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Interior Designer jobs
What's it really like?
Interior designer, Ray Dawes, has been in the industry for over ten years. Here, he explains what motivated him to become an interior designer and shares some tips for those interested in the profession:
''I became involved with interiors purely by accident. It was Christmas 1997 and I was working in an architectural practice and became redundant. A colleague introduced me to his agency, and this agency arranged an interview with a large interior design company, who were desperate for detailers. I was exactly what they were looking for at that time, and eventually ran the project when the incumbent left a few months later. Prior to this, I had been an architectural designer/job runner, dealing with new build/refurbishment/listed buildings.
I have always liked the creative side of the job and there is much more scope for this in interiors, which is a lot more flexible than architecture and a lot more fun. You also do not have to persuade or impress third parties (e.g. planners), who like to think that they are designers. I would say the only negative in interior design is the fact that some clients, architects, and contractors do not give interior designers the respect we think we deserve.
I would not hesitate to recommend interior design as a career. However, you need to be aware that there are two distinct areas: technical/space planning/furniture design, and soft furnishings/furniture selection (from contemporary to antique). Some people are adept at both. If someone is considering a career in interior design, I would recommend that they should observe the built environment wherever they go. They should also look at books and magazines to inspire them.
In terms of earnings, ability, age, and experience obviously count. However, supply and demand also rule, and it depends on the current economic climate as to whether one has a job or not. Hotels (which I have specialised in) are at the luxury end of the spectrum, and it is not unusual for a project to be on the company books for ten years or more, with work being carried out intermittently. There can be many changes in personnel during this time. I have earned £25,000 per annum, and also double that figure.''
Simply put, an interior designer designs interiors! This involves planning and executing all aspects of the interior environment, including furnishing and decorating the space in commercial, institutional, and domestic settings.
A little bit of history
There is nothing new about interior design. We have been organising our living space for functional, social, and aesthetic reasons for tens of thousands of years. By the 18th century, Europe was home to many well-established interior designers and by the 1950s, Britain was sufficiently concerned with contemporary architecture and interiors to have created The Design Council.
These early designers were mainly concerned with domestic interiors, and residential projects are still the mainstay of most small design agencies and freelance designers. However, interior design goes far beyond the residential. After all, yachts, hospitals, factories, and aeroplanes need interiors too.
The industry today
In 2008, an industry survey conducted by British Design Innovation estimated that there were around 4000 UK businesses offering design consultancy services, employing some 65000 people. 23% of these firms (just under 1000) were involved in interior design. Most of them are small businesses, employing 5 people or less. Britain's desire for design has seen industry turnover rise substantially in recent decades, to reach £4.4bn by 2008.
Sectors in Interior Design
Broadly speaking, an interior designer will work in one of the following environments:
Many interior designers are self-employed, charging between £30 and £50 per hour for their services. This figure can rise to more than £100 per hour for in-demand designers. Newly qualified designers will find it hard to make a living in this way, as reputation and experience take time to build up.
Junior designers employed by an agency can expect a starting salary of £15,000 to £20,000 a year. The national average salary for a designer with three years of experience was just under £23,000 in 2008. With five to ten years of experience, a designer's salary will probably be in the region of £25,000 to £30,000. Designers with over ten years of experience earned £32,000 on average in 2008 but these individuals could earn up to and over £50,000. These figures are based on the calculations of the Hays Consultant 2008 Salary & Benefits Guide.
In interior design, tasks and responsibilities vary according to the sector and the size of the design agency or company for which an individual works. However, the following would normally fall within the remit of an interior designer:
A professional qualification is virtually essential in order to pursue a career in interior design. There is a wide range of courses and training options available and the most suitable route will also depend upon which sector of interior design you are interested in.
The British Interior Design Association provides a list of higher education establishments offering interior design courses. There are around 60 providers offering in excess of 50 different courses. There's a huge variety – from a 10 Week Interior Decoration Certificate to a 4 year full time BA Honours degree. So how should you go about choosing the right interior design course?
The following City & Guilds courses are good options which will get you started in interior design:
You could also study for a BTEC National Certificate and Diploma course in Art and Design, or an ABC Diploma in Interior Design.
Degree courses in interior design vary in length, from 2 to 4 years. As well as Interior Design itself, relevant degree subjects include Interior Architecture, Interior Decoration, Spatial Design, Interior Textiles, and Furniture Design. Courses are likely to include the following elements as a minimum:
Numerous short courses are also available to supplement training you have already done. These may also be a good option to build up your skills and knowledge if you don't have the resources to undertake a full degree.
Interior designers employ a wide range of skills and must be competent in the following areas in order to be successful:
Interior designers divide their time between an office environment and an on-site environment. Meetings with clients, contractors, and suppliers will usually take place away from the office and may involve substantial amounts of travelling, possibly including overnight trips.
On larger projects, health and safety considerations are particularly important, especially if structural work is involved. Here, designers will usually wear personal protective equipment, such as a hard hat.
Interior design is not a particularly formal industry in terms of dress codes, and a certain amount of individuality and expression is generally considered acceptable in a creative industry like this.
Professional experience is very important in interior design, with most employers requiring 3-4 years of experience when taking on a designer. Competition for junior positions is strong, so even building up experience on-the-job can be difficult.
So how do you secure your first job in interior design? You can improve your chances of getting that all-important first position by taking advantage of unpaid work experience, student placements, and work-shadowing. These also allow you to build up a portfolio and to make contacts. If you make a good impression on a placement, you stand a reasonable chance of securing a job with that employer after graduation.
Design fairs and competitions can help your career by showcasing creativity. Events like New Designers are often attended by journalists and professionals on the lookout for new talent.
There is a wide range of employers – more than 4000 in the UK alone – and a significant proportion of interior designers opt for self-employment, either working on a completely freelance basis or with a contract for a design agency. Noreen Davey's Designs of Distinction is one such example.
Jobs are available with small design agencies, such as Jane Churchill Interiors, where your role and the type of project you are involved with might be wide-ranging. Another option is to work as an in-house designer for a large company. This might involve workplace design for a multinational, or creating interiors for ships for a cruise company.
Larger design agencies tend to be multi-disciplinary. A good example is Manchester-based BDP Design, which describes itself as the largest interdisciplinary practice of architects, designers, engineers and urbanists in Europe. Employing over 1000 staff, BDP has a portfolio ranging from education to heritage, and transport to workplace. It is truly a big player in the UK design industry.
The following are some of the biggest and most well-respected employers in some of the major interior design sectors:
Most interior designers spend the first five years after graduation (or after entering the profession) gaining experience, building up a portfolio, and a good client and supplier base. It also takes time to develop your own style and approach, and perhaps to work out which sector suits your skills and interests.
Interior design does not have the structured career path or clear promotion-based approach found in many other industries. This is partly due to the very diverse nature of the design world and its penchant for self-employment, but also because this is a creative industry. To a large degree, interior designers must make their own career – initiative, ambition, and individual skill and creativity are key. As in all things, luck can be important too.
To improve their career progression or employment prospects, interior designers need to: