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A Closer Look at Interior Architecture and Design

If you have an interest in your surroundings and constantly think of new ways of approaching space to create better environments; if you look around with a creative eye, implement changes to your home and often suggest changes your friends should make to their own, perhaps you should consider a career in interior architecture and design.

Experts in this field effectively manipulate space to accommodate the human activity that takes place there. With creative solutions they optimise the built environment to improve user experience and the functionality of space. They combine this with a keen knowledge of aesthetics and an understanding of materials, products, textures, fabrics, colour, lighting and other factors that go into creating the atmosphere and mood of specific environments.

On the architecture side, they must know how the interior of various buildings meet the needs of the people who use them and how to implement structural alterations to accommodate changing needs. For example, if a hospital is being converted into a modern office block, they are responsible for ensuring the layout of the revised building functions effectively and as it is intended. They also have the responsibilty of creating spaces that adhere to health and safety standards and to protect the well-being of the people who occupy them.

It is by no means a straightforward profession and practitioners will testify to the countless difficulties that arise from working on such collaborative projects. However, the rewards come in seeing your own design go from concept to completion and become a permanent part of the built environment.

  1. What does an interior architecture and design practitioner actually do?
  2. What are the hours like?
  3. Opportunities
  4. What kind of salary am I likely to earn?
  5. What skills will I need?
  6. Choosing to study for a degree qualification
  7. Stand out from the crowd
  8. Interior architecture and design within the creative industries
  9. The creative economy
  10. How does the creative economy effect interior architecture and design practitioners?

What does an interior architecture and design practitioner actually do?

They work on projects for clients who require amendments to be made to an existing space (commonly called renovations) or a design for an entirely new construction. The client outlines the requirements of the project in what is known as ‘the brief’ and the designer must find a way to complete this from concept to completion.

They must also present their suggestions to the client and build and maintain relationships with a number of other stakeholders including vendors, contractors, sub-contractors and surveyors.

Although it is difficult to provide a comprehensive job profile, typically the work would include:

  • Discussing the requirements of the project, commonly known as ‘the brief’, with clients, colleagues, contractors and sub-contractors
  • Planning what methods and materials will most successfully meet the requirements of the space set out in the brief
  • Providing an accurate schedule detailing when certain stages of the project will be completed
  • Providing an accurate cost for the entire project
  • Researching around the project and providing sketched examples and/or ‘mood boards’ to discuss with the client
  • Using industry software to create working designs, models and plans for the space
  • Sourcing materials for fittings, furniture, lighting and decoration required for the project from vendors
  • Working closely with quantity surveyors to discuss and agree on costs and scheduling
  • Working with architects, other design professionals and contractors to establish any potential problems at an early stage
  • Working with the construction team to ensure the design is followed
  • Supervising the project from concept to completion to ensure the brief is met on time and within budget

What are the hours like?

Working hours for interior architecture and design jobs vary depending on the demands of the project, but practitioners should be prepared to work outside the standard nine to five schedule. Evening and weekend work is common and long travel distances, depending on the location of the project, mean overnight stays are to be expected. You have to be flexible and willing to sacrifice your time for the benefit of the project.


Experience is crucial in the industry it is usual to spend five to ten years building a professional reputation. Those starting out will normally enter a company at a low level and spend time learning from more experienced colleagues. Depending on performance, they will be offered an increasing amount of responsibility until they are able to work on projects more independently.

It is important to build a portfolio to present to potential employers. You should continue to build this throughout your career to present when considered for promotion within a company or to attract potential clients if self-employed. It is also common, and beneficial, to showcase work online.

Membership of professional bodies can encourage opportunities through contacts, professional development and networking. Two relevant bodies you should consider are the British Institute of Interior Design and the Chartered Society of Designers.

What kind of salary am I likely to earn?

Current rates suggest that starting annual salaries in the interior architecture and design industry range from £15,000 to £20,000. Experienced designers can expect to earn £20,000 to £35,000 and senior designers £45,000 to £75,000. These figures are intended as a guideline only and you should always check the trade press for the latest information.

What skills will I need?

In order to become successful in this field, you will require the following skills and attributes:

  • Creativity and imagination
  • Attention to detail
  • Organisational and creative problem solving skills
  • Negotiation and management skills
  • Great communication and teamwork skills
  • The ability to manage your time, meet deadlines and work within a budget
  • Advanced IT skills
  • Drawing skills, especially perspective drawing and spatial awareness
  • Spelling and grammar
  • Numerical competency


Software Skills

Industry standards in software constantly change and you will need to keep up-to-date with current trends and advances. Having said that, you will certainly need to be highly proficient in Adobe Indesign and Photoshop and you will need experience in computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modelling (BIM) software such as VectorWorks. Knowledge of 3D modelling software such as Cinema 4D and SketchUp will also be expected.

Choosing to study for a degree qualification

Employers and clients would expect you to have relevant qualifications. The vast majority of people working in the industry will have an HND, Foundation degree or honours degree in interior architecture and design or a design-related discipline. A qualification gives employers confidence in your ability and has the added advantage of allowing you to build a portfolio of your work as you study.

Choosing a course

If you decided that furthering your interior architecture and design skills through a degree qualification is for you, take care to choose the type of course and mode of study most appropriate to your needs. Full time study at an attendance based college or university is the norm, but this usually involves relocating, and if you have work or family commitments this may not suit you.

