So You Want to Be an Interior Designer? Here’s What You Need to Know

Interior designers need to have a wide body of knowledge in order to have a career as an interior designer. This body of knowledge includes things they need to know to be professional, as well as things they need to know about design.

Interior designers not only need to have design skills and knowledge, they also need to meet certain requirements, including certifications, business systems, and interpersonal skills.

  • Professional practice
  • Design
  • Products and materials
  • Interior construction, codes, and regulations
  • Communication
  • Human environment needs

Interior designers are charged with creating spaces that are not only functional, but also aesthetically pleasing. These spaces must meet client requirements, as well as government regulatory requirements. As a designer, you are responsible for ensuring the success of a project, which means that you will have to have a wide body of knowledge.

Professional Practice

Professional practice incorporates the practical knowledge interior designers must have to be professionals within the field. This includes knowledge of:

  • Contract administration (bidding/negotiation, contract documents)
  • Business practices
  • Consultant work (consultation, collaboration, integration)
  • Project management (scope, schedule, budget, fee)
  • Observation, punch lists/deficiency reports
  • Business processes (marketing, strategic planning, accounting procedures, real estate issues)
  • Problem review and evaluation during alteration and construction
  • Client consultation
  • Ethics
  • Professional certification, licensing, and/or registration requirements
  • Legal forms of business (sole proprietorship, corporations, partnerships)
  • Legal responsibilities
  • Professional design organizations

The professional practice knowledge area is not only informed by design, but also by business practices, including financial considerations, time delivery, human resources, as well as ethics, professional organizations, and project management.


Interior designers must have a breadth of knowledge when it comes to design. They must be very knowledgeable about human behavior that may influence their designs and inform how a space may be used. For example, designers need to know about architectural styles and colors, as well as where to place signage, so that people can navigate their way through a space.

Additionally, designers need to understand the full process of design so they can successfully complete their projects through every phase.

Here are some specific interior design elements that designers need to know about:

  • Interior components design and detailing (custom furniture, cabinetry, mill work, floor patterning, textiles)
  • Design process (preliminary design, schematic design, design development, analysis)
  • Space planning (non-load bearing interior construction)
  • Aesthetics
  • Design concept
  • Design(s)
  • Lighting design
  • Problem solving
  • Visual representation types (bubble diagrams, adjacency matrices/charts, stacking/zoning diagrams, block plans, square footage allocations)
  • Elements and principles of design
  • Function
  • Quality (interior environment)
  • Sketching
  • Color concept (selection and application)
  • History (art, architecture, interiors, furnishings)
  • Two- and three-dimensional design
  • Color principles, theories, and systems
  • Decorative elements selection and application
  • Wayfinding/signage

Products and Materials

Interior designers must have an in-depth knowledge of products and materials they may use on a project. They must also have knowledge of resources that are available to help them learn more about products and materials that they may use.

In addition to having broad knowledge of available products and materials, many interior designers must also be aware of which materials and products are best for certain settings and types of projects. For example, the materials that are used in a high-traffic restaurant may not be the same materials that are used in a residential design.

Here’s an overview of what interior designers need to know when it comes to products and materials:

  • Materials (products, sources, selection, cost, installation, maintenance, specifications)
  • Furnishings, fixtures, equipment, drawings, specifications, and installation
  • Finishes (selection, cost, schedules, plans, specifications)
  • Specifications
  • Fixtures (location and specifications)
  • Furnishings
  • Supplier/vendor requirements (information, installation plans, shipping instructions)
  • Cabinetry
  • Equipment documents (location and specifications)
  • Furniture documents (location and specifications)
  • Product attributes (selection, cost, application, properties, performance criteria)
  • Installation methods and costs
  • Schedules
  • Sustainable resources

Additionally, if a designer is working on a LEED project, the designer may also need to know about LEED-certified products and materials.

Interior Construction, Codes, and Regulations

Whenever a designer works on a project, the designer needs to be sure that all building materials, processes, designs, and more meet codes and regulations. This means that designers need to be aware of safety standards and guidelines for all aspects of the design, construction, and use of a space.

This body of knowledge requires that designers know about:

  • Building codes, laws, regulations; life safety standards (movement, stairs, corridors, ramps, exits) and requirements; welfare
  • Lighting fixtures and lamps selection, application, and specifications
  • Building systems (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural)
  • Working drawings for non-loadbearing interior construction
  • Permitting processes
  • Specifications for non-loadbearing interior construction
  • Reflected ceiling systems, plans, and specifications
  • Electrical plans and preliminary specifications
  • Schedules
  • Analysis of life-safety requirements
  • Data/voice telecommunication systems and plans
  • Fire and life-safety principles (compartmentalization, detection, suppression)
  • Non-loadbearing interior construction systems and methods
  • Acoustics
  • Lighting/daylighting systems
  • Security systems
  • As-built drawings
  • Power distribution systems and plans
  • Energy management
  • Indoor air quality

Remember: If a designer is working on a LEED project, the designer may also need to know about LEED-certified construction, codes, and regulations.

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