Interior Design School: Is An Education Worth It?

On the podcast each week, I talk to interior designers about how they got into interior design, if they went to interior design school, how they started their own design firm, and how they manage the day to day. I constantly have the opportunity to learn new key ingredients to how and why these designers have become so successful in an industry filled with struggling business owners.

Savannah College of Art and Design - interior design school

Recently in an interview, I talked with an interior designer that came from a highly educated upbringing. She grew up believing that the degree you earned was less than information, but more of a pedigree. When she decided to do an about-face and go a different direction, she landed in interior design. She struggled with the question of whether to go to school or just get out there and get some experience. She ended up going back to school but did not finish.

I think a lot of people that would like to get into interior design struggle Savannah College of Art and Designwith this question of whether to go get a degree from an accredited interior design school or to just start doing it. I have interviewed a lot of successful interior designers over the last year and a half. Some would swear that you must go get a degree and some would not even consider you a real interior designer unless you had a degree with some credentials behind your name, but others never even went to school. I think the answer lies within you. It depends on what you want to do. Do you want to work in commercial spaces and design for hotels, restaurants, and office spaces? If the answer is yes, then you should definitely opt to go to school and get the degree. You may even want to get an advanced degree. I believe some of the most successful designers in the commercial space even have an architecture degree but additionally do interior design as well.

Nick May talking at the Savannah College of Art and DesignA lot of people like to ask me “What are the threads that I see in the most successful designers?” I have not created an end-all-be-all list (yet), but I do know that going to school is NOT on it. I do however believe that if you don’t quite know what you want to do, but are sure you want to work in interior design, that going to a good interior design school is a great place to start. Some people I have interviewed knew exactly what area they wanted to work in, and dove right in. Others thought they wanted to do residential and fell in love with commercial or hospitality after getting exposed…and visa-versa.

Many of the designers, including the designer I mentioned above, knew they wanted to work in residential design and found that the interior design schools had a heavy focus on commercial design. When they got out into a design firm, they were learning all over again…sometimes with a whole new vocabulary and basics. Though obviously, some things translated,  there are skills that are used in both spaces. I have heard it over and over: there is the technical side of design that can be learned, but the vision and soft skills of design are more internal and really cannot be taught. I am not certain about that but it makes sense. You either have a sense of good style and taste, or you don’t, and I don’t think the best interior design school in the world can fix that.

So, if you are trying to decide on what you should do, my suggestion is to go get some experience in a design firm, volunteer your time if you have to, work for free and get a basis of what you want to do before you go spend thousands of dollars to figure it out going to an interior design school. Then, once you figure out what aspect of design you truly love, then dive all in.

I took the pictures above during my time at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in Atlanta. 

If you want to connect with Nick May and The Chaise Lounge, please do so on our website at thechaiseloungepodcast.com where we talk the business of interior design.

About the Author
Host of The Chaise Lounge and The Business Brush Podcast, owner of Walls by Design, and Creative Director for iMayMedia LLC.

4 comments on Interior Design School: Is An Education Worth It?

  1. Lane Lamerson says:

    Hi there,. Your article just came through on my news feed. I have never heard of this blog/podcast so I don’t know much about you. I’ll be sure and look into it. Being an interior designer in NYC and recently branching out on my own I’d like to give my experience. I graduated from a design school(not a university) with a BFA in ID. I moved to NYC and worked for some small and some more high profile firms including a top AD 100 firm. Aside from having my own business now I also help a designer who is 30 years older than me but this is his second career to which he has no formal training. He just started designing for his friends as a hobby and someone told him he was good at it so he decided to give it a try. Now we have the same amount of experience time wise(both about 12 years). He only apprenticed under one designer. He does not pocess the skill of a schooled designer in my opinion and since he doesn’t know AutoCAD or any 3D programs he relies on other to do this part for him. Since I moved around and worked for a handful of design firms before branching out on my own Im equipped with many outlooks on the business side as well as the design side. Unless you are a very driven person to learn the computer programs on your own you will struggle being dependant on others. I also strongly feel that without my degree I would not have gotten the jobs I did otherwise. We should be advocating for strategies that legitimize our place rather than leading people to believe anyone can do it. One important topic that was not discussed in this article is the laibility of a designer and the responsibility that comes with that. I don’t believe it’s a profession to be taken into lightly and I take it very serious and I do not feel this article has done that. Perhaps someone who comes from a wealthy family who has money to play and then wealthy friends hire then(which I do know happens and good for them) but someone like myself who doesn’t come from a wealthy family and who has struggled to get where I am. I don’t take my profession lightly. I see a lot of bad design on blogs and YouTube videos and HGTV and I can only assume these designers don’t have formal training as no formally trained designer or architect would be making the mistakes I see so often. This article could have delved much much deeper into the realities of the profession but it does not and therefore not a real representation of the profession. Best,

  2. TH says:

    Thank you for writing about this. I am going back and forth with the idea of going to school for interior design, it’s been my passion for years. I’ve been working in Graphic design without going to school for it so I wanted to see if I could do the same for interior design. I’m leaning towards going and this article definitely highlighted that for me. I agree with Lane who commented, this could’ve gone more in depth and I would appreciate hearing more about it

  3. Rachelle says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this post! I really think you might enjoy our podcast The Student Lounge. It is all about getting into the design industry. On the show they interview other students, professors, design professionals and more- all focused on questions and resources for budding designers. Best wishes!

  4. Rachelle says:

    Thanks for your comment! Have you checked out our other podcast The Student Lounge? This might be a great resource for you as you’re thinking about going to design school. We interview students, professors and design professionals about the industry and cover a lot of topics that might interest you. Thanks again!

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