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Alternative Jobs With an Interior Design Degree

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Creativity and artistic ability are two skills necessary to become an interior designer. If you have a degree in interior design but are looking for other interior design career opportunities, both of these skills will translate easily into other vocations. With basic skills in your toolkit, designers can branch out from the traditional role of designing home interiors to working in corporate environments, marketing companies, the real estate field or focusing on an area of the business that meets specialized needs.

Learn Basic Design Skills

Whichever career specialty you choose, you will first need to master the basics of interior design. While earning a degree is not essential in every situation, many firms will want designers to have a bachelor's degree or, at the very least, some formal courses in interior design. Some of the course topics should include:

  • Modern Architecture
  • Space Planning
  • History of Building Types and Design Styles
  • Drawing and the use of CAD (computer-aided drawing)
  • Color Theory
  • How to Integrate Textiles and Fabrics
  • Furniture, Art and Decor
  • Lighting
  • The Business of Interior Design (working with clients, building a portfolio)

Depending on where you live, you may need to pursue certification to work in your state of residence as a licensed interior designer. For states that require licensure to call yourself an "interior designer," you will most likely need to pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. If you choose to pursue one of the many alternative careers for interior designers, you may need to take additional courses to work in a specialized area. Obtaining a certificate in a specialty area such as bathrooms, lighting or landscape architecture will allow you to demonstrate your unique qualifications within the field to potential clients.

Interior Designer Job Description

There are several basic tasks that fall under an interior designer job description, and many of these duties will also transfer into related careers. The major tasks include:

  • Work with the client to understand their goals and needs; create a vision for their space
  • Draw up plans, provide samples of furniture, fabrics, colors, etc.
  • Create a timeline for the project and estimate costs 
  • Order materials 
  • Work with contractors to complete installation of walls, plumbing, electric outlets, etc.
  • Install design elements and decor
  • Ensure client is happy with the project result

In general, the skills of vision creation, design, materials acquisition, project management and customer relations will all be utilized no matter which specific field you choose. In fact, some interior designers begin as a generalist and then, as they discover a passion for an area of specialty, they make the career transition.

Stage Homes for Sale

One niche specialty within the interior design field is to develop a business staging homes for sale. Homeowners want to get top dollar for their homes when they put them on the market and a professional home stager can help them achieve their goal. Teaching owners to declutter their spaces, arrange furniture in an eye-catching manner and decorating the home to achieve a warm, welcoming atmosphere often helps a home sell not only faster, but closer to the asking price. Home staging professionals may also recommend and get involved in making minor cosmetic repairs to the home or upgrades to the front of the home to increase curb appeal.

Design Exhibitions or Store Displays

Other interior design career opportunities may exist in the retail world where creative skills are utilized to market products or services to consumers. A designer with strong artistic and drawing skills may find their calling as a designer of exhibition spaces or store displays. If you have ever attended any type of specialty convention, you likely have seen the large, colorful displays at every business booth. Each element is carefully designed to communicate a corporate message and drive consumers to purchase products.

This profession integrates skills that combine to tell a story. Utilizing interior design, architecture, visual and sensory aids, multimedia and 3D images, businesses communicate their message through elaborate and often interactive displays. In addition to retail establishments, enterprises such as museums, parks and entertainment venues utilize professionals with these skills.

Design Showroom or Museum Lighting

Along the same lines, an exhibition designer may specialize in the area of lighting. A lighting designer will have the expertise to know different types of lighting and how to use it to best enhance a showroom or exhibit. They understand the various moods that different types of bulbs and fixtures can create, how to wire an exhibit to code and how to place light fixtures to improve visibility and complement each element within a display. This is one area where additional certification and education may be required.

Opportunities in this field include working in a retail showroom creating floor displays, providing lighting for exhibitions in museums or even designing lighting enhancements to an outdoor space.

Head Outdoors as a Landscape Design Architect

Even though interior designers by definition tend to work on enhancing indoor living spaces, some of the latest trends in design include expanding living spaces to outdoor areas of the home. Therefore, interior design career opportunities are also expanding to include helping homeowners and businesses create beautiful outdoor spaces in which to live and work.

Designers apply principles of aesthetics and color and then utilize various types of materials to design seating areas, water features, terraced lawns and gardens, lighted decks and gazebos and even build outdoor kitchen and dining areas. Designers who pursue this area of specialization may need to enhance their education with courses in horticulture.

Specialize in Corporate or Healthcare Spaces

Another area of specialization for designers is to focus on corporate spaces. This might mean designing corporate office buildings, large retail spaces such as malls or even healthcare facilities or doctors' offices. In a corporate office building, a designer might establish the tone for the complex by creating relaxing waiting areas in the lobby or in community areas on each floor. They might be in charge of selecting carpeting, elevator decor, paintings in the lobby and the style of the signs throughout the building.

It is also important to create spaces that will allow employees to do their best work. Well-placed desks that have access to electrical outlets, well-lighted workspaces, conference rooms with wiring that can accommodate technology needs and comfortable break rooms are all within the scope of possible design responsibilities.

Within a healthcare space, the focus is to create a professional yet comforting environment. Designers can focus on creating a relaxing space in which patients can receive care. Accommodations need to be made for both medical equipment as well as furnishings that provide a home-like presence.

Design Sustainable Living and Work Spaces

As design trends go, it is increasingly popular to create sustainable building and spaces utilizing green products. Designers in this field seek to include materials and design elements in their building projects that are environmentally friendly. Spaces might include the latest in energy-efficient lighting, flooring made from cork or recycled materials and plant installations that work to increase clean air and the use of natural light. Working in this field will require staying on top of the latest information in the sustainable living industry.

Design Universal Environments for Accessibility

For those looking to go beyond the aesthetics of the design industry and apply their creativity to practically helping individuals in need, a career in design that creates accessible environments for disabled persons may be a good choice. Designers who specialize in this area can either create rooms and homes from scratch or renovate existing homes to make them more user-friendly and accessible.

The addition of ramps, railings and showers are only the beginning. Considerations such as furniture placement, lower counters that accommodate a wheelchair and attractive options for beds that don't sacrifice style for function are ways that these designers aid individuals who have special physical space requirements.

Restoration and Preservation

Designers that have an interest in historic buildings and architecture may be interested in a career in restoration and preservation. Historic buildings that are being saved from deterioration or possible demolition need to be renovated and restored to their period form. Designers need to have a background in history and architecture as well as specific knowledge of what appropriately represents each time period. An understanding of period paint colors, decorative items and household wares, fabric and decor styles of specific eras of history are necessary to recreate authentic reproductions.

Again, specific and specialized training in this niche area may be required. Restoring the interiors of historic landmarks requires that work is done in accordance with government regulations. Designers also need to be aware of local zoning laws and regulations that stipulate what types of materials may be used in order to maintain historical accuracy.

Some designers may choose to work with private clients who own historic homes and wish to modernize their living spaces while maintaining the character of the original home. Here, a variety of skills can be used to achieve results that combine the convenience of modern-day appliances and technology while retaining the charm of a historic building.

Interior Designer Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for an interior designer in 2018 was $57,060. Job availability in the field is expected to grow by four percent between 2018 and 2028. Designers who respond to consumer concerns for environmentally friendly spaces that are more easily accessible will be the most employable. Other degree-holders may need to branch out into related fields.

Interior Designers salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $97,920 ($47.08/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $57,060 ($27.43/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $33,020 ($15.88/hour)

Closely Related Career Opportunities

As employment outlooks change or passions and interests fluctuate, those with a degree in interior design may choose to move on to a career in a closely related field. Because of the skills already learned, some of these transitions will be fairly easy. For example, because designers must be adept at drawing and have a thorough knowledge of design and layout, moving into the graphic design field should be a smooth transition. Similarly, those who are heavily interested in art can move toward becoming a craft artisan or multimedia animator.

In the same way, having a degree in interior design may pave the way for moving into a position as an art director for a publication or finding employment as a web designer. Additional coursework in art or computer programming may be necessary, but many of the fundamental skills necessary for these positions have already been learned and developed.

Interior designers who are interested more in working with the bones of a building may wish to transition into construction or architectural design. Again, additional skills will have to be studied and applied, but the primary design skills already learned and developed will only serve to enhance the new career.


Elisabeth Natter has been writing news and information articles for over 15 years. She has done public relations work for several nonprofit organizations and currently writes content for business clients of her suburban Philadelphia communications company. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Temple University.

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