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Complete Guide to an Online Interior Design Degree

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Quick Facts
Accreditation: CIDA and the NASAD
Available Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Certificate
Avg Tuition: $24,690
Avg Salary: $66,331
Certification: Available but not required.
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An online interior design degree will train students to create aesthetically pleasing spaces in homes and businesses while meeting the needs of clients for whom they are working. Interior designers are required to design, sketch, analyze, create, and communicate effectively. If you have a creative and aesthetic sensibility, along with the ability to see the big picture and solve problems, then you might enjoy a career in interior design.

Licensing requirements for interior designers vary state-by-state, so prospective students should check with their state’s regulatory board. A careful look at accreditation and licensing requirements is important for prospective students. The key accrediting agencies relevant to a career in interior design are the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). These degrees will best prepare graduates for their career. Read More

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Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Interior Design Degree

Overview of Available Online Interior Design Degrees

An online associate degree in interior design can be useful for those with or without an undergraduate degree; some programs focus on general education and design classes, while others focus only on professional skills. Students receive an introduction to the major realms of interior design, including retail, residential, hospitality, and workplace design. Along with a work-experience requirements, accredited associate programs can prepare students to sit for the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.

An online bachelor’s in interior design can provide a more in-depth introduction to the field. In addition to the necessary creative and technical skills, these programs cover the business skills required to become a designer. Courses typically cover building codes, interior design theory, computer-aided design, and communication skills. Many bachelor’s programs include optional specializations in particular design areas, such as sustainable design or historic preservation.

Online master’s degrees in interior design can be used by non-designers to gain the credentials to enter the field; current interior designers can use the program to specialize or expand their skills. Most master’s interior design programs require a written thesis or thesis project in a design area. Possible specializations within the program include architectural framework, bath and kitchen design, healthcare design, or sustainable design. Doctorate interior designer degrees are usually aimed at preparing professionals for teaching interior design education at the university level, or for high-level government or research positions. In these programs, students learn how to conduct interior design research and study peer-reviewed literature.

Certificate programs in interior design introduce students to the basic architecture, design, and art skills required in this field. Interior design certificates are available as undergraduate and graduate programs. Applicants need a high school diploma or bachelor's degree, depending on the level of the certificate. Most programs require about one to two years of coursework and 15-60 credit hours of classes.

Online Associate Degrees in Interior Design

An associate degree program is the minimum education level available in the field of interior design, and it requires two years of full-time study at a design school, community college, or online institution. Students must complete about 60 to 64 credit hours and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Students must choose an accredited associate interior designer degree program in order to meet eligibility requirements to sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.

Schools may offer an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree, which enable graduates to enter the workforce immediately after graduation, or Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Science (AS) degrees, which typically require students to transfer to a bachelor's degree program. Students are provided foundational principles that help them get an idea of their responsibilities in the field. Core subjects that are discussed often include kitchen and bath design, drafting, color theory, computer-aided drafting, lighting design, and the history of architecture and furniture.

Students who've obtained an associate degree in interior design may be qualified for jobs as design assistants in architectural firms, construction companies, and private studios. To be competitive in entry-level positions, students should plan to go on to complete a bachelor's degree program. Managerial roles, as well as consulting and teaching positions, usually require the pursuit of a graduate degree.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Interior Design

The bachelor's interior design degree online program covers the foundational art, design, and architecture skills for developing interior spaces. These programs are four-year degrees and require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED. Though no interior design experience is necessary, some art experience is helpful when applying to more competitive interior design programs.

The bachelor's curriculum in interior design discusses color theory, design theory, the history of design, choosing a theme, utilizing space, and designing for commercial buildings. Most programs encourage students to participate in an internship in a design or architecture firm. Earning a bachelor's degree in interior design will also require a number of classes in general education areas, such as math, science, English, and business communications. Some schools also have foreign language requirements. An interior design department might require art or art history courses to contribute to a student's general creative development.

