When you are in college, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “What is your major?” My answer would of course always be “interior design” and the response was usually a range between all of the following:

  1. OH! That sounds so fun!
  2. Can you decorate my house one day?
  3. So you would be able to tell me what kind of curtains to put up and stuff like that? (Yes, someone really thought this was all I was studying…haha!)
  4. I love watching HGTV!
  5. People go to college for that?
  6. I’ve even met someone from a different country who told me if she told her parents she was studying interior design they would laugh because it is just a hobby that anyone could do.

It seems as if everyone has an opinion about interior design but few truly understand what it involves. Once you say “interior design,” it is as if people see this fairytale world of fancy colors, extravagant decorations and people having fun picking out fabrics and throwing glitter around. People rarely consider the science and programming that is necessary to create a fully functioning building. So, what IS interior design? In order to understand what interior design is, we must understand what interior design is NOT.


The biggest misconception with people thinking that the field of interior design is easy and pointless is that most people think interior design is all about making a space look appealing. In reality, interior design is only 10% aesthetics (decoration) and this is only a finishing touch to the overall structure after several other architectural factors have been considered.

A decorator can begin a career of decorating for clients at any point even without schooling. In order to begin your career as an interior designer, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree in interior design (preferably a CIDA accredited school), complete two years of work experience under a registered interior designer or architect and pass the NCIDQ exam. There is a saying that “interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.”


That massive stadium your favorite sports team plays at, all of the buildings that make up your city’s downtown, the hotel you rush to book, the building you work in, the school you go to, the hospital you visit, your favorite store or car dealership, the apartment complex you rented and every other building you go into on a daily basis required the knowledge of interior design to be built.

It is said that Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. 90% of your life is spent inside of a structure that had to be designed and completed with human behavioral patterns in mind while also considering environmental factors, ergonomics,  health and safety factors, building code regulations, ADA, and much more all fitting together to create a space that will “look nice” but most importantly support the well-being of several occupants in a functional manner. This means that even the finishes and furnishings that are considered for a space have to be compliant to several health and safety regulations and serve a more important purpose beyond “looking good.”


One of the first things that is emphasized while studying interior design is that “form follows function.” This means the way a space looks is not as important as how the space functions. I doubt that someone will care that the furniture looks great with the flooring if the space is designed in a way that makes particular tasks difficult and inconvenient. For example, have you ever been in a restroom where it is difficult to exit the stall because of the way the door swings? Have you ever been in an auditorium where hearing was difficult because sounds echoed or were drowned out in a way that could have been avoided with the proper finishes/design considering sound quality? Have you ever been in a work space where two people cannot comfortably maneuver in the space because the space planning didn’t consider the different tasks that needed to be completed in the space? Have you ever been in a building and poor lighting choices/angles made seeing certain things difficult? Have you ever been in a theater and could not hear your movie over what was playing in the room next to you? Likely, the answer to the latter is no. This is a design factor that had to be considered to enhance sound quality. When you have a space that is designed in a way that makes tasks more difficult, or uncomfortable, this is frustrating and ultimately a sign that a designer did not consider functionality in certain aspects of the design.

There are way more design factors to consider when it comes to constructing a building but ultimately, interior design is about architecture and functionality more than it is decorating. With that being said, of course a designer should have a great eye for aesthetics (decoration)  because once all of the important factors of a space that most of us do not notice are completed, a great look is just the icing on the cake to tie in the overall design and make it memorable!


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