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Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating

Many people use the terms “interior design” and “interior decorating” interchangeably. But the reality is that they are not the same thing. They may cross paths in certain aspects, but as a whole, interior design is more interdisciplinary compared to interior decorating, and is more all-encompassing. You can say that interior decorating is a specialized subset of interior design.

The Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) states:
“Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.” (Source:

interior design vs interior decorating

Have you ever pondered the difference between a graphic designer vs. an artist? A graphic designer is concerned with creating a visual solution that solves a set of problems and needs, whereas an artist is more concerned with self-expression and the beauty of creation. A graphic designer is often bound by requirements of other disciplines (ie. marketing, sales, regulatory, technology, etc), whereas an artist generally has more free reign on what he/she wants to do and how to do it.

Interior design, like graphic design, is solution-driven. It is meant to address a set of problems. Perhaps a room is too small and an interior designer can use spatial planning and furniture placements to make a room look bigger. Perhaps a store has too much foot traffic, so the interior designer needs to select construction materials and furniture that will withstand wear and tear.

Interior design intends to provide solutions to problems.
Interior decorating intends to express one’s preferences in aesthetics.

In many U.S. states and Canadian provinces, laws have been passed requiring interior designer to be licensed or registered. They are required to have specific formal education and training. Their education usually includes spatial planning, layout, computer-aided design (CAD), architectural and building studies, fire and safety codes, furniture design, color and material studies, drawing, sociocultural studies, and more.

In contrast, interior decorators aren’t required to have formal education or training because their primary focus is on aesthetics. They do not require licenses in order to practice.

Interior Design Interior Decorating

Requires specific education and formal training. It is usually a two-year or four-year program. In some jurisdications, interior designers need to pass an exam to become registered with their local governing body.

The education typically includes:

  • residential and commercial design, including retail, office, hospitality and public spaces
  • design theories and history
  • color, fabric and material studies
  • technical drawing and construction drawing
  • 2D and 3D design software training
  • computer-aided design (CAD) training
  • spatial planning
  • lighting
  • architectural studies
  • millwork drawing and furniture design
  • sustainability practices
  • building codes and compliance, fire protection, occupant safety and accessibility
  • cultural histories, socio-economics, and human behavior

Interior decorators are not required to have formal education or training, because they primarily focus on decorative details and aesthetics. However, many interior decorators have college degrees in related fields such as fine art, furniture design, or graphic design. Interior decorators do not need to be registered with their local governing body.

License In many U.S. states and Canadian provinces, laws have been passed requiring interior designer to be licensed or registered. However, in some jurisdictions and other countries, no accreditation is required. Interior decorators do not require a license or accreditation to practice.
Primary function Interior designers create functional spaces that accommodate people’s behaviors as well as the intended use of the space. They address functional problems by using lighting, spatial planning, material selection, furniture selection, and building codes that meet the objectives of the space. Interior decorators are skilled at aesthetic expression by adorning the space with beautiful furniture and accessories. They often paint walls, use wallpaper, select furniture, rugs, curtains, lamps, throw pillows and wall art and arrange them in a visually appealing fashion.
Hired by Interior designers are usually hired by architects and developers. Most often for commercial projects. Interior decorators are occasionally hired by architects and developers, but they most often work with homeowners or business managers, for residential and commercial projects.