on the level of education and years of experience, graduates can land different careers in interior design as detailed in the following table.

Residential Lighting Advisers$48,879-4%
Architectural Assistants
Real Estate Staging Consultants
Art Directors
Production Design Managers
Senior Industrial Designers
Facilities Project Managers
Interior Design Directors
Urban and Regional Planners$76,262
Design Engineering Manager
Senior Research Designer

Required Skills for Interior Designers

Professionals need the combination of technical and non-technical skills that are used in various careers related to interior design. Listed below are the common competencies that employers look for in a candidate for this position.

Essential Skills for Interior Designers

  • Graphic Design. Interior designers will communicate their ideas and showcase their talents to clients mainly through visuals. It is a must that they know how to use the latest technologies for sketching, editing, and creating 2D and 3D models. This will even come in handy when you want to become a consultant for a video game design.
  • Budget Management. Interior designers often have to create budget proposals and need to know how to stick with what is agreed with the client. They must know how much to allocate on what things, considering factors such as sustainability, aesthetics, functionality, and ergonomics, among others.
  • Project Management. As they work their way up the career ladder, interior designers must develop project management skills. They will need these once they come to the point where they are the ones responsible for overseeing every aspect of a project and ensuring that tasks will be finished on time.
  • Knowledge of Design Trends. To come up with original ideas, interior designers must be aware of what is already out there and what has been done. Clients are also typically looking at trends when making interior design decisions and so knowledge of these is useful when communicating with them and building rapport.
  • Principles of Inclusive Design. Accessibility is an important aspect of design. Interior designers must work closely with architects and engineers to ensure that they are creating spaces that will not turn away anybody.

General Skills for Interior Designers

  • Creativity and Originality. These skills come hand-in-hand and make some interior designers stand out. World-renowned professionals in this field have developed their own style, much like any artist. These skills will come in handy when creating a unique portfolio, sought after by clients before any meeting.
  • Communication Skills. Interior designers will have to sell their ideas to clients. They will have to make presentations, negotiate for budgets, and collaborate with other creatives. They need to be effective communicators to make it far in this field.
  • Decision-making. Every detail of an interior design layout is a decision. From color to material to size, interior designers must be ready to call the shots and stand by the decisions they make.
  • Flexibility. Interior designers are typically subject to the desires of their clients; it is their money after all. Designers are just there to make the best of it. The best, is of course, not always the same for everybody. Interior designers must know how to compromise to maintain good relationships with clients.
  • Problem-solving. Interior designers must know how to maximize spaces given already existing walls, divisions, and measurements. They must also know how to work with budget and time constraints.

Source: Payscale

How to Start Your Career in Interior Design

Often, the first step to an interior designer career path is to get an associate degree or bachelor's degree. From there, graduates can be employed in entry-level interior design jobs as illustrated below. With years of experience and more advanced degrees, they can become top executives. Choosing a university course can be challenging but the following can help you make your choice.

What can I do with an Associate's Degree in Interior Design?

Residential Lighting Advisers

Residential lighting advisers provide clients with lighting and electrical plans to create desired room ambiance. In the process, they work with architects, engineers, and seasoned interior designers. They ensure that their proposed plans are practical and fit with the client's budget.

Median Annual Salary: $48,879


Drafters turn architectural and engineering ideas into visuals using computer-aided design software. They also create workflows and manuals for product operation and report design issues if any to their supervisors. An associate degree in interior design is perfect for those who want to specialize in architectural drafting.

Median Annual Salary: $48,786

Architectural Assistants

The main task of architectural assistants is to provide support to architects when they are planning, designing, and implementing architectural projects. They need to know how to perform simple tasks with computer-aided design software and building information modeling systems. They must also be able to carry out administrative and business-related tasks.

Median Annual Salary: $50,000

What can I do with a Bachelor's Degree in Interior Design?

Real Estate Staging Consultants

Real estate staging consultants make the interior of houses aesthetically pleasing for photography, tours, and occupancy. Their job is essential for boosting a real estate company's profits. They make it easier for real estate agents to market the company's products. Moreover, they are responsible for creating budget proposals, selecting furniture that should be part of the interior, and ensuring the functionality of each piece. They can do these, and more, armed even with just a budget laptop.

Median Annual Salary: $46,923

Art Directors

Fifty-six percent of art directors are self-employed (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). They work with other creatives in executing art concepts in various fields. They are usually in charge of the art department and must ensure smooth operational processes therein. In addition to leadership and management skills, creativity, project management skills, and proficiency in graphic and multimedia design software are required for this position.

Medial Annual Salary: $72,259

Production Design Managers

Production design managers work for the industries of theatre, film, and television. They manage a team of creatives and work with directors in planning, designing, and creating the set and props that fit the narrative of the production. Research and design skills are necessary for this position.

Median Annual Salary: $126,076

Can you get an Interior Design job with just a certificate?

