Architecture vs. Interior Design: 9 Things to Consider

Among the many decisions that prospective architecture or interior design students face, none is more perplexing than choosing between architecture and interior design. While other career choices, such as architecture and engineering or medicine and...

Among the many decisions that prospective architecture or interior design students face, none is more perplexing than choosing between architecture and interior design. While other career choices, such as architecture and engineering or medicine and architecture, are relatively easier to consider due to their contrasting nature of work, the distinction between architecture and interior design can be quite bewildering.

Your decision to study either architecture or interior design will depend on the level of impact you want your work to have on its users and your risk appetite relative to that impact. Architects deal with the design and flow of the entire building and its relationship to the external surroundings. Conversely, interior designers’ focus is on the internal spaces, including the selection of materials, colors, fittings, and furniture. However, there are some overlapping scopes between the two disciplines.

To help you make an informed decision, here are nine key factors to consider:

1. Scope of Design

The scope of design that an architect is responsible for is wide-ranging and includes the primary design concept of the entire building or development, the flow from one space to another, the relationship between spaces, the design of external facades and their relationship to the surroundings, and coordination with other design consultants and engineers.

On the other hand, an interior designer's design input is on a relatively smaller scale, focusing on the concept of internal spaces, the selection of finishes, furniture, lighting, and making design decisions that impact how occupants use the space.

2. Length of Study

A professional bachelor's degree in Architecture typically takes 5 years to complete. Alternative routes to becoming an architect involve a combination of a pre-professional degree and a Master of Architecture, extending the completion time to 6 years.

A diploma in interior design is commonly offered as a full-time program over 3 years, while most bachelor's degrees in interior design take 4 years to complete. The difference in study length should only be a small factor in your decision.

3. Areas of Study

While the subjects taught may vary, both architecture and interior design programs provide students with a similar skill set. Architecture students can expect to learn architectural design, urban design, history of architecture, communication skills, construction technology, and project management. Interior design students focus on design and styles, communication skills, materials, lighting, furniture, construction detailing, MEP services, and project management.

4. Nature of Relationship with Other Stakeholders

Architects lead the team of design consultants and coordinate the work in their respective disciplines to produce a cohesive master design. They work closely with engineers, technical specialists, and contractors. Interior designers work with architects and engineers but have a closer working relationship with interior contractors. They do not have to worry about obtaining any statutory approval before implementing their work.

5. Duration of Projects

Building projects typically involve several stages that can take 4 to 5 years to complete. Interior design projects, on the other hand, range from a few months to a year or more, depending on the project's size.

6. Impact on the Lives of End Users

Architects and interior designers impact the lives of users in different ways. Architectural design decisions determine how well a building functions and enhances users' experiences. The aesthetics of buildings also impact the appearance of neighborhoods and cities. Interior designers contribute to the occupants' comfort, safety, and perception of the space. Interior spaces may undergo frequent changes, while buildings can last for many years.

7. Legal and Statutory Obligation

Architects must be licensed to practice legally, as their work is bound by building codes and regulatory requirements. Interior design is not a regulated profession, allowing interior designers more freedom to practice their trade.

8. Licensure Requirement

Architects must meet specific licensure requirements before using the title 'Architect' and practicing in a particular jurisdiction. Interior designers do not have such requirements, although there are accrediting organizations for interior design study programs.

9. Salary/Income

While financial prospects are a factor to consider, it's important not to base your career choice solely on income. The median salary for architects in 2019 was $68,486, compared to the median salary of $52,747 for interior designers. However, professional fees charged by licensed architects and practicing interior designers can potentially be significantly higher.

Can I Study Architecture after Interior Design?

It is possible to study architecture after completing an interior design program. As both programs fall under the umbrella of building design, there are overlapping design components. However, extended undergraduate study and a fascination with all facets of design related to the built environment are necessary.

Ultimately, the decision between architecture and interior design comes down to your passion and where you see yourself making a meaningful impact. If shaping how societies live and how cities are built excites you, architecture may be the path for you. On the other hand, if designing the details within a space and creating appealing interior decorations resonate with you, interior design might be the better choice.