How to Become an Interior Designer in Illinois
An interior designer is a creative professional who wears many hats. While many people might think of an interior designer as a ‘decorator,’ an interior designer has both an inventive and technical background and often works with contracting companies and architectural firms to review blueprints before a new home or office is built. Of course, their job responsibilities go beyond the technical, working with design firms and even realtors to ensure that the space that they showcase provides a seamless flow that is practical and visually engaging. Many designers also create their own brand and freelance after building a portfolio, making it a flexible career choice that will also generate a steady stream of income.
Requirements for Becoming an Interior Designer in Illinois
While it is possible for someone to work as an interior decorator in Illinois without being registered or certified, in order for someone to use the title Registered Interior Designer they will need to complete certain educational and internship requirements.
To become a registered interior designer in Illinois, you will need to obtain a minimum of a two-year associate’s degree in interior design in addition to four years of internship with an interior design firm. Once this is completed, you will be eligible to sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) examination through the Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ). More education, such as a bachelor’s degree in interior design, will reduce the required length of internship.
Interior Design Schools in Illinois
There are many colleges in Illinois that offer interior design programs that will satisfy registration requirements in the state:
- Columbia College, Chicago. Columbia College Chicago is one of the top schools in Illinois for interior design, offering a Bachelor of Fine Art in Interior Architecture. This degree program is accredited by the Council of Interior Design Accreditation (CIDQ), which means that program graduates are qualified to take the NCIDQ exam. Interior architects are the same as interior designers, creating environments that are easy on the eye and supportive of client requirements. A grade of C or better is required on all major coursework, and a GPA of 3.0 or higher is a requirement for students to graduate from the program.
- Joliet Junior College, Joliet. JJC’s Associate of Science Degree in Interior design program will prepare students for professional examinations, including the NCIDQ. Graduates of this two-year program can also transfer their credits to seek a bachelor’s degree in interior design through the college’s 2+2 options.
- Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. SIU offers a bachelor’s degree program that can be completed in four years for incoming freshman or three years for transfer students. The coursework within the interior design program is centered on studio-based learning in a work-lab setting, providing students with hands-on experience with small class sizes. While internships are not a requirement for students, they are encouraged. For students who decide to obtain an internship during their course of study, hours of work can be counted toward the requirements for the NCIDQ exam.
Certification for Interior Designers in Illinois
The Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) regulates the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification exam and requires that interior designers complete both educational and work experience requirements to take the exam. The minimum requirement is an associate degree in interior design with 40 semester hours plus four years of full-time work experience under a certified interior designer. The more education you receive, however, the less work experience you will need to obtain before taking the exam.
The education and work combinations to qualify include:
- An interior design bachelor’s degree from a CIDA-accredited program plus two years of full-time work experience (3,520 hours under a certified interior designer)
- An interior design bachelor’s degree that is not accredited plus two years of full-time work experience (3,520 hours under a certified interior designer)
- A bachelor’s degree (minimum) in any other major, no less than 60 semester hours of Interior design work and two years of full-time work experience
- An interior design associate degree (60 semester hours) and three years of full-time work experience (5,280 hours under a certified interior designer)
- An interior design associate degree (40 semester hours) plus four years of full-time work experience (7,040 hours under a certified interior designer)
- A Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degree with three years of full-time work experience (5,280 hours under a certified interior designer)
The NCIDQ exam is split into three sections:
- The Interior Design Fundamentals Exam (IDFX)
- The Interior Design Professional Exam (IDPX)
- The Practicum (PRAC) exam.
Once you’re eligible to sit for the exam you will activate a timeframe in which you will need to register for and take the above three sections. The registration fees are $295 for the IDFX exam, $350 for the IDPX exam and $455 for the PRAC exam. After passing the NCIDQ exam, you will be eligible to register with the State of Illinois and use the title of Registered Interior Designer.
Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
Illinois is one of the top five states with the highest employment level in this career field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 2,380 people employed as interior designers in 2017, with an average wage of $29.81 per hour or $62,010 annually. Interior designers working in the Chicago metropolitan area made an average wage of $30.23 per hour or $62,880 annually. By 2026, the data indicate that this number will not change and that the job market for interior designers in Illinois will remain stable.
Working as an Interior Designer in Illinois
Registered interior designers in Illinois can be found working in a variety of industries, including architecture, commercial real estate and residential real estate, but many interior designers can also be found working in the kitchen and bath design industry or within art galleries and furniture stores as a showroom manager. It is also not uncommon for interior designers to freelance or to get into teaching or into art direction with a design firm
Whatever your specific interests might be, Illinois is home to many job opportunities for interior designers, especially in the Chicago metropolitan area. If you consider yourself to be imaginative
and have always enjoyed designing your own home, signing up for a degree program in interior design is a great option and will jump start your transition into this exciting career field.