Thought Starters

Becoming a registered Interior Designer: Is there a missing link?

when becoming a registered Interior Designer heed the goddess of victoryHow do Interior Designers learn the skills to become a registered Interior Designer?

If we want to take inspiration from the winged goddess of victory we may say, “Just do it!”

But simply, just do it won’t get us there, will it?

No, not really.

There are three minimum requirements to becoming a registered Interior Designer; education, experience and examination.

Each of these core requirements are important to the success of designer and the industry as a whole. Experience, as part of the equation, is where the Intern Interior Designer learns the actual skills to become a professional. Education is important to establish the groundwork for practice and coupled with examination consummates the requirements for accreditation eligibility, however, work experience is the critical factor to success in an Interior Designer’s career.


Is there a flaw in the current accreditation system?

If you are planning to become a registered Architect you need to have practical experience in all aspects of the design process. Once you have fulfilled the necessary experience, logged the time in each category of the design process and have written your exams you are eligible to become a registered Architect. As an Intern Architect you cannot become eligible for examination if you are missing experience in a certain parts of the design process. This distinction in the process guarantees that the newly registered Architect has gained the necessary experience to carry a project from beginning to end.

The Interior Design accreditation process does not specifically dictate an applicant gain experience in all phases of the design process when becoming a registered Interior Designer. The minimum requirements are simply structured to ensure practical experience in the profession is recorded.

The simple fact that an Intern Interior Designer needs to accumulate a similar amount of experience in hours as an Intern Architect but is not required to prove their experience addresses all aspects of the design process opens the door to potentially inexperienced professionals.

This is a critical distinction that the Interior Design profession needs to recognize.


What does the Interior Design industry need to recognize?

Maintaining the highest level of standards in our industry’s professional practice relies on experienced professionals who can deliver services professionally across the entire spectrum of the design process.

However, similar to many Architects, we must acknowledge that many Interior Designers will seek to specialize in aspects of the design process. It’s impractical to suggest that every registered professional is a specialist in each of the major elements of project delivery, however, practical knowledge of the entire design process is important. Upon accreditation, specialization becomes the key driver for many professionals in the design industry and naturally it’s to the industry’s benefit to have specialists. This does not excuse the fact that the accreditation system must be structured in a way to ensure that a practicing professional has the experience to advise their clients and deliver projects without impunity regardless of the type of work being executed.

The only way for a practicing professional to advise their clients successfully is to have experienced the work first hand. Thereby the structure of the accreditation system needs to be in alignment with the fulfillment of good practice. Theory is an appropriate framework for understanding the concepts of practice, however, without hands on experience the practicing professional may lack the knowledge to make informed decisions.

The Interior Design profession has a greater responsibility to ensure that its Interns gain the valuable experience necessary to become well rounded professionals. Until the accreditation process evolves to obligate the Intern to complete their minimum requirements as an accumulation of practical experience today’s practicing professionals need to take the responsibility to ensure the work experience of their employees and peers are as diversified as possible.

the path to becoming a registered Interior Designer

A simple graphic depicting the standard route of the design process. Courtesy of Thanks Jody.


How can the profession of Interior Design help?

I have worked in a variety of design firms over the years; both boutique Interior Design and large Architectural firms alike. Some people may think small firm experience may offer a greater opportunity to gain valuable experience in all phases of the design process but I believe it is the leadership in a firm that offers the greatest opportunity. The attitude and culture of a firm is critical to a designer’s ability to gain valuable experience. Interior Designers continually saddled with the same tasks over and over is a common issue in the industry. This issue is not exclusive to any size of practice. If the practice leadership recognize the importance of practical experience across the full spectrum of the design process then the opportunity for diversified experience for the practicing professional is much greater.

We recognize specialization is a reality of any industry, creative or otherwise. As suggested, it is critical to a designer’s success. There will always be the career generalist but like many other professions starting as a generalist positions the designer to better understand where their specialty may lie. In simple terms without an understanding of the complete process how can a designer say they truly understand how they want to practice? We are educated to understand the built form and in order to make sense of it we need to understand the theory, the construct, the structure and its component parts.

The only real way to do that is to experience it all.





As you pursue your path to becoming a registered Interior Designer please ask your leadership for the opportunity to gain the necessary experience in all aspects of the design process. Look for the opportunities to contribute in the process and be aware of the type of situations where you may become isolated to a single part of the process. It’s not good for your growth. Simply seeing it happen around you and thinking you will absorb the experience through osmosis is a fallacy. Please don’t let anyone tell you any different. Fight for your right to gain the experience you need to succeed.

Find a mentor that will help you understand where your experience can be improved and help you track your success toward accreditation.

Hold yourself accountable. Get the experience you need and try to avoid focusing only on the fun stuff. It’s all fun. Seeing your design through to realization is a very rewarding experience. Go get it.

It’s up to you.





Please recognize the limitation of isolating designers to their natural talents. Please avoid the pigeon hole for long periods of time. Sure, we understand change and inexperience reduces efficiency but without the diversity of experience efficiency can never truly be improved. If your design team can ebb and flow with the phases of work and with the demands of the industry you will be better positioned to be productive and profitable. The accreditation of the design professional is your responsibility as much as it is theirs. Diverse experience is critical not only to your success, your designers success but to the industry as a whole.

Take responsibility to ensure the Interior Designers in your sphere of influence gain the necessary experience they need to meet the requirements of accreditation.

Become a mentor. Let’s not wait for our professional associations to address the need for reciprocity. As industry leaders we need to ensure our profession thrives and the best way to do that is to help our industry professionals grow into the strong leaders we have become.

Hold yourselves accountable and hold your industry peers accountable. It’s a small industry. We all know each other. We have the ability to help each other out and ensure the Interior Designers who practice in this industry have the necessary experience to move the profession forward.

It’s up to you.



As always we hope our rantings offer some value, insight or at least make you go hmmmm……if so or if not feel free to drop a line, a bomb or otherwise take a crap in the comments below. Without your feedback (sarcasm expected) we have no idea if what we are saying even makes any sense, pisses you off or makes you want to puke. So, have at it…..if you want. Otherwise, thanks for dropping in and for your valuable time.








About this Author: Ralph Dopping (199 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday:


Great again Ralph.  NCIDQ has recently revamped it's IDEP program (Interior Design Experience Program).  Once someone as created their MyNCIDQ account (typically this is a recent graduate), this is now a FREE program and service for them.  It allows them to log and track their experience hours on line, and it will show the "gaps" in experience which may exists.  It encourages the candidate to get a supervisor and a mentor (but these are not mandatory).  It is a great tool, I think, for someone to be able to take to their supervisor or team leader and show them what categories (or exam content areas) they need to gain experience.  The intent is that they are then well prepared for the examination, but it also mirrors typically used time sheets.  

An older, paper based (and priced) format of this program used to be mandatory for ARIDO interns, but as it was changed by NCIDQ this is now an optional opportunity.


rdopping moderator

@VictoriaHorobin Thanks Victoria.

I suppose I could have dug into the options a little more. I think the format of the forms with NCIDQ need to change alongside these new options. Also, it would be beneficial, just as in the OAA requirements, that IDEP now mandate work experience across all sectors. 

I agree that an Intern should have access to the tools necessary to assist them with tracking their progress from their association. I think it's great that NCIDQ is promoting this type of transparency but I still feel like there's a lot more the leadership in the industry can do to help build stronger well rounded designers.