Interior design is a modern, fast-paced industry requiring many talents and learned skills. Gaining interior design skills requires a strong work ethic and a deep passion for the craft. Beyond these essential traits, successful interior designers develop a range of skills involving creativity, attention to detail, and practical knowledge.
This is an overview of the hard and soft skills necessary for interior design. Many of these can be developed in a two- or four-year college program led by expert designers and access to CAD software.
Design is a creative process and requires artistic vision. Well designed spaces feature materials that are creatively configured to make them both useable and beautiful. Interior designers bring different materials and techniques together including color, fabrics, and objects to create the look and feel of a space. Creativity in design is key to making spaces both aesthetically pleasing and functional. A space’s visual elements should stand out without hindering occupant movement or comfort.
As with any project, the unexpected can happen in interior design. Materials can be late or lost, deadlines can change, and design elements perfectly arranged in CAD programs may not come together in the real world. Anticipating and adapting to these changes takes planning. This makes great planning both a hard and soft skill necessary for interior design.
Planning can involve tools and techniques to delegate tasks, keep records, and ensure the appropriate details are included. Being a great planner also involves forward-thinking and anticipating multiple possibilities. While some have these traits naturally, others need time and experience to develop them. Applying them to interior design requires the guidance of experienced designers who can help a student understand the avenues a project can take.
Among skills needed for interior design is a distinct personal and professional perspective. Like all great artists, designers are said to have a unique perspective. An interior designer’s perspective often reflects a combination of knowledge, experience, and intuition. Some designers might cultivate a perspective and leverage it as a brand, becoming well known for their creative approach.
An example of perspective might be incorporating one’s unique background into their art. Some examples include those from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds. These individuals may even use their design skills to solve problems creatively in their communities. Another perspective might emphasize eco-friendly and sustainable materials to combat climate change.
4. Computer-aided design
Modern interior designers benefit from 3-D rendering programs that help them represent a space that is easy to visualize and work with digitally. CAD software is used across the design and construction process allowing multiple teams to use the same tools and ensure nothing is lost in translation.
Computer-aided design (CAD) involves the use of digital software to virtually render a space and its various elements. Interior designers work within strict client expectations and building codes. Designers can easily incorporate these standards and measurements into their renders, down to fractions of an inch.
5. Knowledge of safety and construction standards
Important to interior design is knowledge of building codes and safety standards, which are often specific to building category and geographic region. Good design incorporates electric, plumbing, and lighting standards. There may be local, state, and federal construction guidelines and building codes at play. Every design detail matters and can impact the efficiency and utility of a space.
Building codes include measurement requirements in addition to lighting, electrical, and gas specifications. They can also mandate that designers plan for multiple scenarios and provide flexibility in the event of an emergency or crisis. For instance, a hospital waiting room may have to become a triage center in the event of a disaster.
6. Knowledge of design principles
There are seven accepted abstract principles of design that guide every project. They are balance, harmony, rhythm, proportion, emphasis, contrast, and detail. Elements of space often interact with one another to achieve these principles or can do so individually.
Symmetry and asymmetry, harmony and rhythm, and emphasis and contrast are all interrelated concepts that work together in a space. There’s also the concept of positive and negative space, referring to the presence or absence of objects, materials, or techniques. Understanding when to use a design element and when it’s best to leave it out is a skill that requires time and experience to develop.