The History of Interior Design Diploma Programs: From Trade School to Professional Certification

Think Interior
6 min readJan 5, 2023


Before the profession of interior design became widely recognized, people often relied on their knowledge and taste when designing the interiors of their homes or commercial spaces. While some individuals may have had a natural eye for design and a knack for creating visually appealing spaces, many others struggled to achieve the same success. As a result, the interiors of many homes and businesses needed to be better designed, lacking cohesiveness and functionality.

The field of interior design has come a long way since the first formal education programs were established in the early 20th century. Still, today’s interior design diploma programs offer a more comprehensive education that includes technical skills and creative thinking. This article will explore the history of interior design diploma programs, from their origins in trade school to their current form as professional certification programs.

Pre-20th Century: Trade Schools and Apprenticeships

Before the 20th century, interior designers got trained through apprenticeships or trade schools. One of the earliest forms of interior design education was the apprenticeship model, in which aspiring designers would work under the guidance of a more experienced professional to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the field. This type of hands-on training was common in many trades and crafts, allowing designers to learn the ropes while also earning a wage.

Apprenticeships were a common way for young people to learn a trade, and they typically involved working alongside an experienced designer for several years. On the other hand, trade schools offered short-term courses that taught students the basics of interior design, such as drawing and drafting techniques, color theory, and furniture design.

20th Century: Emergence of Interior Design Diploma Programs

In the early 20th century, interior design education began to evolve. The first formal interior design diploma program was established at New York’s Pratt Institute in 1908, and other art schools soon followed suit. These programs were typically two to four years and focused on the technical skills necessary to become an interior designer, such as drafting and rendering, space planning, and material selection. As the field of interior design grew and evolved, so did the education and training options available to aspiring designers.

In this century, trade and vocational schools began offering specialized courses in interior design, and university-level programs had also emerged by the mid-century. These programs typically included a mix of hands-on training, classroom instruction, and practical experience, and they were designed to prepare students for professional practice.

In recent years, the rise of online education has also had a significant impact on the certificate of interior design online programs. Today, earning a degree or certificate in interior design entirely online is possible, allowing students to learn at their own pace and from the comfort of their homes. This flexibility has made it easier for more people to pursue a career in interior design and has helped to ensure that the field remains diverse and vibrant.

21st Century: Online Education and Professional Certification

In the 21st century, interior design education has continued to evolve with the emergence of online education platforms and professional certification programs. Online interior design programs offer the convenience of studying from home and often include hands-on experience through internships or projects. Professional certification programs, such as the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam, provide additional credentials for designers who have completed a formal education program and have a certain number of years of experience.

The 21st century has significantly shifted towards online education and professional certification in interior design. With the proliferation of the internet and technological advances, earning a diploma or degree in interior design is now possible online. These programs offer a flexible and convenient way for individuals to learn and advance their careers in the field.

In addition to traditional online programs, many universities and colleges also offer professional certification programs specifically geared toward interior design. These programs are often shorter in duration and focus on specific skills or areas of the field, such as sustainability or residential structure.

Professional certification can be a valuable asset for interior designers, demonstrating expertise and commitment to the field. It can also lead to better job opportunities and higher salaries. As such, many interior designers pursue professional certification to stay in competition in the job market and continue learning throughout their careers.

Interior Design Vs. Interior Décor Diploma — Which Is Better?

An interior design diploma and an interior decor diploma are two different paths individuals can pursue in the field of interior design. An interior design program focuses on the practical skills and knowledge needed to plan, design, and execute interior spaces for various types of buildings, including residential, commercial, and hospitality. On the other hand, an interior decor diploma program focuses more on the decorative aspects of interior spaces, including color schemes, furnishings, and accessorizing. Both programs can be valuable for those interested in pursuing a career in interior design. Still, they have some differences that individuals should consider when choosing which path is right for them.

Interior design and decorating often need clarification, but they are two separate fields. Interior design is a more technical and professional field that involves creating functional and aesthetically pleasing spaces within a building. This often involves working with architects and contractors to ensure the design is practical and meets the client’s needs. On the other hand, interior decorating is more focused on a space’s aesthetic aspect. It involves choosing and arranging furniture, fabrics, and other decorative elements to create a detailed and visually pleasing look. An interior design diploma program typically covers a wide range of topics, including space planning, materials selection, lighting design, and project management. In contrast, an interior decorating diploma program may focus more on color theory, textile selection, and styling techniques.

What Can You Expect From An Interior Design Diploma Program?

In general, these programs are designed to provide students with a strong foundation in the principles and practices of interior design, including space planning, material selection, lighting design, and color theory. They may also include instruction in computer-aided design (CAD) software commonly used in the industry and hands-on experience working on real-world projects.

Upon completing an interior design program, graduates will have a range of career options available to them. Some may work in residential interior design, creating comfortable and functional spaces for homeowners. Others may specialize in commercial design, working on projects for businesses, hotels, and other public spaces. Still, others may focus on event design, creating unique and visually striking environments for special occasions.

Continuing education and professional certification may also be an option for those interested in taking their careers to the next level. The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) offers a range of professional development opportunities and resources, including certification programs and continuing education courses. These programs can help designers to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques, and they can also help to enhance their credibility and reputation in the industry.

Future Of Interior Design Education

The future of interior design education looks bright, with more and more people recognizing the value of hiring a professional interior designer. As the demand for skilled designers grows, so will the need for high-quality education programs to train the next generation of professionals.

One trend likely to continue is the growth of online education programs. With the advent of virtual learning platforms, it is now easier than ever for people to earn their design diplomas from the comfort of their own homes. This is especially suitable for those with busy schedules or who live in areas with few in-person options available.

Another trend to watch is the increasing focus on specialization. As the field of interior design evolves and becomes more complex, designers will likely need to focus on specific areas of expertise to stay competitive. This could include everything from sustainable design to aging-in-place design and could lead to the development of new specialty programs and certifications.

Overall, the future of interior design education looks bright, with plenty of opportunities for those passionate about creating beautiful, functional spaces for people to live and work.


Interior design diploma programs have come a long way since their origins in trade school and apprenticeships. Today, these programs offer a comprehensive education that combines technical skills with creative thinking, and they can be pursued through traditional classroom learning or online platforms. In addition, professional certification programs provide designers with additional credentials and can help them stand out in a competitive job market. Regardless of the path chosen, an interior design diploma can open up many career opportunities for those interested in the field.

In conclusion, the history of interior design diploma programs is rich and varied, with roots stretching back to the early days of trade schools and apprenticeships. Aspiring designers have numerous options, from traditional university programs to online courses and specialized training. Whether you are just starting in the field or looking to advance your career, an interior design diploma can open the door to many exciting and rewarding career opportunities.



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