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The Ultimate Guide to Interior Design Certification

Learn about the most important interior design certification exams & top certification programs to keep working towards becoming an interior designer.

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As a designer, how do you differentiate yourself from your competition? What is your competitive edge? How can you prove to your client that you are a trained specialist and the perfect match to help turn the client’s house into a home? 

Obtaining interior design certifications can help to show the client that design is not just your job; it’s your passion. According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), more than 80% of consumers would choose a remodeling professional who is certified over one who is not. Additionally, based on a 2022 Houzz survey, more than 3 in 5 interior designers in the U.S. hold a license or a certification; 29% of those have a state-level certification, and 13% hold a national-level certification. Obtaining certification is one of the many ways interior designers can stand out from the crowd.

What Does It Mean to Be Certified in Interior Design?

An interior design certification is a way to prove your ability to take on certain types of interior design projects. The types of certifications you have will show clients that you have studied and mastered those specific interior design skills or areas.  

What Does It Mean to Be Licensed in Interior Design?

While a certification verifies that you have learned a certain skill, a license is verification by a government agency that you are able to practice interior design in a particular location, such as a certain state.

Why Is It Important to Obtain an Interior Design Certification? 

There are a few benefits to obtaining interior design certifications:

  • Reputation: Clients and design firms will have more confidence in your skills, since you will have done the work to get a certification. 
  • Earning power: According to the IIDA, interior designers with advanced degrees or certifications (such as certification by NCIDQ, LEED or CID) reported an average annual salary that is $17,000 higher than those without one. Houzz research bears out the difference in earnings. For example, more designers with a license or certification made $100,000 or more in gross revenue last year than those without such credentials; only 59% of those without a license or certificate related to interior design earned that much in 2021.  
  • Job opportunities: Some interior design firms may require a certification in order to hire you. Certain states, such as New York, Texas and Florida, require certification as well.

Top 11 Interior Design Certifications and Certificate Programs

1. NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification)

2. NCIDQ certification is the industry standard for showing proficiency in interior design principles and a designer’s commitment to the profession. Those who obtain it have proven their expertise in understanding and applying current safety and welfare codes as well. 

Preparing for the NCIDQ Interior Design Exam

The NCIDQ exam serves as the foundation for general interior designers and those moving into specialty design areas. It covers seven areas focusing on the core competencies of interior design: building systems, codes, construction standards, contract administration, design application, professional practice and project coordination. The exam’s contents are regularly updated to ensure they reflect the most current knowledge required to design safe, functional and innovative interior spaces. NCIDQ certification is required for many types of interior design projects in regulated jurisdictions throughout North America.

3. AAHID (American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers

The AAHID certifies interior designers in the U.S. and Canada who specialize in healthcare design — including acute care, ambulatory care and residential care facility design. Led by a volunteer board of directors, the AAHID is constantly striving to improve its certification process, study materials and exam. Upon receiving the CHID (Certified Healthcare Interior Designer) credential, you will be distinguished and qualified through education and work experience to practice healthcare interior design — which will separate you from other architects, designers, decorators and interior designers without the certification. The CHID credential provides professional credibility, ongoing growth and knowledge development, networking and volunteer opportunities, a listing in the AAHID’s online directory of Certified Healthcare Interior Designers, an invitation to the AAHID’s annual breakfast at the Healthcare Design conference and quarterly email updates with news and information about AAHID events.

4. ALA (American Lighting Association

The American Lighting Association is a trade association working to protect and advance the residential lighting industry, while promoting the sale and proper application of quality lighting products. Its interior design certifications include Lighting Associate (LA), Lighting Specialist (LS), Certified Lighting Manufacturers Representative (CLMR) and Certified Lighting Consultant (CLC). The ALA makes it possible for firms in the lighting industry to increase their share of the market, develop effective public relations programs to increase consumers’ awareness of lighting, benefit from sales and design training opportunities, monitor the actions of legislative and regulatory bodies, have their industry interests represented, and continue developing and learning about proper use of safe, energy-efficient products.

5. CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation

Originally known as the Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER), CIDA aims to advance the interior design profession as the definitive source for quality industry standards and accreditation in higher education. Higher education programs accredited by CIDA voluntarily place themselves before the scrutiny of the foundation to ensure that students receive an education that not only will serve them during their time at school but will prepare them for future professional growth. Students enrolled in a CIDA-accredited interior design program can be confident that the program meets the foundation’s quality standards. See the top 10 CIDA-accredited schools in  the U.S.

6. IDCEC (Interior Design Continuing Education Council

Continuing education strengthens the interior design profession by improving individual attitudes, competencies, knowledge and skills in subject areas essential to interior design. IDCEC has streamlined and centralized support for learners, providers, reviewers and administrators, as well as enhanced the administration and approval process of professional continuing education units (CEUs) for the interior design industry. It is IDCEC’s mission to serve as the premier advocate for continuing education in the advancement of the interior design profession, and to inspire and guide providers of continuing education programs to deliver high-quality, lifelong learning activities for interior designers. The IDCEC board of directors is a diverse group of individuals who are committed to the advancement of the interior design profession and lifelong learning. They represent the three major member associations — the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and Interior Designers of Canada (IDC) — as well as education providers from the interior design industry.

7. IWBI (International WELL Building Institute) 

The WELL Building Standard v1 explores how design, operations and behaviors in the places where we live, work, learn and play can be optimized to advance human health and well-being. Covering seven core concepts of health and hundreds of features, WELL v1 is a flexible building standard and represents the future of modern design. The WELL certification program is globally acknowledged and third-party-administered through IWBI’s collaboration with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC,) which also administers LEED certification. This relationship assures that WELL works seamlessly with LEED. The WELL Building Standard is the first to focus exclusively on the ways that buildings can improve our comfort, drive better choices and generally enhance our health and wellness.

8. LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is the leading organization representing the green building industry, committed to a sustainable, prosperous future through LEED, the leading program for green buildings and communities worldwide. A LEED credential denotes proficiency in today’s sustainable design, construction, and operations standards. More than 201,000 professionals have earned a LEED credential to help advance their careers. LEED for Interior Design and Construction (LEED ID+C) enables project teams who may not have control over whole building operations to develop indoor spaces that are better for the planet and for people. Showcase your knowledge, experience and credibility in the green building marketplace by obtaining this interior designer experience certificate and becoming a LEED professional.

9. NAHB (National Association of Home Builders

The National Association of Home Builders helps its members build communities. Each year, the NAHB’s members construct about 80% of the new homes built in the United States, both single-family and multifamily. A federation of more than 700 state and local associations, the group represents more than 140,000 members. It offers a series of certifications, including Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), Certified Green Professional (CGP) and Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR). Whether you’re looking to advance in your career or gain knowledge about a particular topic, the NAHB’s education programs offer a wide range of options. The NAHB is committed to providing the best residential home building knowledge to foster success in the industry.

10. NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry

NARI is an organization of remodeling professionals who are committed to integrity, high standards, professional education, ethics and market recognition. NARI has 47 chapters throughout the United States. It takes a stand for the industry by meeting with legislators in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues of importance to the remodeling industry, such as workforce development and regulations. NARI’s interior design certifications include CR (Certified Remodeler), CRS (Certified Remodeler Specialist), CRA (Certified Remodeler Associate), MCR (Master Certified Remodeler), CKBR (Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler), CLC (Certified Lead Carpenter), CRPM (Certified Remodeling Project Manager) and UDCP (Universal Design Certified Professional). NARI also has a library of more than 60 webinars that can be viewed at your leisure. The group describes its core purpose as being to advance and promote the remodeling industry’s professionalism, products and public purpose.

11. NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) 

NKBA offer a wide range of interior design certifications, including Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer (AKBD), Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD), Certified Bath Designer (CBD), Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer (CKBD) and Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer (CMKBD). If you are already NKBA-certified, use the NKBA CEU reporting form to submit your CEUs and maintain your certification. NKBA was developed to establish an immediate and deeper level of trust between kitchen and bath professionals and their clients.

Conclusion 

No matter where you are in your interior design career, a certification can give you an edge. Depending on what your interior design speciality or interests are, taking the time to learn more about what certifications are available to you can benefit your business. Now that you have learned more about certifications, you should also take a look at the Houzz Pro Guide to Interior Design Communities. Joining an interior design community can be a valuable next step to take on your interior design journey. 

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