With a bachelor's degree in interior design, graduates may qualify for entry-level positions in their field. Many designers have the goal of becoming self-employed designers who contract to work on individual projects, in order to exercise control over their schedule and the kinds of jobs they take. Other designers work in specialized design firms, architectural and engineering services, and home furnishing stores. Depending on their state's certification requirements, graduates may have to complete two or more years of professional work before they can become licensed interior designers.

Online Master's Degrees in Interior Design

Interior design master's programs provide training in advanced design areas and the opportunity to specialize in a particular type of interior design. Two-year master's degrees require students to complete 36-40 credit hours in order to graduate. While not all programs require the undergraduate major to be in interior design, many require the submission of an art or design portfolio to establish evidence of creative skill.

A master's interior designer degree focuses on in-depth theories and design applications for interior spaces. Most programs are research intensive and enable students to study independently. Common courses include computer graphics, advanced lighting, history and theory of design, sustainable design, business, advanced marketing, computer-aided design (CAD), human behavior, and vernacular design and cultural factors. The master's degree usually requires the completion of a thesis, along with the information-based coursework. During the thesis, students will likely develop an original interior design for a particular space in order to utilize all the skills they have learned during the degree.

Those who obtain interior designer master's degrees can work as interior designers in environments such as private studios, interior design or architecture firms, and upscale home improvement stores. Graduates of accredited programs with at least two years of professional experience may sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam; this exam is required in some states before designers can use the "interior designer" title. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that designers who specialize their skills in a particular area, such as healthcare or kitchen and bath design, may have better job opportunities. (BLS)

Online Doctoral Degrees in Interior Design

The interior design PhD, or doctorate, allows current designers to study advanced theory and practice relating to the design of interior spaces, and it requires them to pursue a dissertation, or research project, of their choice within the design field. The doctoral interior design degree program is offered through schools of design at a variety of traditional colleges, art institutes, and online colleges and universities. The length of the degree depends on the applicant's credentials; most programs take three to five years.

The interior design coursework trains students to shape their own research project and prepares them for future positions as design faculty members, researchers, or advanced practitioners. Courses in topics like design research and assessment, quantitative research methods, statistical methods, and qualitative research provide students with the tools to do sound design research. Students also take advanced courses in areas like human factors in design, environmental design, and design and globalization. The dissertation project focuses on a particular angle of interior design, such as sustainability or cultural anthropology and design.

The interior design PhD is a research and teaching program and is thus aimed at designers who want to pursue a career in academia after graduation. In many colleges and universities, tenure-track faculty positions are highly competitive, and applicants will be required to possess a doctorate. The PhD also allows current designers to further distinguish their niche in interior design, which can be useful for demonstrating their commitment to professional practice.

Online Certificates in Interior Design

There are two general types of interior design online certification programs. The first is for students who are looking to earn formal education in this field. Although most interior design positions require students to have at least a bachelor’s degree, it is possible to find a formal education certificate program in interior design or in some specialized area in this field. The vast majority of interior design online certificate programs, however, are for professionals who have already completed their formal education requirements to work in this field.

These online certificates are usually voluntary and provide an excellent way to demonstrate professional commitment to the discipline or just to expand or hone your skills. Many designers choose to earn certification in a particular area, such as the kitchen or bathroom design, to show clients their expertise in these rooms of the home.

Most organizations that offer online certification in interior design are professional or trade associations that specialize in a particular aspect of interior design. These programs are similar to formal degree programs, except for the fact that they are considerably shorter and do not require students to fulfill any general education requirements. Students will study specific coursework and usually have to pass an examination to earn a certificate. For instance, the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers professional certification in varying aspects of domestic applications for interior design. Two other examples of professional organizations that offer certification in different aspects of interior design include the American Society of Interior Designers and the International Interior Design Association.

Online computer-aided design (CAD) certification is another option for interior designers looking to develop their careers. Because a lot of technical interior design work entails CAD software and tools, earning this certification is another good way to improve your resume. CAD certification programs are available to professionals or students looking to obtain formal education within this discipline, and most have eligibility requirements that are similar to those of interior design certificate programs. For example, the American Design Drafting Association requires that applicants pass the Drafter Certification Test to earn professional certification. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges accredits programs that offer formal education certificates in CAD and related subjects.

