Recently, I had a young, eighteen-year-old, interior designer hopeful ask me how she should go about taking first steps in an interior design career. You know...how to get a foot in the door.
A few years ago I wrote posts on this topic, but I thought I might share with you the response I sent her, as I realize there are lots of people out there with this dream of becoming an interior designer. (Remember: she’s 18 and, therefore, doesn’t have much life or work experience under her belt yet.
Here’s what I wrote:
At your age, I would look at college programs and education as a good place to start. If you are planning to go to college, a school with an accredited program is the best way to go, as it will give you the best training for more options after you graduate. I had accredited training in college and ended up working in an architectural firm when I left school, which made for a great background in design for me. I would've never gotten that job if I hadn't had training and college education.
There are other courses you can likely take locally, maybe at a junior college if you can't do a full college degree. One option I'd recommend is to get some good CAD training, as well as other software training. You don't need a full degree to be proficient in the tools we use every day. There are other programs we use to create drawings: Revit, Google Sketch Up, Photoshop, etc. Getting a proficiency in these or similar programs can get you right in the door of some design firms. All working designers need help creating drawings and digital storyboards, and that help is typically hired out. It could be either as regular employment OR as a freelance position, where you can work for multiple designers or firms doing the work on your own computer at home.
Many times designers need help with their marketing, websites, image management, etc., and might hire that out, just like the work I mentioned above. Social media marketing is the way that designers are often getting good business opportunities these days. Helping a designer with their Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts might be a good foot in the door. You have to be knowledgeable at this, though, and be able to present the designer's work in a proper way. If you're going into the business at all, in any way, you should learn who are the major players in the industry, then follow and study what they are doing right now on these social channels. Many designers don't use these tools effectively and need help.
You can always get into the field by working in the showrooms of suppliers and vendors. If you're in a big city with a design center, you could apply for job openings at showrooms. You can work in their sample rooms, etc., doing anything just to learn the products and processes designers use in the business. You could work your way up in the ranks and do showroom work or sales, meeting lots of designers who visit every day. This could be a furnishings showroom in a design center, but it could be other products as well, such as: tile showrooms, stone yards, decorative hardware, lighting showrooms, flooring stores, cabinetry vendors, etc. These are all products we use regularly, and I guarantee you'd be exposed to the business and learn a lot about products. You'd meet people who would then be able to connect with you later on down the road.
This career can be very difficult. There's not a lot of money in it compared to other professions unless you get into high end design for the ultra rich. Even then, it can be fraught with problems. It's not easy to make it in this business as competition is huge. I have to say, if you need a steady income and like helping people, you might consider health care. As baby boomers age, this is the professional arena that I think will grow. You can get into design later on in life, like many people do, perhaps when you have some life experience under your belt and some money coming in elsewhere or, perhaps, saved up.
This is just a kind warning: I see lots of young designers who graduate from school or break into the biz only to discover it's not what they imagined, and no one ever told them how hard it would be to make a living. I'm just sharing my experience and what I know from exposure to lots of other designers out there in the business. Not to burst your bubble, but... Be prepared! The road ahead is not easy.
Good luck with your start!”
I know some of you are reading this thinking…
“You don’t have to go to college to become a successful designer! Look at Kelly Wearstler! Look at...”
I know. There are lots. (Well, there are a few. :-)
If you don’t choose education or related work in the field, then you need other things going for you, much like the big ones who’ve made it in this field already without college education. You need family or friend contacts for projects, financial support of your spouse, or you need to have come into interior design via a related industry or field that would give you a step-up in the business. There are many design bloggers out there who have become designers, which is also a path that is possible. They spent a lot of time blogging and studying the work of other designers prior to going out on their own. Developing an audience of followers is powerful and can really enable you to have a lot of options for your future.
I have to say that, while maybe 8-10 years ago, blogging about design was a way of getting into interior design, I think that growing a blog or social media following to a size that would matter anymore is getting to be as difficult as interior design. You have to be creative and find new ways to expose your talent and knowledge to attract clients and business.
How do you expose your knowledge if you really only have desire at this point? That’s why anyone needs some experience and education, first. And with education I mean some type of study or exposure in the business. I personally preferred a proper education, and I prefer that in whom I hire and work with.
These above are a just a few suggestions.
There are as many paths to the career of interior designer as there are designers. (Or so I would imagine.) Listening to some of the podcasts out there now is a good way to discover how other designers have gotten into the business of interior design.
Here are two good ones:
Designers: I’ve got a few informational products for interior designers regarding budgets and specifications. If you’re an interior designer and have struggled with how your projects price out, or with getting the right notes in your specs so you don’t lose your shirt in a construction project, you might want to check these out below: