Is Interior Design for you?
Areas of Design Specialization
Designers work in a wide range of settings, both commercial and residential. Surveys indicate that a majority of designers practice at least part of the time in both the residential and commercial areas, although they tend to favor one or the other. Because commercial designers must be knowledgeable about their clients’ business needs, most concentrate within d esign specialties, such as designing for the hospitality or health care industries. Some restrict themselves to particular subspecialties, for example, designing restaurants or residential kitchens and baths. A few work in highly specialized fields, like designing interiors for airplanes or yachts, or doing historic conservation or restoration.
Skills for Success
As members of a service profession, interior designers’ fortunes depend on their ability to satisfy clients. Thus, they must possess three important skill sets-artistic and technical skills, interpersonal skills and management skills:
- Designers must know how to plan a space and how to render that plan visually, so that it can be conveyed to the client. They must also be knowledgeable about the materials and products that will be used to create and furnish the space, and about how texture, color, lighting and other factors combine and interact to give a space its “feel” or “look.” In addition, they must understand the structural requirements of their plans, the health and safety issues, building codes, and many other technical aspects.
- Designers must be comfortable meeting and dealing with many kinds of people. They must communicate clearly and effectively, as well as be attentive listeners. Because they often must work collaboratively with architects, contractors, and other service providers, designers need to be both good team leaders and good team players. They must be willing to negotiate and mediate when necessary to resolve problems.
- Designers must have excellent time and project management skills, since they frequently work on more than one project at a time, under demanding deadlines, while looking for new projects or clients. They must be able to develop and execute business plans in order to protect and grow their practices. They need to know how to market themselves to clients, to create informative and persuasive proposals and presentations, and to maintain good client relationships.
Work Settings, Earnings, and Occupational Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, designers of all types are nearly four times as likely to be self-employed as are other specialty professionals. Many work in small firms of one to five employees. The most recent U.S. Economic Census information available, from 1997, calculates 9,612 interior design firms in the U.S., with a total of 33,915 employees-or, about 3.5 employees per firm on average. A number of “large” interior design firms employ 50 or fewer designers. Some employ between 100 and 200, and a very few employ several hundred or more.
Earnings for interior designers vary widely depending on the type of design they do, whether they are self-employed or salaried, years of experience, reputation, demand, regional differences, and other factors. As in many other professions, entry-level salaries are low, and senior practitioners and firm principals or partners often earn several times that of junior staff. Recent surveys indicate that, on average, beginning designers earn about $30,000 a year. Mid-level designers-those with three or more years’ experience-make slightly more, around $35,000 to $40,000. Designers who also demonstrate good project and/or people management skills can command substantially higher salaries ($50,000 to $55,000) as managers. Principals or partners in well-to-do firms may receive $75,000 to $100,000 or more. For additional salary comparisons, go to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or http://www.salary.com.
The demand for design services tends to track with the fortunes of the economy at large. In the current strong economy, demand has been high, and many design firms are finding it difficult to attract and retain talented and experienced employees, especially at the junior level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of designers of all types is likely to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2008. Nonetheless, competition for better-paying design jobs will be keen. Those designers who are better educated and have strong business skills, as well as talent and perseverance, are likely to fare best.