What Students Will Learn in an Online Interior Design Program

Interior design is an interdisciplinary subject, which means the skills required to be a successful interior designer draw on principles from the fields of fine art, architecture, construction, psychology, and information technology. While the exact course requirements, subjects, and level of technicality will vary depending on whether you attend an online undergraduate, graduate, or certificate interior design program, each one will work toward a common goal of helping students develop the creative and technical skills they need to become successful interior designers.

Online interior designer degrees are available through art and design schools, community colleges, vocational schools, and traditional colleges and universities. If you hope to earn a bachelor's degree, it makes sense to take courses through an online school or traditional college for credit. On the other hand, if you simply want to learn a bit about interior design to complement your current profession, then it may make sense to enroll in a certificate program through a community college or vocational school.

Online interior design programs use a few different learning tools to help students master the material. Each school will typically have its own online platform to facilitate learning and enable students to watch video lectures, download assignments, and post questions about the material on class forums. Online video lectures will emphasize design theory and professional practice skills. Many programs require students to use popular computer-aided design software to develop designs. A wide variety of specialization areas exist within the field, so students will have a fair amount of flexibility in terms of what classes they actually take once they complete the core foundational courses.

Here are some examples of courses that may be part of an introduction to the interior design field:

  • Building Systems: An understanding of the major components of building construction, such as plumbing, electrical, and structural systems is important for good design.
  • Color Theory: In this course, students study the color palette and color wheel and the ways in which different color combinations affect people psychologically.
  • Design Principles: This introductory class covers how people relate to the spaces around them and how good design improves this relationship.
  • Drawing and Composition: Students will be introduced to abstract and figurative drawing to encourage experimentation and self-expression.
  • Elements of Design: This is often a two-part course aimed at developing an aesthetic vocabulary by studying visual aspects like line, shape, color, and rhythm.
  • History of Interior Design: This course covers many important movements in interior design, such as English Neoclassicism, the American Federal Period, and Renaissance styles.
  • Interior Design Portfolio: The portfolio course teaches students how to put together a sampling of their strongest design work in print and digital formats.
  • Kitchen Design: This course covers the traffic pattern, lighting, and construction considerations that designers keep in mind when putting together a functional, beautiful kitchen.
  • Lighting Design: Students study different types of illumination and learn how to create lighting plans for residential and commercial spaces.
  • Sustainable Design: Sustainable design covers the many technologies and design decisions that can make a space more environmentally-friendly and efficient.

Advanced courses in an interior designer degree program will include more technical subjects, such as computer-aided drafting (CAD) or other software used for visualization. A comprehensive interior designer degree will also include coursework that directly prepares you for the field, including an introduction to professional etiquette, business structures in the design world, and common practices for working with clients and colleagues. A course in visualization and presentation will help students learn to communicate their ideas, or a course about professional practice will discuss different career specializations in the field, professional associations and networks, ethics and standards, and contractual obligations.

Career Overview

Interior design professionals are skilled at making offices, homes, restaurants, retail environments, and myriad other spaces both functional and appealing. Designers often specialize in certain areas such as residential buildings or commercial buildings, and they can also receive professional accreditation for such specialties as kitchens, bathrooms, and healthcare facilities. Most interior designers are either employed by an architecture or design firm, or they're self-employed. When working for a company that offers interior design services, the clientele will be generated by the company, but when working as a sole proprietor, interior designers must network, market themselves, and find new ways to make professional connections. Your reputation will be the key to your success in this industry, so it's imperative that you follow up with clients after you complete each project.

