Important Job Skills for Interior Designers

Designer having a Skype meeting
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If you love design, decor, and creating cohesive color schemes, interior design could be an excellent career choice for you. A designer is hired by individuals, companies, and real estate agents to decorate spaces, such as offices, living rooms, or bedrooms. They take into account a client's taste, budget, and the space itself to come up with a look that matches the customer's needs.

As of 2018, interior designers earned a median salary of about $53,470 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Job growth for the decade ending in 2026 is projected at 4%, which is one of the largest growth margins of all the artistic professions. For those willing to steer their interior design efforts toward commercial healthcare facilities, the projected growth is significantly higher.

According to BLS, about 20% of interior designers are self-employed, and more than half worked for specialized design firms or for architectural or engineering firms.

What Kind of Skills Do You Need to be an Interior Designer?

Interior designers typically handle cosmetic changes that may, or may not, be part of a more extensive renovation. For instance, rather than installing new granite countertops or knocking down walls, an interior designer chooses paint colors for the walls, selects the styles of furniture, and coordinates the colors for drapes, curtains, and accent pieces. If more construction work or other extensive renovations are part of the project, the designer also may coordinate with the contractor.

As a general rule, interior design is more comprehensive than interior decorating. While design involves decorating, interior decorators have serious limitations in their ability to advise clients on overall design.

More often than not, an interior designer helps clients with possible major cosmetic changes, including the kind of cosmetic changes to merit contractor work. Some interior designers actually partner with architectural firms, depending on the experience and credentials of the designer.

Types of Interior Design Skills

Communication

As a designer, you will meet with clients to discuss their ideas, so it's essential that you communicate effectively and listen attentively. In addition to working well with clients, you need to be able to communicate with contractors that might be overseeing the broader project and with vendors that might be supplying artwork, furniture, and more.

  • Active Listening
  • Problem Sensitivity
  • Oral Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Presentation
  • Negotiation

Vision

Part of being successful as an interior designer is being able to see what space could be. This can be looking at an empty room or office and envisioning what can work in that space, or it might be looking at a decorated space and imagining something significantly different. Unlike looking at a blank canvas, this requires the ability to see potential in natural lighting, the angles of walls and ceilings, and more.

  • Spatial Awareness
  • Space Planning
  • Room Function
  • Furniture Arrangements
  • Appliance Arrangements
  • Ambiance

Creativity

Keeping up to date on current styles and trends is an important part of the job, as is a knowledge of complementary colors. It's also necessary to be able to translate your artistic eye to a sketch that conveys ideas to clients. A design degree or other certification is helpful, but equivalent experience can be gained through internships or apprenticeships with other designers. Either way, creativity is a must.

  • Color
  • Styles and Trends
  • Innovation
  • Open-minded
  • Brainstorming
  • Collaboration

Flexibility

Interior design is not always a 9-to-5 job. While it can be if most of your clients are businesses, you'll likely have to meet with residential clients in the evening or on weekends on occasion. If working with both business and residential clients, it's obviously necessary that you have enough flexibility to meet at any time.

  • Scheduling
  • Calendar Management
  • Delegation
  • Setting and Managing Expectations
  • Goal-oriented
  • Trustworthy
  • Diligence

Problem-solving

Projects rarely go as smoothly as planned, and you will have to regularly problem solve. Unexpected delays can lead to unexpected expenses. Artwork, furniture, or another item a client wants might suddenly become unavailable, or renovation plans might change for a variety of reasons, leading to necessary changes in the interior design. On top of all of that, clients might prove to be fickle, changing their minds and requiring you to adapt on the fly.

  • Process Management
  • Ongoing Improvement
  • Troubleshooting
  • Project Planning
  • Prioritizing
  • Benchmarking
  • Follow-through

Budgeting

Strong budgeting skills are necessary, especially since many clients will be looking to do as much as possible for as little money as possible. Succeeding in this regard sometimes requires financial creativity as much as it requires design expertise. In addition to being good with numbers, this also is a matter of being good with vendors. For example, if a particular fabric or color is popular at a given time, you likely can buy a higher volume at a lower rate with confidence that you'll be able to use it all.

  • Negotiation
  • Forecasting
  • Transparency
  • Recordkeeping
  • Identifying Hidden Costs

Computer-aided design (CAD)

Technology is a bigger part of interior design than it's ever been in the past. Software programs allow designers to show clients what spaces will look like by creating them digitally. It's important to gain experience with such software to be successful in the field.

  • Archicad
  • Autodesk Revit & 3D Max
  • Vectorworks
  • Live Home 3D
  • AutoCAD
  • Chief Architect
  • SketchUp
  • 3D Homeplanner

More Interior Design Skills

  • Email Management
  • Contracts
  • Mobile Devices
  • Real Estate
  • Consignment
  • Staging
  • Appraisal
  • Inspections
  • Property Safety Codes
  • Networking
  • Comparables
  • Structural Design
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Positivity
  • Bearing
  • Proactivity
  • Compliance
  • Layout
  • Accountability to Design Plans
  • Trimble SketchUp Pro
  • Customer Service
  • Critical Thinking
  • Construction
  • Memory
  • Originality
  • Sketching Plans
  • Zoning Regulations

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Add Relevant Skills to Your Resume: Pay attention to the job description, and use the skills listed above to update your resume. If you are a freelance designer, you may be presenting your resume while also making a bid for a project.

Highlight Skills in Your Cover Letter: Your cover letter will often be the first page of a proposal in the bid process. You may also be asked to provide a portfolio of your past projects.

Use Skill Words in Your Job Interview: When meeting with potential clients or employers, engage in active listening. Ask probing questions. Repeat back to the prospective client/employer what they’re asking of you. You want them to know that you know what they want and need.