Do You Need A Degree To be An Interior Designer?

do you need a degree to be an interior designer

One of the questions that I'm asked all the time is do you need a degree to be an interior designer? I answered this in a YouTube video years ago, but want to revisit this topic.

Do you need a degree to be an interior designer?

Before I get into this, I do not want your comments if you want to fight me on this. Life's short and I give zero fucks about having that convo. Go find a blog post or your free Facebook group to rant about why I'm a moron somewhere else. 

There is a difference between interior designers and interior decorators. I've been in the industry 20 years and I'll be the first to tell you that some people get very pissy about this topic. 

Some interior designers with the street cred are very proud of their degree, certifications, licenses and hate it when interior decorators that call themselves interior designers. Some even look down on interior decorators and give them nicknames like "Dolly Decorator". I get that people are proud of their accomplishments but it's totally unnecessary to knock others down.

When I went to college I thought that was the ONLY way to have a career in the design industry. I had no idea that I could pursue my passion without getting a degree. I never loved the work I did on the commercial side. So, yeah if I could back and do that part of my life over, I wouldn't go to college and rack up a shit ton of debt that would take forever to pay off. 

I, too, have the street cred, but I bought into that propaganda when I was a young thing and now wouldn't encourage anyone to go that route unless you are dead set on going into commercial interiors, want to work for a company or you want to have a larger role in the construction end of a project. But with the residential part - you may not have that opportunity if you're working with a dick architect or shitty county.

The answer to the question also depends on what state you live in. There are crazy fucking laws, which are different in every state, where they may say that you need a degree to either call yourself an interior designer or work as one. You can thank the design societies for promoting that crap. 

The designer societies claim it's all about the "life, health and safety". I don't buy that for a minute, but if you do, get a degree and a license.

I firmly oppose any legislation that keeps designers and decorators from being able to earn a living.

You see once you do get an interior design degree, the fun doesn't stop there. If you want to be super cool and the gang then you get to study for the NCIDQ exam which has some requirements that you might find very hard to meet. Then if you want to take it to the next level, depending on the state you live in, you can take a licensing exam like the one I took in California

While there is a difference between what a designer does and what a decorator does most of the general public doesn't know the fucking difference. And for those people in the industry (contractors, architects, project managers) they usually don't give a flying fuck and will overrule you even if you have the degree and license. 

The degree will not give you an eye for design. If God didn't put the talent in, to begin with, you're not gonna get it when you graduate. 

Then there are the people with no degree and have more talent in their pinkies than some designers with degrees. 

So, do you need a degree to be an interior designer?

  • Do you want to design commercial interiors? Get a degree.

  • Fired up to create construction documents with non-structural changes for permits? Get a degree.

  • Ready to study building codes and local laws? Get a degree.

  • Excited to use a CAD program? Get a degree.

  • Downright giddy to learn about fire ratings and egress paths? Get a degree.

  • Can't wait to blow out some (non-structural) residential walls on paper and get a permit for that? Get a degree.

  • Passionate about drawing up lighting plans? Get a degree.

  • Do you love learning about architecture and structural elements? Get a degree.

  • Do you like analyzing how people use the space? Get a degree.

  • Love reading blueprints? Get a degree.

  • Dying to execute a design project? Get a degree.

  • Does environmental sustainability make you smile? Get a degree.

  • Do building systems turn you on? Get a degree.

  • Do you want to decorate people's homes because selecting finishes and furniture is what you're good at? Skip the degree.

Remember, some states might not let you use that title until you pass some more tests.

If every dream you've ever had in your soul is to make people's home pretty through the color and furnishings then become an interior decorator. And read what I wish I knew before I started my interior design business.

Alycia Wicker

Alycia Wicker is an interior design business coach specializing in helping soulful interior designers attract clients with clever marketing strategies. Celebrity gossip whore.