You may prefer a more flexible, affordable alternative. Upon graduating from any of our online degree courses here at IDI, you will receive exactly the same degree certificate as attendance-based students:


Find out more about our BA (Hons) Interior Architecture and Design course.

Stand out from the crowd

Interior architecture and design is a very popular discipline and there is always tough competition for jobs amongst people with similar skills and experience. It’s up to you to make your CV stand out to give you an advantage. There are a number of ways you can achieve this:

Employers will be interested in seeing evidence of your creative talent and you should aim to create a portfolio of quality work to showcase your talent. This could include mood boards, design ideas and it would be a good idea to show off your skills in software with some designs created on the CAD and BIM software mentioned previously. Creating a website or blog and following and contributing to existing blogs that specialise in design related matters is a great way to showcase your ability and build contacts.

Follow trends in interior architecture and design on social media and in the industry news to ensure you have a good level of knowledge on the subject. Getting into the industry, even as an unpaid intern, is one of the best ways to acquire knowledge.

Relevant experience is very important to show employers that you can work well in a team and in a professional environment. It is also a great opportunity for you to begin to build a network of contacts that can help you throughout your career. Building a career is a slow process requiring all the help you can get so don’t forget to stay in touch with people who you work with early on.

Don’t hesitate to approach companies and design agencies directly. Search for design agencies in the design directory of the British Design Innovation website. This will not only increase your knowledge of the industry but the names of the major and minor players within it.

You can find more information about careers in design, case studies and guides to setting up a business on the Creative Choices website.

Interior architecture and design within the creative industries

The Creative and Cultural Industries is a term that describes a wide range of economic activities associated with the Arts and the generation of knowledge and information. This ‘creative economy’ includes disciplines such as architecture, the visual arts, advertising, literature and publishing, graphic design, the performing arts and television.

Interior architecture and design fits into this group and can similarly be branched out into separate specialisms such as lighting design, theatre set design, visual merchandising and museum and exhibition design.

Design is an integral part of everyday life. It combines functionality, practicality, creativity and aesthetics to provide solutions that make living simpler and conducting business more effective.

The creative economy

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of jobs in the Creative Industries in the UK has risen by nearly 20 per cent, accounting for 1.9 million jobs. This has gone up by nearly triple the rate of the UK economy as a whole. 

In 2016, it was reported that creative industries contribute a staggering £84 billion a year (just under £10m an hour) to the UK economy (Source). The creative industries will generate significant numbers of jobs over the next decade and it is estimated that 1.2 million new workers will be needed in the creative industries by 2020 (Source).


What does this mean in terms of jobs?

In the UK alone, the creative and cultural industries were known to employ 678,480 people working in 74,640 businesses in 2012. Of these, a significant number were employed within the design industry specifically.

The British design industry is vital for overseas trade and new investment and the creative industries generate more than £36 billion a year for the UK economy – that’s £70,000 every minute.

In November 2013, UK Business secretary, Vince Cable, championed how important the creative industries are for the UK economy:

“From airport interiors to groundbreaking medical devices and design exhibitions, the creative industries account for around £1 in every £10 of the UK’s exports and are crucial to building a stronger economy.”

Breaking the headline statistics down to extract those relative to design alone reveals that in 2012:

There were 193,969 people working in the design industry, of which:

  • 51% are in communications, interior and exhibition design
  • 42% are in product and industrial design
  • 7% are in stage and set design

There were 18,105 individual businesses operating in the UK, of which 94% employed less than 50 people.

  • 34% of the design workforce was located in London and the South East of England.
  • 32% of the design workforce was self‐employed.
  • 14% of the workforce was working on a part‐time basis.
  • 50% of those working in design have a Level 4 qualification or above
  • Men and women are equally likely to have a qualification at Level 4 or above

How does the creative economy effect interior architecture and design practitioners?

Specifically, in the interior architecture and design industry, statistics from the top 100 firms in the world (based on fees generated) show the spread of work to be:

  • Corporate office: 35.4%
  • Hospitality: 18.1%
  • Health care/assisted living: 14.5%
  • Retail: 7.1%
  • Government: 7.7%
  • Educational: 6.8%
  • Residential: 3.1%
  • Transportation: 2.3%
  • Cultural: 2%
  • Other: 3%
  • 56% of the projects are new constructions and 44% are renovations.

Interior architecture and design is also spreading globally. In 2012, a quarter of the top 100 interior architecture firms had foreign projects – an all-time high. Trending areas for interior architecture and design projects by the top 100 companies include:

  • Canada: 58% of the top 100 companies are involved in projects there compared to 39% in 2009.
  • Central and South America: Also growing to 37% from 26%
  • Africa: Up to 27% from 22%

The latest figures show that the top 100 firms are becoming increasingly sustainable; 89% have incorporated a ‘green design’ philosophy. This is reflected in the fact that 48% of all fees now come from green design, up from 37% last year.

Although job opportunities in interior architecture and design are increasing at a steady rate, it remains a highly competitive industry. It is vital to prove to employers that you have talent by creating a comprehensive portfolio and gaining relevant qualifications.

Some useful sites to look at when searching for jobs and information about trends within the industry include Design Week, Interior Design and Creative Pool.