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Interior Designer

Interior designers plan the design of living space and commercial environments and manage the work of turning ideas into a reality that is practical and visually pleasing.

Projects can range from structural alterations to the choice of furnishings, curtains, wallpaper and lighting. The role includes:

  • working to a brief, which details what the space will be used for
  • inspecting and surveying buildings
  • negotiating fees and setting schedules for the project
  • researching and drawing up plans
  • developing detailed designs often using computer-aided design and choosing materials
  • supervising the work as it is carried out
  • liaising with other professionals such as architects, surveyors and engineers.

Many interior designers are self-employed, setting their own working hours that may include evenings and weekends. Part-time work is possible. Designers are based in design studios, although a lot of time is spent on location. Self-employed designers may work from home.

Salaries may range from around £15,000 to £75,000 a year or more.

An interior designer must have:

  • creativity and imagination
  • an eye for design, including colour, and good 3D awareness
  • the ability to visualise concepts and explain them to others
  • good drawing and computer-aided design (CAD) skills
  • an understanding of building and health and safety regulations
  • good organisational and budgeting skills
  • an interest in changing trends in design.

The main employers are design consultancies and architectural practices. Some interior designers are self-employed. Opportunities exist throughout the UK, with the biggest concentration in the south east of England.

Almost all interior designers have an art- or design-based Higher National Diploma (HND), foundation degree or degree or a qualification in a related subject. Courses are available across the UK.

Besides on-the-job training, employers may offer short courses in specific areas such as presentation skills and using CAD and other IT packages. Interior designers are expected to keep up to date with new trends and products. Designers who have completed a diploma or degree in interior design are eligible for associate membership of the British Institute of Interior Design (formerly BIDA).

It is possible to progress to partner status within a consultancy. After building a reputation, many interior designers choose to become self-employed or work freelance. They may move into areas such as theatre set design, exhibition design or design management.

What is the work like?

Interior designers plan the design of living space and commercial environments. They may then project manage the work of turning the plans and ideas into reality.

A designer may be asked to create or renovate spaces within:

  • private homes
  • offices and industrial units
  • shops, hotels and restaurants
  • public buildings
  • historic buildings
  • exhibition venues
  • cruise liners, ships and aircraft.

Interior designers need to design a space that is practical for its purpose as well as visually pleasing. Projects can range from structural alterations to the choice of furnishings, curtains, wallpaper and lighting. Designers may be commissioned to transform existing interiors or to produce designs for a building that has yet to be finished.

Tasks may include:

  • talking to the client to find out their ideas and requirements
  • working to a brief which details what the space will be used for
  • inspecting and surveying buildings
  • negotiating fees and setting schedules for the project
  • carrying out research, to make sure that plans are technically feasible and meet building regulations
  • producing rough sketches and a mood board (a collection of suitable images, colours and materials)
  • developing detailed designs, often using computer-aided design (CAD) software or small-scale models
  • choosing the most appropriate materials for the design and budget
  • advising clients on progress and providing them with samples of paints and fabrics to be used
  • supervising the work as it is carried out.

As well as advising clients, interior designers work closely with other professionals such as lighting designers. They may also consult architects, surveyors and engineers. They may place orders with manufacturers and suppliers and supervise builders and decorators on site.

Hours and environment

Many interior designers are self-employed, setting their own working hours that may include evenings and weekends. Part-time work is possible.

The work is based in design studios, although a lot of time is spent on site. Self-employed interior designers may work from home, travelling to visit clients and sites. Designers in some companies travel abroad to work with international clients.

When supervising building works, designers need to wear protective clothing including a hard hat and overalls.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Salaries for junior interior designers may be between £15,000 and £26,000 a year.
  • With experience, interior designers may earn £30,000 or more a year.
  • A senior designer may earn up to £75,000 or more a year.

Freelance designers set their own hourly rates or agree a fee for a project.

Skills and personal qualities

An interior designer needs:

  • creativity and imagination
  • an eye for design, including colour, and good 3D awareness
  • the ability to visualise concepts and explain them to others
  • good drawing and computer-aided design (CAD) skills
  • good organisational skills to ensure each project is completed on time and within budget
  • an understanding of building and health and safety regulations
  • awareness of technical building issues and the range of relevant products and materials available
  • strong communication and negotiation skills
  • the ability to cost out projects and work within budgets
  • self-motivation and discipline, especially if self-employed.

Interests

It is important to be interested in:

  • changing trends in design and architectural history
  • the processes involved in architecture and construction.

Getting in

The main employers are design consultancies and architectural practices. Some interior designers are self-employed.

Opportunities exist throughout the UK. The biggest concentration of consultancies is in the south east of England. There are good opportunities for interior designers, but competition for places can be keen.

Vacancies may be found in trade publications, such as Design Week and Architects' Journal and on specialist design and interior websites. Many jobs are unadvertised, so networking and making speculative applications can be useful.

Entry routes

Almost all interior designers will have an art- or design-based Higher National Diploma (HND), foundation degree or degree. This may be in interior design or in a related subject such as 3D design, graphic design, fashion and textile design, architecture or fine art. Courses are available at universities and colleges across the UK. The British Institute of Interior Design website lists several universities that offer interior design courses.

For a degree, a minimum of two A levels are usually required, including at least one art-related subject, as well as five GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications. For an HND, entry requirements are usually a minimum of one A level in an art and design subject with three or four GCSEs (A*-C) or a BTEC National Diploma/Certificate in a relevant subject, such as 3D design, or equivalent. An Access course in art and design is available for those without the usual entry requirements.

Many students take a one-year Foundation Diploma in art and design before applying for a degree or diploma course. This is a useful way to try a variety of art and design subjects, and build up a portfolio of work.

A two-year foundation degree in interior design is also available, which includes 16 weeks' work experience. Entry requirements vary, but are usually similar to those for an HND. Students may be able to transfer to the third year of an honours degree course.

There are a number of alternative courses at different levels, including City & Guilds courses, in creative techniques in design for interiors and CAD skills. Several private providers offer intensive one-year diploma courses.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work.

A design consultancy or architectural practice may offer a trainee post to candidates without a degree or diploma, although they would expect the applicant to demonstrate a high level of relevant experience, flair and enthusiasm.

It is important to have a portfolio of varied designs to present to potential clients and employers. A work placement, paid or unpaid, in the field is invaluable for building experience and contacts. Employers often expect new entrants to be familiar with all the major computer design software.

Training

Besides on-the-job training, employers may offer short courses in specific areas such as presentation skills and using CAD and other IT packages.

Interior designers are expected to keep up to date with new trends and products. They may attend trade fairs and exhibitions.

Designers who have completed a diploma or degree in interior design are eligible for associate membership of the British Institute of Interior Design. They may apply for full membership after six years' practice. It is also possible, on assessment, to gain membership of the Chartered Society of Designers.

Postgraduate degrees and diplomas are available in specialised areas of interior design.

Getting on

With substantial experience, it is possible to progress to partner status within a consultancy. After building a reputation, many interior designers choose to become self-employed or work on a freelance basis.

Interior designers may move into related areas, such as theatre set design, exhibition design or design management.

There may be opportunities for interior designers to work overseas.

Further information

British Institute of Interior Design (formerly BIDA), Units 109-111 The Chambers, Chelsea Harbour, London SW10 0XF. 020 7349 0800. Website: www.biid.org.uk

Chartered Society of Designers (CSD), 1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard, Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA. 020 7357 8088. Website: www.csd.org.uk

Creative & Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Websites: www.ccskills.org.uk and www.creative-choices.co.uk

Design Council, 34 Bow Street, London WC2E 7DL. 020 7420 5200. Website: www.designcouncil.org.uk

Inchbald School of Design, 7 Eaton Gate, London SW1W 9BA. 020 7730 5508. Website: www.inchbald.co.uk

KLC School of Design,503 Design Centre East, Chelsea Harbour, London SW10 0XF. 020 7376 3377. Website: www.klc.co.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

 

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