design vs decorating
Design Vs. Decorating: Do You Know The Difference?
NCIDQ&A 15 years ago No Comments

Undoubtedly you’ve heard the two terms “interior design” and “interior decorating” interchanged. This is one of the most common mistakes made when discussing the interior design profession. The common perception is that designers and decorators are the same, and that the act of designing is to simply make things “look pretty.” There’s far more to both professions, and we want everyone to understand that. Therefore, we thought we’d take a minute to solve the mystery once and for all.

The Simple Solution

Both interior designers and decorators work to create beautiful and functional spaces through knowledge and practice of furniture, fabrics, finishes, etc. And while interior decorating is an important facet of interior design, the interior design profession extends far beyond aesthetics. Interior design includes a scope of services performed by a professional design practitioner, qualified by means of education, experience, examination and licensure (where required), to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.

NCIDQ’s Definition Of Interior Design

Interior design is a multi-faceted profession in which creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure to achieve a built environment. These solutions are functional, enhance the quality of life and culture of the occupants and are aesthetically attractive. Designs are created in response to and coordinated with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project. Designs must adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability.

The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology, including research, analysis and integration of knowledge into the creative process, whereby the needs and resources of the client are satisfied to produce an interior space that fulfills the project goals. For a more detailed NCIDQ definition, click here.

Breaking Down The Differences

> Interior Designer Job Function: A designer evaluates a product, whether it be furniture, finishes, lighting, millwork, etc. to ensure it meets standard code requirements, that it functions properly, is not harmful to the client or the environment, is durable and efficient, and of course, is aesthetically pleasing. Designers often work closely with architects, paying close attention to space planning and structure as well as design elements such as color and fabric.

> Interior Decorator Job Function: Decorators select a product, a finish, a color, or a light fixture that is aesthetically pleasing and that will be functional in a particular space or for a particular client. They do not assess the health, safety and welfare of the product for the client or the environment. Decorators work mostly with clients to select the right furniture or finish, and are concerned mostly with the look and feel of a space only.

> Interior Designer Education & Requirements: Many states require by law that an interior designer be a licensed or registered designer; meaning that a designer must have completed formal education (usually a bachelor’s degree or higher) and formal training (work experience). There are 25 U.S. states and Canadian provinces that require a designer to pass an exam and receive a Certificate, namely the NCIDQ Examination and Certificate. Work experience encompasses 2-3 years of work experience in a design firm or architecture firm that provides interior design. NCIDQ requires formal education and work experience in order to take the exam. For a complete list of NCIDQ’s exam eligibility requirements, click here.

> Interior Decorator Education & Requirements: Decorators are not required to complete formal training as their primary focus is on surface design and pleasing the client. However, many decorators do choose to take design courses or to complete formal training and receive a certificate in design or decoration. There is no mandatory licensure exam for decorators.

About NCIDQ®

NCIDQ® is an organization of regulatory boards and provincial associations in the United States and Canada whose core purpose is to protect the health, life safety and welfare of the public by establishing standards of competence in the practice of interior design. More information about the organization may be found at