NCIDQ -- The Everest of Interior Design Qualification

When I graduated high school 4th in my class and made the announcement that I would be attending college for interior design, I got a lot of confused reactions. Some teachers told me I was “wasting my talent”, while extended family made comments like, “there’s still time for her to change her mind.” Needless to say, besides my immediate family, I didn’t get a ton of support. I blame these types of negative reactions on a poor understanding of what a career in the field of interior design actually can be and the level of licensure a designer can achieve. Later, I’ll do a post on the difference between interior design and interior decorating, which promises to be a colorful topic (get it?). Today, I’m focusing on answering some of the most common questions about my latest venture:

The NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification)

1. What is the NCIDQ

NCIDQ Application Accepted
NCIDQ Application Accepted

The NCIDQ is an exam that allows a designer to achieve the highest qualification in the industry. Passing the exam identifies interior designers as having accumulated a level of experience and knowledge that sets them apart from the general designer population. In fact, some states even require the certification in order to be referred to as an Interior Designer.

It is a 15 hour exam over the course of three days and is comprised of 2 multiple choice exams and an 8 hour drafting exam. It defines the standards regarding health, safety, and welfare in the industry while testing the minimum competency required to practice interior design. Topics such as sustainability, ergonomics, codes, lighting, project management, and accessibility are all covered along with a number of others.


2. How to become qualified to take the NCIDQ?

Application materials for NCIDQ
Application materials for NCIDQ

Like many other accreditation exams, one cannot simply walk off the street and take the exam. I’ve spent the last 8 years working towards becoming qualified to take it!  What did I have to do, you might ask? After graduating from an accredited 4-year program with a degree in interior design, I had to log 3,520 hours of design work under another licensed designer and then proceed to a lengthy application process of letters of recommendation, hour logs, transcripts and other NCIDQ forms.

3.Why take the NCIDQ?

Notes on NCIDQ Study Guide
Notes on NCIDQ Study Guide

Over the years, interior designers have received a bad reputation as being “pillow pickers.” We have programs like “Trading Spaces” and other HGTV/TLC television shows to thank for this, all of which poorly represent the reality of working in the industry. A lot of the time, the general public is not familiar with all of the aspects of a project in which a designer is qualified to be involved. Passing the NCIDQproves that a designer can handle a wide range of responsibilities, project management, and problem solving in any level of commercial or residential project.

As an independent designer, I see it as being one more thing that can set me apart from others in the industry, and there is a huge sense of accomplishment that comes with passing the exam.  It often helps to build respect from others in the industry, and allows you to be qualified for professional memberships in organizations such as ASID (American Society of Interior Design).

4. Why hire someone who has passed the NCIDQ?

When a homeowner hires an NCIDQ certified designer for a project, they hire someone who has proven to have the proficiency, experience, and knowledge in the principles of interior design, and it guarantees that they have achieved a certain level of experience in the industry.

When a contractor hires a licensed designer who is well versed in the entire realm of the design and construction process, they can be confident in the skillset and knowledge on materials, codes, and processes practiced and specified by that designer.

5.  So, if the results of passing the NCIDQ are so great, why do so few designers in MI take the NCIDQ?

While the NCIDQ is required in some states to practice interior design, Michigan isn’t one of them. There are a number of reasons why many designers don’t take the exam in Michigan. The first is – IT’S HARD! While the pass rate for the various sections of the NCIDQ vary between 45%-65%, a mere 30% pass all three sections the first time. Let me say that another way: 70% of first time test takers fail! Often after being in the industry for many years, it’s hard for even the best designers to get back into a studying regimen, retain the required level of information, and set aside 6-8 months for preparation.

The second reason? IT’S EXPENSIVE! Between studying materials, applications, study sessions, and the registration costs, most applicants spend between $1,500-$2,000 to complete the exam assuming they pass the first time!

Studying for NCIDQ with coffee
Studying for NCIDQ with coffee

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be sitting in a coffee shop reading my bright blue textbook until October 20th, and scheduling an extended spa treatment on the 21st.