An interior and spatial designer is involved in the design or renovation of internal spaces, including structural alterations, furnishings, fixtures and fittings, lighting and colour schemes.
Designs and feasibility studies are produced for commercial, leisure and domestic properties, and the designer oversees the project from beginning to end.
Interior and spatial designers work in a range of different commercial or domestic settings. The job combines the efficient and functional use of space with an understanding of aesthetics. Some designers, particularly in the domestic market, are concerned solely with the appearance, rather than the structure, of the interior.
Interior and spatial designers plan and organise the design of commercial and domestic interiors. Projects may take place in a range of settings, including:
- office spaces and industrial premises;
- retail locations, such as shops, cafés, forecourts;
- leisure spaces, such as hotels, cinema foyers, holiday complexes;
- residential developments;
- domestic properties;
- ships and aircraft;
- public buildings, e.g. museums and civic buildings.
Tasks may include:
- developing initial ideas and acquiring key information about potential projects, discussing requirements in detail with clients (the brief) and setting project schedules;
- understanding clients' needs and the needs of the people using the building, developing design concepts in consultation with the client and establishing final briefs;
- considering materials and costs according to set budgets and negotiating project fees;
- conducting feasibility studies for projects;
- researching and gathering information and photographs relating to the project;
- producing 'sample' or 'mood' boards for presentation to clients;
- sourcing products, e.g. fittings, furniture, lighting, finishes, decoration and dressing, and providing samples for clients;
- preparing detailed working drawings, designs, plans, models and schemes, often using computer-aided design (CAD) software;
- surveying buildings;
- working in a team with other designers;
- supervising work at the design stage and on site;
- working closely with quantity surveyors to establish costs and work schedules on larger projects, with architects and other design professionals to determine the best use of space, and with manufacturers and contractors;
- identifying new business and selling services to potential clients;
- keeping up to date with new developments in the design industry.
In addition,an interior designer may also sometimes act as a project manager for the client throughout the construction stage. This can involve coordinating the design on site and even managing the construction team.
- Starting salaries for junior designers range from £18,000 to £23,000 a year.
- Experienced interior designers earn between £25,000 and £40,000.
- Senior designers can earn £45,000+, while creative/design directors can earn up to £75,000, and sometimes more.
Salaries vary widely and depend on location and your reputation and contacts. It is possible to command high earnings, particularly when there's involvement with high-profile 'prestige' projects.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours typically include regular extra hours but not shifts.
Evening and weekend work should be expected. Since the designer's role is often integral to a larger construction and development process, flexibility with working hours is an accepted norm.
Part-time work is possible. Self-employment and freelance work are common.
What to expect
- Most interior and spatial designers work in studios. Self-employed designers often work from home or from a rented studio.
- Jobs are available in most parts of the UK and tend to follow concentrations of activity in the broader construction industry. There's a predominance of specialist consultancies in London and the South East.
- On-site work requires appropriate dress, which may include a hard hat and overalls.
- Working to completion dates and budgets can be stressful.
- Travel within a working day is frequent and absence from home overnight is sometimes required. Many designers visit exhibitions and trade fairs to keep up with the latest trends.
- There are opportunities to work abroad with some of the larger design consultancies.
Entry to professional interior or spatial design usually requires a relevant degree, foundation degree or HND. The following subjects are preferred:
- spatial design;
- interior design;
- interior architecture;
- 3D design.
Also useful are degrees, foundation degrees or HNDs in:
- furniture design;
- product design;
- textile design;
- graphic design;
- fine art.
Entry without a degree or HND is possible for candidates with significant experience and creative flair.
Pre-entry postgraduate qualifications aren't needed, but specialist courses do exist and can enable you to move into interior/spatial design from another area of art and design. Taking a course in computer-aided design (CAD) or Photoshop may prove useful.
You will need:
- a high level of technical knowledge, including CAD and model-making skills;
- good drawing skills, including perspective drawing and spatial awareness;
- creativity and imagination;
- communication skills, both written and verbal, to write briefs, promote and explain ideas, and build relationships with clients;
- an awareness of building and safety regulations;
- knowledge of the wider construction and design industries;
- project management skills, including the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines;
- attention to detail;
- organisational and creative problem-solving skills;
- good negotiating and management skills;
- teamworking, in order to work with a range of other professionals;
- a flexible attitude;
- business, finance and marketing skills.
Experience of voluntary or part-time work is usually necessary in order to find full-time work. Competition for work experience is strong so it's important to be proactive when looking for opportunities.