This depends largely on what state you intend to practice interior design in. Some states require interior designers to pass the licensure examination offered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). To be eligible for this, one needs to finish at least a bachelor's degree and have two years of work experience.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 78.2% of interior designers in America have an associate degree or higher. Although some states allow non-degree holders to practice interior design, having a college degree is still an advantage for this increasingly competitive field.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

How can I advance my career in Interior Design?

Included in the interior design careers list of many serious professionals are advanced degrees, which come as career advancement options for interior designers. A master's degree or a doctorate will allow them to gain recognition in the field.

What can I do with a Master’s in Interior Design?

Senior Industrial Designers

More than three in 10 industrial engineers work in the manufacturing sector and more than two in 10 are self-employed (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Their main task is to develop products with the users in mind. They typically work with engineers when designing and evaluating different tools, equipment, and devices.

Median Annual Salary: $86,171

Facilities Project Managers

Facilities project managers are responsible for the overall design of workspaces. They oversee the planning, maintenance, and renovation projects related to facilities. They also create budget plans, communicate with service providers, and ensure efficiency in project processes.

Median Annual Salary: $74,163

Interior Design Directors

Interior design directors create and oversee the implementation of long-term artistic strategies for businesses. They lead a team of creative designers, manage project assignments, and communicate progress and results to clients and top executives. Professionals in this job are expected to be artistic, detail-oriented, and client-centric.

Annual Median Salary: $101,379

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Interior Design?

Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners plan and design communities. They work with public officials in solving environmental issues, optimizing land use, and making space for development plans. In addition to design thinking skills, this profession requires aptitude in statistics, business, and technology.

Median Annual Salary: $76,262

Design Engineering Managers

Design engineering managers are tasked with leading a team of design engineers and optimizing project processes. They are expected to be proficient in managing people, using design software, and conceptualizing products. Someone with an advanced degree in interior design can focus on engineering furniture, textiles, and other home solutions.

Median Annual Salary: $113,965

Senior Design Researchers

Design researchers study human behavior and culture and conceptualize innovative design solutions that improve the human experience. They must be experts in conducting research, writing academic papers, and pitching their design proposals to clients. They need a combination of design and scientific thinking skills in performing their tasks.

Median Annual Salary: $120,250

Which certification is best for Interior Design?

To advance in their field, interior designers must have professional certifications that showcase their expertise in their chosen specializations. Various subfields in interior design offer either short courses with certificates that may take two to four semesters to complete or certification exams. Here are some institutions that you can check:

Interior Design Image 1

Alternative Career Options for Interior Designers

While there are thousands of interior design businesses in the United States (IBIS World, 2021), it is entirely possible for someone with a degree in interior design to shift to other career fields, especially design-related ones. Their creativity, graphic design skills, and project management skills are sought in many industries, including marketing and advertising, media, and fashion, to name a few. As such, there are many alternative interior design career options available.

What else can an Interior Designer Do?

Crafts and Fine Artists

Interior designers naturally have an inclination in the field of art. They can use their knowledge in design to craft products using various materials.

Six in 10 craft and fine artists are self-employed or independent (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This would be an ideal field for interior designers who do not find themselves fitting in with the corporate world.

Median Annual Salary: $54,989

Landscape Architects

Interior designers may expand their employment horizons by taking courses in landscape construction and site design. Professionals in this field, much like interior designers, are experts in using design software.

Degrees in this field must be approved by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board. Further, landscape architects must pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination to be able to practice their profession.

Median Annual Salary: $64,713

Fashion Designers

Interior designers can bring their design skills on the runway and make a career in fashion. Many of the skills in interior design are transferable to this position. For instance, fashion designers also use computer-aided design programs, create prototypes, and work with other creatives. Some interior designers who choose to shift to this industry can even take up online degrees in fashion to reinforce their knowledge.

Median Annual Salary: $68,780

Interior Design Image 2

Materializing the Interior, a Design Challenge

For aspiring interior designers, the kind of life after college that they seek is one that deals with how people experience and maximize spaces. Interior design is a great career choice for individuals with an eye for detail, high creative potential, and a willingness to take on a competitive job market. It is a job where professionals will find new challenges in each project. Moreover, professionals in the industry can expect good compensation for their efforts.

Perhaps most important of all is that becoming an interior designer can allow you to help others discover who they are. In "The Interior as Interiority," a paper published in the Journal of Palgrave Communications, Vlad Ionescu articulated the importance of interior design as a figure of interiority. According to Ionescu, "The decorum of our lived space, its furniture, walls and roof, is significant because it is a representation of our subjectivity: how we live is a sign of how we think, feel and imagine the world. Relating the interior to interiority, interior design addresses a different challenge than that of comfortable spatial arrangements; it overcomes the reflection on interior space as a question of taste and decoration. The interior becomes an issue concerning representation: it is a model of our subjective life that in turn allows us to better understand the world we live in. (Ionescu, 2018)" Remember this lesson from the field of interior design as you grapple with the question of what degree you should take.



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