A couple of years ago I wrote the article, Do You Need A Degree in Interior Design?. The advice in that article is the same I'd give today. But today I'd like to talk a little more about this topic because I still get asked all the time if someone should get a degree.
Lately, a lot of those who have been doing the asking are people looking to change careers or are starting back up again after their kids have gotten a little older. They want to know if they need to go back to school.
Here is the bottom line: to run an interior design business you do not need a degree in interior design. What you do need are experience and confidence.
If you don't feel like you have the experience or confidence to start your own design firm, then yes, a degree may be a good idea because it may be able to fill those gaps. A design degree will give you more experience and with a degree in design, you may feel more confident.
Designer vs Decorator
Today, there really isn't a difference in a designer vs a decorator because it is up to the individual what they call themselves. There are no regulations or standards across the industry, except in some states, you can't call yourself "certified" or "licensed" without taking the NCIDQ. So someone who does full-scale, new construction interior design but never got a degree may choose to call themselves a decorator. On the other hand, someone else who only does decoration - furnishings and soft finishes - may choose to call themselves an interior designer.
You can choose what to call yourself and so can everyone else. So the differences in titles in today's interior design industry are irrelevant. Sure there are some designers who get disgruntled by titles, but you can call yourself what you want and what feels right for your business.
Degree or No Degree
So what is the difference between someone who has a degree in interior design and someone who never went to school? Not much, unless you want to go into commercial design or take the NCIDQ exam. Just like any other creative career, you can learn what they teach you in school on your own. You can learn design, materials, general "rules", drawing, computer-aided drafting - all on your own, you can also hire task out (like CAD). How much of your job now is because of the degree you got in college?
If you have a lot of good experience, you probably don't need to go back to school. Plus they don't teach you how to run an interior design business in design school. You can get that in The Golden Blueprint. But I do think some kind of experience is key. Running an interior design business is mostly business, so if you are thinking of turning your hobby into a business remember that. I believe that working for another designer is one of the best things you can do for preparing yourself to do this work.