What's the difference between a designer and a decorator?

Educational Requirements for Decorators and Designers

When it comes to formal educational programs, decorators often select 2-year or certificate courses at universities or community colleges. Here, they'll learn all aspects of home décor, from putting together colors to using lighting appropriately. They may take courses in marketing, business or sales, as a large percentage of decorators are self-employed. While there are currently no states that have any formal education requirements for decorators, having a degree or certificate can not only provide expanded skills and knowledge but can also help the decorator gain clients.

Designers, however, have a little bit more work to do. As of 2009, 25 states and the District of Columbia had educational requirements in place for interior designers. Most of those state requirements are based on the standards of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, or NCIDQ. Under NCIDQ standards, designers must earn a minimum of 120 semester hours of course work, with no fewer than 60 of those hours focused on interior design work. Most colleges and universities that offer programs in interior design are designed to satisfy the NCIDQ requirements [source: NCIDQ].

Because of the stringent educational requirements, most students planning to pursue interior design will select a four-year program that culminates in a bachelor's degree. Even in states that don't require a minimum level of education for designers, many potential applicants will choose to pursue a degree to help them gain private clients or get a job with an architectural firm upon graduation. With the potential for additional states to adopt the NCIDQ educational standards at any time, those considering a two-year degree may want to select a 4-year program instead so they're prepared for any upcoming changes. In addition, most architectural firms will require a four-year degree for on-staff designers.

Interior design programs are reviewed by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. This organization visits schools that offer design programs and confirms their ability to prepare students for careers in the field. Its Web site provides an excellent resource for students looking for accredited schools and programs.

Beyond these educational requirements, many states and organizations offer formal certification programs in interior design.