Design Business

8 Interior Design Certifications That Will Level Up Your Career

Aside from your unique perspective, how do you differentiate yourself as an interior designer? One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is by leveling up your skillset through a new interior design certification. When you get design-specific certifications, you expand your knowledge and earn the respect of others in the industry as well as gain the trust of prospective clients. Not to mention, you can add these to your interior design portfolio!

Let’s discuss the most important certifications to consider as an interior designer.

1. National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ)

The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (or NCIDQ) is one of the most respected and important certifications in the interior design industry. In fact, it’s considered the highest certification for interior designers. You can use this certification to officially call yourself an interior designer instead of an interior decorator. Becoming an NCIDQ certified interior designer means that you have the proven skill set to understand and correctly apply the current codes that have been established to protect the public in matters of health, safety, and welfare. By becoming NCIDQ certified, you receive professional recognition, but that’s not the only reason to pursue it. Some states require that interior designers hold an NCIDQ license to practice. 

In addition to proving that you have expert-level knowledge in all aspects of interior design, an NCIDQ certification comes with a higher paycheck. On average, NCIDQ certified interior designers annually make $16,000 more than uncertified interior designers. With this certification, you’ll also be more likely to land a job at a respected firm. 

Before you can apply to take the NCIDQ exam, you must meet education requirements, specifically post-secondary education. The most commonly accepted degree is an interior design degree from a CIDA or Non-CIDA accredited school. However, the Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) will also accept a diploma, certificate, or degree in architecture  from a NAAB, CACB, Non-NAAB, or Non-CACB school. Eligibility requires official transcripts that reflect a minimum of 60 semester hours or 90 quarter credit hours of post-secondary interior design coursework. 

Before applying to take the NCIDQ exam, a candidate must also have earned work experience. The amount of experience varies based on the degree, from two years full-time to four years full-time.

Learn more about the NCIDQ examination eligibility paths here.

If you meet the above qualifications, you must sit for three exams to receive your NCIDQ qualification:

1. The Fundamentals (IDFX) – The NCIDQ IDFX exam covers building systems, construction standards, and design applications and has 125 multiple-choice questions. 

This exam is only offered twice a year: April (Spring) and October (Fall). Applications are accepted year-round, and the deadline for the Spring exam application is January 31st, and for the Fall is July 31st.

The IDFX exam itself costs $295. The application fee (if applying for all three tests at the same time) is a one-time fee of $225 for all exams. If only taking the IDFX exam, the application fee is $95. If you need to reschedule or cancel an exam, you may be charged additional fees. Certification fees are $75 for annual renewal and $150 for reinstatement.

Learn more about the fee structure here.

2. NCIDQ IDPX – This is the NCIDQ’s second exam. To be eligible for the IDPX exam, you must meet the education and work experience requirements discussed above. This exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions on the topics of building systems and integration, codes and standards, professional business practice, contract administration, contract documents, project coordination, and product and material coordination.

The examination fee is $355. If you’re applying in two parts, the application fee is a one-time fee of $145 for the second and third exams, and for the first exam (IDFX) is $95. If you’ve applied for all three exams concurrently, your one-time application fee of $225 will cover all three exams.

Like the first exam, the IDPX exam can be scheduled in Spring (April) and Fall (October).

3. NCIDQ Practicum Exam (PRAC) – The PRAC is the final exam you need to receive your NCIDQ certification. You’ll need to complete the education and work requirements mentioned above to apply for this exam. There are 114 multiple-choice questions divided evenly between three CIDQ case studies: large commercial, small commercial, and multi-family residential. Each case study will include a project scenario, a set of universal codes, a plan, and various resources that you may need to answer the question correctly. Each case study will account for a third of your final exam score, and you will have four hours to complete the PRAC exam. 

The PRAC examination fee is $460. If you’re applying for both the IDPX and the PRAC at the same time, the application fee is a one-time fee of $145 for the second and third exams. This is in addition to the $95 for the first exam (IDFX). If you’ve applied for all three exams simultaneously, your one-time application fee of $225 will cover all three exams.

Like the first two exams, you can take the PRAC exam in either Spring (April) and Fall (October).

2. International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)

The WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) certification is a credential signifying one’s expert status in the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™), specifically in the areas of human health and wellness. Those with this certification understand the built environment’s impact on well-being and seek to improve human health and mental well-being whenever possible.  

Why earn a WELL AP credential? For interior designers who wish to convey their commitment to human health advancement, earning a WELL AP certification demonstrates advocacy.  It can also open up new opportunities for networking with the 10,000+ other WELL APs around the globe.

To become a WELL AP, a candidate must first meet the eligibility requirements to sit for the WELL AP v2 exam and then pass it. This exam has 150 multiple-choice questions, and to be eligible, you must be at least 18 years of age or older.

The exam costs $299.

3. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

If you’re environmentally conscious and committed to sustainability, you may want to become LEED accredited. 

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Becoming LEED accredited (interior designers are accredited, and buildings are certified) is a two-part process. 

The first step is to become a LEED Green Associate. Earning this credential will prove you have a solid understanding of green building principles and practices. The LEED Green Associate exam is comprised of 100 multiple-choice questions and is two hours in length. You’ll need to display an aptitude for LEED Process, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Project Surroundings and Public Outreach. 

The LEED Green Associate exam fee is $250 ($100 for students and $200 for members of the U.S. Green Building Council, or the USGBC). There are no prerequisites or eligibility requirements. 

Learn more about the LEED Green Associate exam here.

The second step is to earn a LEED AP with a specialty. This advanced professional (AP) credential signifies expertise in green building, a specific LEED rating system, and the certification process. Before sitting for this 100 multiple-choice question exam, you must first pass the LEED Green Associate exam.

