What Is Interior Design?

interior design

Interior Impressions

The phrase "interior design" is mentioned so frequently, but what does it actually entail? What does an interior designer do most of the time, and what is the difference between interior design and interior decor? To help give you a run through over everything you've ever wanted to know about interior design, we've put together a guide that answers all of these questions and more. Keep reading to learn about this fascinating field.

interior design

Cathie Hong

Interior Design vs. Interior Decorating

These two phrases may seem to be one and the same, but this is actually not the case, Stephanie Purzycki of The Finish explains. "Many people use interior design and interior decorator interchangeably, but they are actually quite different," she notes. "Interior design is a social practice that studies people's behavior in relation to the built environment. Designers have the technical knowledge to create functional spaces, but they also understand structure, lighting, codes, and regulatory requirements to enhance the quality of life and experience of the user."

Alessandra Wood, VP of Style at Modsy, expresses similar sentiments. "Interior design is a practice of conceptualizing a space to balance function and aesthetics," she says. "Function might include layout, flow, and usability of the space and aesthetics are the visual properties that make the space feel pleasing to the eye: color, style, form, texture, et. cetera."

On the other hand, decorators take a less holistic approach to the craft and focus more specifically on styling a space. "Decorators are more focused on the decor and furnishing of a room," Purzycki says. "Decorators have a natural ability to understand balance, proportion, design trends. Decoration is only a part of what an interior designer does.

interior design

Interior Impressions

Interior Designers and Their Areas of Focus

Interior designers often take either commercial or residential projects—and sometimes tackle both—in their work. A designer's area of focus shapes their approach, Purzycki notes. "Commercial and hospitality interior designers know how to cultivate a branded experience in an interior," she says. "They also take a more scientific approach to designing a space by understanding program requirements, operational flows, integrated digital technologies so the business can run efficiently." On the other hand, those who specialize in residential work engage closely with their clients throughout the design process. "Usually, there is a lot more interaction between a client and a designer so the design process can be very therapeutic for a client," Purzycki says. "The designer has to really be there to understand a client's needs to create a space that is best suited for their family and their lifestyle."

Wood reiterates that this focus on a client's preferences and desires is an extremely significant component of a residential designer's work. "An interior designer works with clients to understand their wants, needs, and vision for the space and translates that into a design scheme that can be brought to life through installation," she explains. "Designers leverage their knowledge of layout and space planning, color palettes, furniture and decor sourcing/selection, material, and texture to address their clients needs and wishes." And note that designers must think beyond surface level when assisting their clients in the decision making process. Wood adds, "It’s not simply picking out furniture for the space, but really considering who lives in the space, how they anticipate using it, the styles that they’re drawn to and then coming up with a complete plan for space."


Not all designers meet with their clients face to face; many offer e-design, which allows them to work with clients all around the country and world. E-design is often more affordable for clients but requires more activity on their part, given that they must manage deliveries and provide updates to the designer, who may be located hours away. Some designers also offer remote styling services as well as sourcing, making it easy for clients looking to take on smaller projects or finish off a room to do so with the guidance of a professional.

interior design

Whittney Parkinson

Formal Training

Not all of today's interior designers have completed a formal degree program in the field, but many have chosen to do so. Currently, there are many in-person and online courses that also allow inspiring designers to build their skillset without having to pursue full-time schooling.


Interior design is an incredibly popular field, particularly given all of the TV shows dedicated to design and home remodeling. In recent years, social media has allowed designers to provide behind-the-scenes updates on their client projects and attract a new client base thanks to the power of Instagram, TikTok, and the like. Many interior designers choose to provide glimpses of their own home and DIY projects on social media, too!