How To: Get Into Interior Design
Just finished college or university? Or want to start a new career altogether? You are probably asking “how do I get into interior design?”. We are here to help. From 'education to improving your skillset to finding your first job. This blog post will help steer you onto the right track and provide guidance into the world of interior design. The British Institute of Interior Design (BIID)'s website is another great tool for budding interior designers, from selecting accredited universities to job advertisements to CPD industry events, see more via: biid.org.uk.
In design studios worldwide, you will find people with varied training and educational backgrounds, illustrating both passion and aptitude. Some have an MA in interior design, others a BA in architecture or attended independent design schools such as KLC School of Design, Inchbald School of Design or The Interior Design School. Each contributes differing quality and abilities, yet everyone has some form of qualification related to design.
Interior Stylist or Interior Designer or Interior Architect?
So, you know what you want to do and what you are passionate about but have no idea how to define it. The definition between interior stylists, interior designers and interior architects are a little loose, and often confused. Firstly, there is a big difference between the three professions. To sum up the difference in one word — Training. In the design industry, interior designers and interior architects are well versed in AutoCAD and most recently, Revit. Whereas interior stylists are well versed in Excel and InDesign alongside more tactile/conceptual skills such as sample and mood boards.
The discussion centres on the blurring of the lines that define the role and responsibilities of each profession: where does the interior design of a space end and architecture begin, and vice versa? There have been a number of factors over the last few decades that have increased the ambiguity of these titles, including the improvement of interior design education. This has in turn increased the scope of the profession and led many interior designers to becoming more involved with architectural and technical aspects of interior design, and less with the decorative, soft furnishings side. And vice versa.
Here are a few quick definitions on each job title:
Interior stylists do not require formal training as they focus primarily on aesthetics and do not generally take part in structural planning or construction documentation. They often come in after construction and renovations are complete and focus on the aesthetic qualities of the space. However, it is important to note that even though formal training is not required, interior stylists craft their skills over years of practical experience and international travel.
What They Do
Photoshoots for editorial and advertising, trend forecasting, artistic/creative direction, marketing suite styling and show home styling. You will often find stylist contributions in popular home magazines such as Elle Decoration and Living Etc, also collaborating with brands for advertising campaigns.
Who They Work With
Interior stylists work with magazine and brands for editorial projects. However, stylists also work with developers and architects/designers to furnish and style show homes or marketing suites, like Cereal Magazine's collaboration with Greenwich Peninsula. They also work with furniture makers, upholsterers, and other industry professionals to aid their projects - these relationships are key to the success of a project.
Interior design is a profession that requires specific education and formal training. The work involved usually includes software training, drawing, space planning, furniture/joinery design, architecture and more. Upon graduating, designers often work for an established design studio before moving on to create their own companies. Some interior designers choose to be a member of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), which offers different levels of membership:
Associate, £245 + VAT per year
BIID Registered Interior Designer £395 + VAT per year.
What They Do
Furniture specification, concept design, design management, programming, spatial planning, technical drawing (including joinery design), site management and client management. Understanding of building systems and components, building regulations, equipment, materials and furnishings.
Who They Work With
Interior designers work with developers, contractors and architects to design a range of projects from residential homes, offices, hotels, restaurants and more. Most interior designers will prefer either small or large scale projects.
Under the 1997 Architects Act, it is illegal in the UK to refer to yourself as an Interior Architect unless you have had the education, training and experience needed to become an architect (RIBA Part 1 to 3). You also need to be registered with the Architects Registration Board, which is the UK's statutory regulator of architects. In the UK, interior architects do everything architects do except that they start with an existing structure.
What They Do
Room layouts, architectural detailing, building regulations and planning applications. Interior architects are often required to have a higher level and wider variety of software skills, outside of the basics. For example, instead of the AutoCAD or Vectorworks plus Photoshop, InDesign and Sketchup, as taught on interior design course. Revit, Cinema4D and 3DS Max will be taught on an architecture or interior architecture degree.
Who They Work With
Interior architects work with contractors on structural and/or technical elements of buildings internally. Usually on larger projects involving technical as well as artistic and aesthetic skills, they have an important say during all stages of the construction process due to their training.
Source: Cereal Magazine Greenwich Peninsula, Photography: Rich Stapleton
Education Education Education!
Where shall I study and what should I study?
Professional design is a process not just intuition, which is why we recommend that anyone interested in becoming an interior designer should undertake education/training in interior design. The preferred route is a three-year degree in interior design, interior architecture or architecture (RIBA approved). However, in addition to universities, many independent schools offer interior design courses including KLC School of Design and The Interior Design School, these schools also offer a vital source of potential work shadowing, internships and employment due to their industry links.
