“What’s that?” is the question I most often received when I told friends and relatives that I was taking NCIDQ. NCIDQ stands for “National Council for Interior Design Qualifications.” When an interior designer says that she’s taking NCIDQ, what she means is that she’s taking the series of three exams that will certify her as an interior designer.
Usually, the response I received to this explanation was one of surprise. Most people understand that accountants take the CPA exams, attorneys take the Bar exam, and nurses have to pass boards, but few people realize that interior designers also have a certification available. It allows us to prove that we have met a professional standard of education, experience, and competence. It is not for the faint of heart. In order to even qualify to take the exam, candidates must prove that they have a minimum of six years of education and experience combined. Most candidates have a four-year degree and at least two years of full-time work experience, but there are other combinations possible. I had a four-year degree plus four years of work experience by the time I applied. Not only must candidates prove their education and experience, but they must also obtain three written references and submit all information along with an application fee. NCIDQ doesn’t let just anyone in; that’s for sure.
Widmer’s newest NCIDQ-Certified Interior Designer at work! Way to go, Tara!
Many people then ask, “So what type of stuff is on the exam?” Those who aren’t “in the know” tend to think of interior design as the type of thing they see on TV, and aren’t aware of how interior designers affect every environment they use beyond paint colors and curtains. Go into any public space and let your eyes wander around the room. Chances are an interior designer designed or at least influenced the layout, lighting design, custom casework, furniture fixtures and finish selections. They have a direct impact ensuring that people can get out in case of a fire, directing the flow of traffic throughout a space, and making an interior more environmentally sustainable. Interior designers must know the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, fire codes, lighting design, power data and plumbing integration, heating and cooling considerations, millwork (cabinetry) design, furniture design, contracts, and understand the ethics, liabilities, and responsibilities as a practicing professional. All of these concepts are tested through both written exams and drafting exercises, spaced over 16 cumulative hours.
Building System Integration work for NCIDQ-certification.
Egress work for NCIDQ-certification.
Lighting work for NCIDQ-certification.
Space Planning work for NCIDQ-certification.
Once I received my letter of acceptance in June of 2012, studying began. I purchased the latest edition of Interior Design Reference Manual: A Guide to the NCIDQ Exam
by David Ballast, as well as practice tests and flashcards. Full disclosure: it was hard.
I had been out of college for five years at this point and had to train myself to study all over again. I also had to fit studying around my work schedule and my responsibilities at home. And, as anyone going to school and working at the same time can tell you, the last thing you want to do after a long day at work is study.
Study books and materials.
Preparation time varies for each person. The exam covers an extremely broad range of topics, and requires in-depth knowledge of each. Since very few designers have worked in all areas, extra study time must be devoted to the weaker areas to compensate. For example, I have never worked in residential design but have some experience in commercial architectural design and furniture, so I paid extra attention to the residential information. I spent a total of ten months preparing for the exam, but only studied hard-core for the last three. I gave up my social life to study evenings, weekends, and on lunch breaks. If I could find a spare moment, I studied. Since one of the exams is comprised of exercises utilizing hand drafting (no technology shortcuts allowed!), I hauled all of my old drafting tools from college out of my parent’s basement (much to their excitement, I might add!). I obtained copies of architectural drawings so I could practice drawing things I haven’t done in a while, such as millwork, restrooms, and life safety plans. I set an alarm clock and timed myself for the practice tests. I even took advantage of a workshop that helped me prepare for the exam. I am certain I would not have done as well without it. I learned that it is not enough to know the material, but you have to learn what the answer should be in “NCIDQ World,” as it is oftentimes different from your experience in the real world.
Millwork for NCIDQ-certification.
Restroom Regulation work for NCIDQ-certification.
Life Safety work for NCIDQ-certification.
I went into the exams this past April confident that I had prepared as much as I could in the time that I had. However, after going through them I really had no idea how I would score. I had to wait two months to receive my results in the mail. I had always done well in school, but I was not positive that I had passed when I left the exam. After two long months I found out I passed all three exams! I was beyond relieved that my hard work had paid off. If I hadn’t passed one or any of the exams, I could have retaken them, but it’s definitely a good feeling to have it behind me. My family and friends are glad to have me back as well!
One of Tara’s pass letters.
Now that I’ve received certification, I can legally call myself an “interior designer.” Before I had to use a modified title of “Designer” or simply saying that I worked in the interior design department because of the regulations on who can call themselves interior designers. Not only do I now have a new title and an extra credential that I can claim, my clients receive an added value for the services they receive from me. It is definitely not a requirement to have passed NCIDQ in order to be a good designer —there are many excellent designers out there that have not taken the exam—but it’s a way to show my clients that I meet a certain standard. My clients can now immediately know that they are having their space designed by someone who understands what will work best for their environment, from ergonomics, accessibility, and life safety, to form and function. Not only will I make their interior environments look beautiful, but I will also help ensure that they will stand the test of time and provide comfort, beauty, and safety for as many people as possible.
Tara does interior design work for corporate, healthcare and higher education facilities out of the Widmer Interiors Champaign, Ill. office.
Interior Designer Tara Nestleroad