Many courses provide students with the opportunity to showcase their work. However, as few graduates are offered work from their degree shows, it's vital to network and take advantage of any opportunities. Make as many contacts as possible during your studies and work experience, as they may be able to help get your career started.
A good way of meeting and making contact with established designers is by joining the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD). There are now many websites where candidates can showcase work to employers and potential clients, for example, Arts Thread.
The demand for good interior designers is steadily rising, although competition remains fierce. Selection is often based on a portfolio that shows your design talent as well as your capacity to get involved in a range of different projects. It's unusual for employers to offer traineeships, and speculative approaches are strongly advised.
Many designers take other jobs before getting design work. There is a large pool of talent to select from, and interior design can be seen as an attractive second career.
Interior and spatial designers usually work for architects or design consultancies (interior or multidisciplinary) in private practice, or for commercial organisations with in-house design departments.
Many work on a freelance basis or are self-employed, although it is uncommon to set up your own business without first getting experience and building up a reputation and a list of contacts.
Clients may be in the public sector, private industry or commerce and include:
- commercial and construction companies;
- companies in the hotel and leisure industries;
- local government bodies;
- theatre, TV and film companies.
Increasingly, opportunities exist working for domestic customers in the expanding field of house interiors. This can include the restoration and/or maintenance of historically important buildings as part of a team comprising conservation officers, architects, designers and other professionals.
Retail outlets selling furnishings, wallpapers, paints, etc. employ in-house designers/customer advisers, although the route into these positions is sometimes via the sales floor and not through formal qualifications in interior design.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Architects' Journal
- British Institute of Interior Design
- Careers in Design
- Design Week
- Network Design
Design directories, such as the Directory of Design Consultants, are useful for identifying design companies to target with a speculative CV or personal call.
Further training is widely considered to be a good way of developing your career and can open up new areas of expertise.
Short courses are run by further education (FE), art and design or private colleges. Relevant professional bodies may also publicise opportunities. It's important to research courses thoroughly to ensure they meet your requirements. Useful subjects to study include:
- computer-aided design (CAD);
- green energy/eco topics;
- lighting or building regulations.
Large consultancies offer on-the-job training, some provide courses on subjects such as negotiation, marketing (particularly branding), website creation, CAD and software packages such as Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator.
Continuing professional development (CPD) courses, including training seminars and workshops are accessible to members of the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD). Members are awarded a professional practice certificate to document this professional development. The CSD also offers a professional portfolio checking and updating service.
Professional practice seminars on a range of subjects including business practice and regulatory matters are available throughout the year to member of the British Institute of Interior Design. Members are required to undertake a certain amount of CPD each year to update personal and professional skills, as well as network and share ideas.
Further study provides the opportunity to experiment, diversify or obtain the specialist knowledge required to progress. Masters and PhDs are available in specialised areas of interior design and related subjects.
Designers interested in running their own practice may undertake business start-up training in associated skills such as finance, marketing and management.
Typically, interior designers spend the first five to ten years of their career developing and building on existing skills and knowledge, as well as gaining further experience. Beyond that, there is no definite or structured career path, and the extent and speed of career progression depends on the setting and your performance, aptitude and dedication.
Newly qualified junior designers tend to work alongside more experienced colleagues. They are typically given responsibility for parts of a project and can also assist with gathering information and putting together 'mood' or 'sample' boards for presentations to clients. This can lead to more responsibility, depending on performance.
Specialisations and further professional qualifications at Masters or PhD level can enhance your chances of promotion, while moving from a larger consultancy to a smaller one can mean more responsibility.
Search for postgraduate courses in interior design.
Freelance work for consultancies, practices or individual clients is possible, as is setting up your own business or becoming a partner in a consultancy.
It's important to build up a portfolio as you progress in your career. This can help both in terms of promotion within a company or consultancy, and in attracting new clients if you're self-employed. The majority of established interior and spatial designers showcase their work online to provide a portal into their services for potential clients.
Designers need to keep up to date with new developments in materials and processes throughout their careers by visiting exhibitions and attending trade fairs. Access to advice, continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities and networking advice and contacts can be provided through membership of professional bodies such as the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) and the British Institute of Interior Design.
A career move into more specialist areas such as lighting design or theatre set design may be an option for those with relevant experience. Other areas of related work include visual merchandising and museum and exhibition design.
Graduates with experience and further postgraduate qualifications can enter the teaching profession, teaching in secondary, further or higher education.