Woman doing interior design work

What is the Difference Between Interior Design and Interior Decorating?

When many people hear the term, “interior design,” they often think of HGTV, “room makeover” challenges, or decor DIY projects on Pinterest. But what they are actually thinking of is interior decorating. While decorating plays a role in creating functional, beautiful living spaces, the work of an interior designer differs from interior decorating in critical ways. So, what is the difference between interior design and interior decorating?

Design Vs. Decorating In a Nutshell

While there is some overlap in interior design and interior decorating, they are fundamentally different. Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building, while interior decorating is the furnishing or adorning of a space with decorative elements to achieve a certain aesthetic. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.

What Interior Designers Do

The interior design process follows a systematic and coordinated methodology—including research, analysis and integration of knowledge into the creative process—to satisfy the needs and resources of the client.

Whether working in a corporate or residential space, interior designers are challenged with applying creative and technical solutions within a structure that are functional, attractive, and beneficial to the occupants’ quality of life and culture. Designers must respond to and coordinate with the building shell and acknowledge the physical location and social context of the project. By implementing thoughtful solutions, interior designers can create spaces that greatly improve the experiences of the people who inhabit them.

For example, there has been a lot of research around how design elements in healthcare institutions affect patients. Studies have shown that the recovery of surgery patients who had views of scenery in their room recovered faster than those who did not. Another study found infants who experienced daylight cycles while staying in a neonatal unit developed their own wake-sleep cycles earlier than those who were exposed to constant, dim hospital lights.

Professional Requirements for Interior Designers

Because of the complexity of their role, interior designers are generally expected to achieve a higher level of education than interior decorators, who require no formal training or licensure.

In addition to learning principles of applying gathered knowledge to the creative process of designing a space, designers must also adhere to code and regulatory requirements and encourage the principles of environmental sustainability.

Many U.S. states and Canadian provinces have passed laws requiring interior designers to be licensed or registered—documenting their formal education and training—and many of them specifically require that all practicing interior designers earn the NCIDQ Certificate to demonstrate their experience and qualifications.

Interested in Interior Design?

Interior designers are given the ability to think creatively to create functional spaces that can genuinely improve people’s lives. If this profession sounds interesting to you, consider learning more about RMCAD’s Interior Design Program.


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