If you want to take both the LEED Green Associate exam and the LEED AP exam, the fee is $550 ($400 for USGBC members). If you have already taken the LEED Green Associate exam, you can pay for this specialty only. The fee is $350 ($250 for USGBC members). 

To sit for the LEED AP exam, you must be 18 years of age or older and hold a current LEED Green Associate credential. 

Learn more about the LEED AP exam here.

4. American Lighting Specialist (ALA)

infocused light bulbs light up room

The Lighting Specialist (LS) designation is a special certification awarded to individuals with proven knowledge in residential lighting.

Lighting has a major impact on the space you design and how your clients will interact with and in that space. This specialization can put you in a different league from other designers and offer you a higher salary than those without an education in architectural lighting. 

To earn this designation, you must purchase and review the Residential Lighting Training Manual and then pass an exam. The manual covers eight topics: Introduction to Lighting, Light Sources, Decorative Lighting Fixtures, Electricity and Lighting Controls, Architectural Lighting Fixtures, Fundamentals of Lighting Design, and Lighting Recommendations.

Not only will additional certifications help you become a better interior designer, but they’ll also give you an edge over your peers. Click To Tweet

5. American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID)

If you’re planning to specialize in the healthcare industry, particularly acute, ambulatory, or residential care, consider earning a CHID credential. The American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers (AAHID) administers the CHID Certified Healthcare Interior Designer® exam. Earning this certification shows that you are an expert in health care interior design or healthcare architecture.

To become a CHID Certified Healthcare Interior Designer®, you must apply by May 1st. The exam can be taken between September 1 – 30. For eligibility, you can take one of two pathways. 

Pathway 1 requires a minimum of three years of experience in healthcare interior design or healthcare architecture. You must also have the NCIDQ or NCARB certification. 

Pathway 2 requires at least ten years of experience in healthcare interior design or healthcare architecture, but no other certification is required.

The CHID exam is a multiple-choice exam that covers acute care, ambulatory care, and residential healthcare facilities and costs a total of $400. The application fee is $100, and the examination is $300. 

6. National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)

Should you become a member of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)? If you do, you’ll become part of a huge network of over 140,000 members, which you can rely on to grow your business connections. 

The NABH offers over a dozen certifications, including Certified Green Professional (CGP)™ and Graduate Master Remodeler. 

To become a Certified Green Professional (CGP), you’ll need to complete the required curriculum, have a minimum of two years’ worth of building industry experience, complete and submit a CGP graduation application, and agree to the CGP Code of Ethics. Graduation fees start at $75 for members ($110 for non-members) for the standard option. For the premium option (which gives you a customized CGP plaque, lapel pin, ribbon, and consumer brochures), NAHB members pay $145 (non-members pay $218). The renewal fee is $65 for members ($95 for non-members).

To become a Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR), you’ll need to meet the following requirements: Have a minimum of five years’ worth of experience in the remodeling business, completion of the Professional Remodeler Experience Profile (PREP), completion of the courses required by the results of the PREP, completion of the CGR graduation application, and agreed adherence to the CGR Code of Ethics. Additionally, you will be required to submit proof of liability and workers’ compensation insurance, have a valid business license (if state-required), and a letter of sponsorship from your employer. 

The National course fees for classes at IBS or other NAHB-sponsored events is $279 for members ($419 for non-members). Additional course fees include the National online PREP fee of $95 and any local course fees that are determined by the HBA or educational license holder who holds the classes. Graduation fees start at $75 for members ($110 for non-members) for the standard option. For the premium graduation option, which includes a customized CGR plaque, lapel pin, ribbon, and consumer brochures, members pay $145 (non-members pay $218). Annual renewal fees are $65 for members ($95 for non-members).

Learn more about NAHB designations here.

7. National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)

The NARI certification is ideal for interior designers who want to be recognized as experts in remodeling standards and best practices. This certification will distinguish you as a knowledgeable professional, but it will also add to your skillset. You can learn more about project management and timeliness as well as remodeling operations.

NARI offers the Certified Remodeler Associate (CRA) certification for interior designers. It is given to professionals who apply for and pass a 200 question exam. To be eligible for the NARI CRA certification, you must meet three criteria: 

  • Currently employed by or own a firm that derives at least 90% of its sales from remodeling
  • Minimum of five years of continuous experience in the remodeling industry
  • Minimum of 16 hours of continuing education (you can view NARI’s on-demand educational webinars that are each worth one continuing education unit (hour)

The certification fee for the CRA is $600 for NARI members and $850 for non-members. The online prep course fee is $249 for members and $399 for non-members. You will also pay an annual renewal fee of $89 for members and $178 for non-members.

8. National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA)

The National Kitchen + Bath Association (NKBA) is a group that focuses on the professionalism of the kitchen and bath industry. By receiving an NKBA certification, you also gain increased credibility amongst peers and prospective clients. The NKBA may even lead to increased earning potential. 

The NKBA offers the following certifications:

Associate Kitchen & Bath Designer (AKBD)  – This certification requires two years of kitchen and bath design experience or one year of kitchen and bath design experience and one year of related experience. It’s also recommended (but not required) that you obtain 30 education hours from NKBA or an NKBA-approved college.

To sit for this multiple-choice exam, you must provide two professional affidavits and one personal testimony.

Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer –  This certification requires five years of experience. Two years may come from full-time residential kitchen and bath experience, and three years may come from related experience. You must also have 60 education hours from NKBA or an NKBA-approved college.

Final Thoughts

Earning one or more of the above interior design certifications is sure to level up your career. Not only can they help you improve as an interior designer, but these certifications also upgrade your profile, so you stand out amongst your peers and to prospective clients. You can certainly earn more clients by expanding your knowledge and adding more acronyms to your profile.