My Shocking Philosophy Of How To Be A Successful Interior Designer

Warning: This post may piss you off.

I had a post up on Facebook that led to my email list opt-in.

It's a pretty successful freebie opt in training for my list building activities. After all, interior designers want to know how to get clients.

Then there was this one comment on that Facebook post.

"First, you need an education in design. If you are in a right to practice state, you also need to pass the NCIDQ, as well as register with the state."

shocking philosophy

Fuck that shit.

I know of a bunch of designers (oh dear, should I call them "decorators"?) that didn't go to college for interior design (if I'm wrong, let me know in the comments) and their body of work is better than some of the designers who did go to college.

Ever heard of Vicente Wolf? I think most designers would say he is pretty fucking successful. He didn't go to college.

Barbara Barry? Self taught genius designer.

Dorothy Draper? No college degree for her and a trend setting designer.

Phoebe Howard? No formal training for her either, just natural talent.

Oh! But the life and safety! Those damned uneducated designers are putting the public at risk!

Are you designing commercial interiors? Then go get a degree. When you get bored out of your skull because you thought the money was in commercial interiors and move your focus to residential design, tell me how much that degree helps you.

Are you remodeling kitchen and baths? And you want to get real intimate with drawing up all those plans for the city to pull permits? Go get a degree and your license. But I'm pretty sure you could pick out all the finishes, lay it out and get the right people to do the detail work that most designers aren't interested in, anyway.

Could it be possible that the interior design societies that are pushing for all this licensing of interior designers aren't all that concerned about the life and safety of the public but more concerned with boosting their membership numbers? Yeah, I just said that.

Hey, you're a professional, you went to college, you want to have your title mean something, right? Well, pay us to be a member, help us pass this new legislation and we'll give you a purpose.

What did I learn in college or while studying for and passing the NCIDQ & CCIDC exams that really helped me with my residential design career? Not much.

When I was working in the commercial interiors I learned about fabrics fire rating, egress and the rest of the life and safety shit. It was a ton of hands-on training. And a bunch of boring shit. I didn't use that when it came time to designing residential interiors and working for myself.

When clients came to me they wanted to know one thing.

Did they want to know if I was a member of ASID?


Did they want to know if I knew the correct counter highlight for ADA accessibility?


Did they want to know if I knew was state licensed?


They wanted to know that I had taste. And by taste, essentially did I have better taste than they did and did I believe in myself (you and I both know clients need to be sure you're that sure of yourself or it's game over).

If someone is hiring you to pick furniture, accessories, and generally make their home pretty, a degree really only makes you feel better about yourself.

90% of the time, clients don't give a shit. They just want the perfect area rug.

By going to college you think you're taking the safer route. By joining design associations you think you're taking the safer route. And how many clients do you have because you took that route?

I'm guessing not as many as you'd like.

Here's the secret to how to be a successful interior designer

You need clients, right? They give you money to live. So here's the truth about getting clients: you have to stop focusing on your credentials, your education, your associations, your license, your title and solve your client's problems.

Do you ask your clients what they want from you? If you did, you might find that they want you to solve a different problem than that service you've been trying to cram down their throat.

Do you talk down to clients because you've been lulled into this bullshit confidence that the colleges and design society pump you up with? All of it doesn't matter if you have shitty taste and a general distaste for your dullard clients.

So many "coaches" out there in the design field want you to target those affluent clients simply because they have the budget for it.

So many "designers" out there are disgusted by the designers who seemingly pimp themselves out by designing for free with a 20% chance of getting the job.

So many "designers" look down on "decorators" as the bastard children of the design community.

Fuck all that shit. Stop paying attention to what other people think you should be doing and what other designers or decorators are doing to make a buck and keep your eyes on your own paper. That's how to be a successful interior designer.

You want success?

Don't target "the affluent" (I so hate that term!), target awesome people you want to work with. They will find a way to pay you even if they aren't as "affluent" as you think they should be. It's not your job to keep track of their money.

Don't worry about what other designers are doing to start or pad their design businesses. It's not really bringing your business down or tarnishing the industry as much as you seem to think. Sometimes people fall on hard times and need to make money. If they choose to do it that way, and choose is the key word because I don't think these sites are doing the whole involuntary servitude stuff, let it be. I don't think I had a client who loved me think twice about finding someone who was way cheaper. It's not about that, so stop worrying about them.

Don't worry about the "decorators". They don't worry about becoming you, in fact, I find a lot of decorators in general are happier and more inspired about creating beautiful interiors than a lot of the educated interior designers of this world.

You need to learn what it takes to be a successful interior designer by learning how to do all of the things that designers do. That hard work doesn't come in college. That knowledge doesn't come from design societies. It comes from first making the choice to be a successful interior designer. Then you learn all of the skills you need to succeed.

I didn't learn shit about marketing in design school. I didn't learn shit about what clients wanted, in fact, we designed projects for "pretend clients" who were never like any of the real clients I ever encountered in the "real world".

Why don't we really get down to the point?

It's about proving your value, not focusing on what some other designer is doing. It's about solving the client's problem, not helping the design societies further their agendas that they want you to take on as your own. It's about giving an honest and caring fuck about what you're really doing here.

We're not curing cancer here. That doesn't mean what we do is invaluable. You just need to think for yourself. Stop worrying about all of those other outside forces, and decide today how you're going to contribute to this world in a meaningful way.

If you think you need to be a credentialed and degreed interior designer to be successful, go do that. Those things do not guarantee you success. They might help you a bit, but in this world all you can rely on is yourself and your talent.

Designing interiors is about creating a space for people to experience those moments that become memories. It's about connecting with people. It's about sharing your enthusiasm about furniture, buildings, accessories, fabrics and how those pieces inspire us and our clients. It's about doing what you love. It's about working with people you love.

If you're not working with people who you love or don't have design services you're proud to share or a website that looks effing marvelous, I'd love to help you.

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.