KLC School of Design is a great start for aspiring interior designers and interior stylists. They offer a range of interior design degrees, interior design diplomas, short courses or day courses. If you want to work for the likes of Kelly Hoppen, Helen Green, David Collins etc, this route is highly recommended due to the course content and industry links. The following courses are accredited by the BIID:
- Diploma Interior Design (Full Time) (validated and awarded by the University of Brighton)
- Diploma Interior Design (Blended Learning) (validated and awarded by the University of Brighton)
- FdA Interior Design (validated and awarded by the University of Brighton)
If you already have some experience in interior design, we recommend trying out one of KLC’s short courses, here are some recommendations:
- Colour Workshops (three days)
- Lighting Workshops (two days)
- Planning Spaces (two days)
- Introduction to Kitchen Design (one day)
- Introduction to Bathroom Design (one day)
- Introduction to Technical Drawing (one day)
Please note: Some Short Courses require previous experience or specific skills as specified under “Course Suitability”. If you do not have the required suitability, you will not be able to participate in the course fully and, in some circumstances, may not be allowed to attend the workshop. If in doubt, please check with KLC School of Design.
If you want to work in interior architecture or as an interior designer in an architecture studio, we would recommend a BA degree at a university rather than an independent design school. Studio Gabrielle's director, Louise Parker, studied RIBA Part I accredited architecture (BA Hons) at the wonderfully creative De Montfort University in Leicester. See other university recommendations from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) here.
Questions to Ask
We recommend that you thoroughly research any course you are considering and ask some (or all) of the following questions:
- What is the course content?
- What study support will you receive?
- Who are the course tutors/lecturers and what are their qualifications?
- If the course is not offered by a university is it validated by a university?
- Where have previous graduates gone on to work?
- What support is offered in terms of organising work placements, internships or employment assistance?
How do I get the job?
It is difficult to find your first position and start gaining experience. The best first step is to move in the same circles as designers and that’s easier than you think, you can join the professional body, the BIID, as a student for free. By doing so you can attend their annual conference, take part in competitions and enrol for CPD courses. Designers will get to know you, so when applying for positions seen on the BIID Jobs board, you are not just another applicant. Do send speculative applications through email, they are welcome but you will have to stand out, generic letters especially those addressed “To whom it may concern” don’t. Highlight the skills that you can bring, maybe even the life experience that might contribute to you being a good designer.
Build your portfolio and CV. This is your one and only selling tool, so make it count. Try not to go wacky or garish with colour, keep it clean and minimal so they are focused on your work and skills. Leave as much white space, let the content breathe, take tips from graphic designers on Pinterest to see the way they set out their pages. See our top portfolio tips below:
- Limit to 20-30 pages - an average interview lasts between 30-60 minutes, think how many minutes of 'speaking time' per page.
- Start with your second best work.
- End with your first best work. End with a great impression.
- Keep a consistent look with typeface, layout and colour/s.
- Easy to view - lay out your portfolio so that it's easy to look through
- Labelled - each piece of work should be labelled with its project title or brief.
- Illustrate your breadth of experience and software skills.
Internships and Work Experience
If you can, try and get an internship. Internships, long or short, give you industry experience. It will also allow you to find out if this is the right career for you. It means that you start from the bottom and you get access to amazing talent in the real world. You can also then add the work you completed at the internship to your portfolio to show to future potential employers.
What is 'work experience'?
Work experience generally involves a student or recent graduate spending a short period of time with an employer, during which he or she has an opportunity to learn directly about working life and the working environment, often by "shadowing" an employee. Work experience is usually unpaid save for expenses.
What is an 'internship'?
There is no official or agreed definition of what an internship or intern is. However, interns tend to be graduates or undergraduates in their penultimate year of study who choose to join a structured programme of work. Internships tend to last longer than work experience, often lasting for months rather than weeks.
Where to Find a Job
You can find job advertisements everywhere but here are the best places to look, instead of heading straight to a recruiter.
Show Me The Money!
How much will you get paid? Of course, this depends on many factors including education, work experience, the size of the firm/company and location. A designer employed by a furniture company will most likely make less than a designer employed by a high-end architectural firm. Starting salaries for junior designers range from £20,000 to £25,000 per annum. Experienced interior designers (2 years post grad and above) earn between £25,000 and £40,000. Senior designers can earn £45,000 and above, whilst directors can earn up to £75,000 and above. Salaries vary widely and depend on location and experience.
Junior Designers are those who have recently graduated or have 2 years experience in the workplace.
Middleweight Designers are those who have between 2-4 years experience.
Senior Designers are those who have more than 4 years experience.
Graduate (Junior) £20,000 (Low P/A) £21,000 (Avg P/A) £25,000 (High P/A)
1 year Post Grad (Junior) £25,000 (Low P/A) £26,000 (Avg P/A) £27,000 (High P/A)
2 years Post Grad (Junior – Middleweight) £27,000 (Low P/A) £28,000 (Avg P/A) £29,000 (High P/A)
**All salaries exclude benefits.
Please note, salaries do vary from company to company and this information should be used as a guide only.
Source: Cereal Magazine Greenwich Peninsula, Photography: Rich Stapleton
Do you need more advice on how to get into interior design? Ask us in the comments below or email us firstname.lastname@example.org and don't forget to follow us on Instagram @studiogabrielleuk.