Again, rely on the expertise of career counselors to help you secure an internship that coincides with your areas of interest. But don’t be too hyper-focused on any particular subject at this point; instead, consider a wide range of interests within the interior design field. Keep an open mind to different aspects of the industry. You never know: You may think you want to focus on retail design, but, surprisingly, hospitality ends up piquing your curiosity. In this early phase of your design career, it best suits you to have a broad base of experience before ruling out any possibilities.
In addition to internship experience, mentorship can also help ignite your career. The IIDA offers a national student mentor program in which the organization pairs more than 1,000 students with mentors annually. Headley explains how the IIDA mentorship program has evolved. “Students shadow a professional for a day, attending client meetings, presentations, learning about office culture, et cetera. It’s a glimpse into the working world and provides the opportunity for a valuable connection even after the program ends,” she says, adding, “IIDA pivoted to a virtual mentorship program during the pandemic. This allowed students to be able to connect with a design professional and learn about the industry remotely.”
There’s more to being an interior designer than creativity, impeccable taste, and a keen designer’s eye. “Effective communication goes a long way in every aspect of a designer’s life, from landing the interview to getting the job and being promoted throughout your career,” Headley offers. “The art of storytelling is critical when it comes to explaining a concept or showcasing the design in the earliest stages. That is something that needs to start in class when students are presenting their projects.
Organizational, time management, project management, and communication skills are all prerequisites for the job, as is some very specific technical knowledge. While mastery of drawing and perspective are fundamental for every interior designer, computer-aided design now is as well. CAD technology—in the form of computer software such as Autodesk AutoCAD, CorelCAD, SmartDraw, ARCHICAD, DraftSight, and CAD Pro, among others—allows you to render your design ideas in 2D and 3D models with proper dimensions, colors, texture, and other design details.
In addition to CAD, other computer software that today’s interior designers are expected to know include SketchUp, a basic 3D modeling computer program; Autodesk 3Ds Max with its easy-to-learn interface for 3D rendering and simulating interiors; Autodesk Revit, which is highly technical in nature and created specifically for A&D professionals for Building Information Modeling (BIM) to allow users to quickly make elevations, sections, and plans; and Infurnia, a feature-rich, complex interior design program. An interior design professional who is well-versed in these software tools will have a definite advantage over his or her competition.
Twenty-seven states require licensure for interior designers, which includes passing the NCIDQ exam. NCIDQ is the most common interior design certification, recognized in the United States and Canada as a benchmark for proficiency in the profession. In order to qualify to take the NCIDQ exam, you must first earn an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree and complete a certain number of hours of work experience depending on the level of education. Comprising three parts—the Interior Design Fundamentals Exam (IDFX), the Interior Design Professional Exam (IDPX), and the practicum—the NCIDQ exam covers subjects such as construction standards, design application, building systems and codes, project coordination, and contract administration. You may take the first part—the IDFX—once you’ve graduated from design school even if you haven’t completed all the required work hours. The IDPX, meanwhile, is available to you once you’ve completed both your education and work requirements, and the practicum is the final exam. Fees for each part of the exam are paid separately. While this three-part test may sound arduous, you should have gleaned all the necessary information through schooling and practical experience to fare well enough to pass the exam and obtain your NCIDQ credentials—you need a score of at least 500 out of 800 to pass. And this is certification that’s definitely worth having (even if it’s not required by your home state), as it legitimizes your skill set and experience to clients and employers.
Anyone who wants to become an interior designer needs an interior design portfolio. If you’re fresh out of school and don’t have examples of paid client work, use student work, internship experiences, non-client, self-initiated work, and side projects to help illustrate your design capabilities. David Sprouls, president of NYSID, says, “We evaluate many portfolios at the New York School of Interior Design, and there are a few characteristics that make some stand out. First and foremost, we like to see a portfolio that demonstrates design thinking… We want to see that designers understand process.” He notes that a portfolio should demonstrate more than merely the finished project: It should also weave a narrative that showcases how you interpret the client’s preferences, project goals, and challenges through the execution of beautiful designs.