It may seem a little confusing, Decorator… Designer… What’s the difference, right? Well there is a difference, but few people actually know what that is. Most people use these titles interchangeably. Some will tell you that one is better than the other, but it indubitably comes down to what you want to do with your business and what type of designer you want to be? How fast do you want to get started, and how much time do you want to invest into this new career of yours?
The basic definition of an interior designer is someone who has a college degree in interior design from an accredited school and has passed the NCIDQ exam. It’s sort of like passing the bar exam for interior designers. Usually an exam is required if you want to be licensed in your state. You must be a member of ASID, the American Society of Interior Designers, or any other professional organization recognized in your area. You must also work for a number of years for an ASID certified designer before you are even eligible to take the test. If this seems like a lot of work, you’re totally right!
That may be why most designers, including myself at times, get extremely defensive about our title. I think, “Hey, I busted my hump through four years of school, and years working in the field for another designer… I deserve that title!” Alright, we may have a bit of a chip on our shoulder. I’ll admit it, but I have learned that I am just as successful while paying my membership dues as I am when I’m not paying them.
I’ve discovered that unless you plan on working for an architectural firm, or strictly in commercial design, you don’t actually need to put yourself through all of that time, effort, and money. If you want to advise a client on moving walls, or structural changes, you must be educated on the latest building codes, fire regulations, and structural physics of a building. There is a serious liability if you make a suggestion that has dangerous or detrimental consequences. If this is the type of designer that you want to be, then the school and licensed designer route is for you.
If you truly want to be considered a technical “designer” someday, you can use your working time towards your “apprentice” requirements and go back to school later. In the meantime, I have found that when you want to make suggestions about moving walls, or structural features that it’s easier to contract out to an engineer or general contractor and let them handle the technical stuff, as well as accept liability for the structural changes.
When you’re first starting out you will be considered a Decorator, and that‘s fine! Four year degree or not, most people will refer to you as their decorator anyway. Focus on honing your business skills, and learn how to build a solid decorating business. You can make serious money and enjoy a fabulous career helping people create the space of their dreams.