(Above: Interior design renderings featured on Pinterest, the work of Andrea Prandino pictured third from left)


The Differences Between "Interior Design" and "Decorating"

Many people use the terms "interior design" and "interior decorating" interchangeably, but these professions differ in critical ways.

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.

Interior designers apply creative and technical solutions within a structure that are functional, attractive and beneficial to the occupants' quality of life and culture. Designs respond to and coordinate 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 — to satisfy the client’s needs and resources.


Interior Design Specialties

Many designers approach projects from different perspectives, often specializing in one or more specific types of interior design. These approaches to design cut across specialties, such as sustainable or green design, universal or accessible design, design for aging in place, and others. Some designers specialize in only residential or commercial (or contract) projects, but many designers do both residential and commercial projects of various kinds.

The most common types of design specialties are follows:


  • Single home – remodel or addition
  • Single home – new construction
  • Model home
  • Multi-housing (apartments, condominiums, etc.)



  • Office / Branded environments
  • Healthcare and medical
  • Hospitality (hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs, spas and resorts, clubhouses)
  • Retail
  • Government / Institutional
  • Education
  • Entertainment (stage, movies and TV, theme parks)


Some designers specialize in interiors for yachts, cruise ships and private planes.

Working with an interior designer involves some give and take. You will share ideas, and the designer will contribute insights and advice based on his or her talents, knowledge and experience. You will have many details to consider and many decisions to make. Your concept may grow and change as you undergo this process.

The key to a successful project outcome is good communication. The more direct and specific you are, the easier it will be for the designer to successfully meet your needs and expectations. 

The Design Process

  1. Client Needs Assessment
    Interior designers meet with their client to examine the space and understand the client's preferences and budget constraints. For example, an interior designer remodeling a bathroom for a family would meet with the family members to determine their habits and to examine the current lighting, colors, and spatial relationships. According to the American Society of Interior Designers (www.asid.org), interior designers in charge of decorating newly built commercial structures (hotels, restaurants, etc.) may also be involved in planning the building's construction.
  2. Creation of Plans and Specifications
    A design plan is created, often using computer-aided design (CAD) software. This plan is usually developed in conjunction with the client, who is shown drawings and product samples for approval. After a rough design is agreed upon, the designer estimates the costs and specifications are drawn for the required furniture, flooring, wall tile, artwork, and lighting. A project timeline is also created at this point.
  3. Assure Work is Completed on Time and on Budget
    An interior designer oversees the design implementation, making sure the job is running according to the timeline and budget.

Consider Your Role in the Design Process

Take your responsibilities as a client seriously. If you are going to be very busy or on travel during this process, consider delaying the project until later or getting someone to manage it for you. Remember, if you delegate the decision-making to the designer, you are agreeing to live with those decisions.

To avoid disappointment or unwelcome surprises, follow these guidelines:

  • Minimize changes to your plan. Each part of the design will affect the whole. Changes or special requests can require any number of adjustments that will add time and expenses to your project.
  • Consider carefully and make notes before you call your designer. Repeated calls are inefficient, expensive and can slow down progress.
  • Stay flexible. Decide beforehand where you are willing to compromise and where not.
  • Trust your gut. Do not agree to a decision that does not "feel" right to you, no matter how urgent it may seem to be. Take time to request more information, do some research or just reflect.
  • Avoid open-ended requests. Tell the designer up front what you are willing to pay in total for a particular item or service.