Obviously, every interior design project is unique and has its own set of requirements, but the following steps provide a general idea of how a project might go, from start to finish:

  1. Meet with a potential client and discuss project goals and parameters, such as budget and personal requirements.
  2. Look at the space with the client and go over any initial ideas on how you both want the space to look. This is also the time when an interior designer will be able to tell the client whether or not their vision for the space matches realistic constraints of space, budget, and time.
  3. Next, the interior designer will sketch ideas for the space. They will also use a computer program to finalize the sketches before presenting them to the client.
  4. Present sketches to the client and go over the time line for the project. Make sure both parties are on the same page and are satisfied enough to move forward. Once plans have been drawn up for a client, interior designers are often responsible for making the following decisions: selecting colors and finishes for furniture and room accessories; choosing appropriate flooring; choosing wall coverings, including paint colors, wallpaper, photographs, and paintings; selecting lighting; and adding any design elements that the client has specified. While working to satisfy their clients, however, interior designers must also take into account construction and building regulations as well as handle business affairs.
  5. Start the project. Here, the interior designer will need to hire contractors and work closely with the design team to make sure that all of the project elements are being implemented correctly. Interior designers work closely with delivery trucks, installers, repairmen, painters, and many other forms of labor during their projects. Because of this, they need to be good at coordinating with others and keeping a team on track. Project management and communication are big parts of the interior designer's job.
  6. Visit with the client after the project is complete to make sure he or she is happy with the outcome.

There are several specialized areas of interest that an interior designer can pursue. Although the overall design process may remain the same, each specialty has its own set of standards. Here are some of the concentrations in which you can put your hard-earned designer degree to use:

  • Commercial Design: This includes interior design for commercial areas settings such as corporate offices, retail stores, restaurants, and churches. The goal for designers specializing in this field is to arrange designs that will accommodate the employees, members, and customers in these public places. Professionals mainly study aspects such as color, furnishings, and artwork to complement a business and create a welcoming atmosphere. Commercial designers supply and arrange materials such as lighting, desk systems, wallpaper, cabinetry, flooring, and window treatment. Most commercial operations reach out to designers when they are relocating, renovating, or branching out.
  • Healthcare Design: Hospitals tend to be the most complicated building types, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. Interior designers must consider a number of factors besides aesthetics when arranging the designs for these facilities, including cost-effectiveness, sanitation, expandability, accessibility, security and durability. All of these needs must be met to support treatment functions, such as emergency rooms, inpatient care, food services and more. When planning their design strategy, many designers are required to adhere to the Guidelines for Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities to ensure the application of best practices. Forty-two states in the United States follow the FGI regulations.
  • Residential Design: Residential design focuses on the homes of individuals. Designers in this arena work out specific designs from kitchen and bath to bedroom and closet space. Sun rooms are also a popular emphasis, particularly for residents of states with mild to hot climates. Additionally, clients may desire to have their basement or attic included in the design process. In residential interior design, the design professional and the client usually formulate what is known as a Residential Interior Design Service Agreement. This contract is usually signed by both parties before any work takes place to guarantee everyone has the same idea on what service will be performed. Many designers also join residential interior design associations, such as the Interior Design Society to showcase their skills to potential customers and confirm their level of competency.

Accreditation and Licensing Requirements for Interior Designers

Students should consider their career aspirations and check with their state's regulatory board for their particular licensing requirements before selecting an online interior designer degree program. In addition to your state's licensing requirements, topics to investigate when selecting an online program include the course curriculum, alumni employment and graduation rates, scholarship opportunities, and most importantly, accreditation. In many states, students must earn a National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certificate before they may legally use the title, “interior designer,” or become licensed. In states that require licensure, professionals may still be able to provide interior design services, but they cannot call themselves licensed interior designers.

To be eligible to sit for the exam and earn an NCIDQ certificate, applicants will need either an associate degree or a bachelor's degree, plus a certain number of completed work hours. NCIDQ offers six detailed combinations of paths to eligibility on their website. Degrees must be granted by an accrediting agency that has been approved by the US Department of Education. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides a list of accredited institutions and accrediting agencies.

Two of the main accrediting agencies for interior design programs in the United States are the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). CIDA provides programmatic accreditation of professionally oriented bachelor's and master's interior design programs. NASAD provides institutional accreditation of colleges and universities that specialize in art and design programs. Schools accredited by CIDA are the most likely to adequately prepare students for work as an interior designer, and degrees from those schools will likely be the most attractive to a potential employer. Students may also choose a regionally accredited interior design program that has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

References

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