Interior Design Major Guide for 2013-2014

What is Interior Design

Interior design involves the study and transformation of the interior environment at the human scale.  Interior designers understand how the design of material finishes, furnishings, lighting, and space can improve the quality of life.  As licensed professionals, interior designers analyze complex design challenges involving interior construction and technical considerations related to issues such as lighting, acoustics and ergonomics. Their designs must meet code issues involving fire, electricity, structure, occupancy and materials. Interior design is broader than interior decorating, which focuses primarily on furniture and finishes.

In designing the micro-environment for specific functions or programs, interior designers are knowledgeable about how users experience space. Interior designers understand how each detail of a design affects the overall concept.

The goal of an education in interior design is to develop a synthetic thought process of critical thinking and creative problem solving, while building technical knowledge and an understanding of the human environment. Creative thinkers in architecture and interior design must address all aspects of the built environment in its cultural, social, and ethical context.  Interior designers often cooperate in teams with discplines such as architecture and graphic design.

The University of Tennessee Interior Design Program is professionally accredited by the Council of Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA.) The University of Tennessee Knoxville offers the only interior design program in the state of Tennessee which is located in the same academic unit with a professional architecture program.  All graduates with sufficient internship experience after graduation are eligible to take the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam (NCIDQ exam).

Career Opportunities in Interior Design

An interior design education, with its emphasis on detailed problem solving through analytical and creative thinking, is an excellent preparation for many different career paths within interior design and architecture, as well as within other fields such as real estate development, construction, consulting, graphic design, industrial design, product development, and sales.

Aspiring interior designers should learn as much as possible about the field by talking to professional interior designers. Interior designers may have their own design practice, may work as part of a design team within an architecture practice, or may work as a design consultant for a manufacturer.

Interior designers are often employed directly by a large client that has extensive interior design projects, such as a health care corporation, a business corporation, a government agency, or a hotel chain.

Salary Trends in Interior Design

Like most components of the construction industry, interior design is closely related to the economy. However, even when new construction is stalled during a recession, interior designers tend to have more stable commissions related to renovations of existing buildings. Client fees are highly competitive, and interior designers’ salaries will vary significantly. On the other hand, interior designers have the gratification of seeing each different project evolve from an abstract idea into a permanent reality that transforms the daily lives and well-being of the project’s users. The work of an interior designer is unique and meaningful.

Interior design graduates from the University of Tennessee are well regarded. Each spring the college organizes extensive interview opportunities for students with regional and national firms. Interior design graduates can expect starting salaries of $30,000–$40,000.

High School Preparation

Students interested in interior design are encouraged to learn about the profession, to learn about different educational degree programs, and to visit the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design.

High school students are strongly encouraged to take drawing and/or art courses as a way to develop visual ability. Short drawing and art courses offered by local organizations, such as a museum or a summer camp program, may be very helpful. Students are encouraged to take physics and math.  Students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses should take the national AP exam. Extensive drafting, mechanical drawing or “architecture” courses based on drafting are not recommended.

High school students interested in interior design are not encouraged to attend a community college and transfer at a later date. Although a large portion of the interior design students do start the program as sophomores or juniors, most transfer students will start the interior design program in the first year of the design curriculum. Transfer students will be accepted into the College of Architecture and Design on a space available basis, and will be evaluated based on college record, high school record, ACT/SAT score and portfolio.

How to Major in Interior Design

Due to the limited size of the design studios and college resources, admission to the College of Architecture and Design is selective, based on high school record, test scores, and portfolio. Students accepted to the University of Tennessee are not automatically accepted to the College of Architecture and Design, and the following steps should be taken to insure consideration for the program:

  • All students must indicate an interest in applying to the College of Architecture and Design when they apply for admission to the university.
  • A portfolio is required of all applicants, due by the application deadline.
  • It is recommended that students visit the College of Architecture and Design.
  • Deadlines for early decision, for scholarships, for financial aid, for application, for portfolio submission, and for transfer application are determined each year by the University Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Requirements for Interior Design

Required Portfolio

All applicants must submit a portfolio of personally produced graphic or visual work. The purpose of the portfolio is to demonstrate visual talent and abilities as well as to provide insight into the creative thought process of the applicant. The portfolio must contain at least three required images as follows:

  • An instrument
  • A visual description of where you live
  • Hand(s)

One of each of the three required images must be executed in black ink, one in graphite, one in color. At least two of the three images must be executed freehand.

Aim for quality rather than quantity in selecting work. An ideal number would be eight to ten examples of personal work. All work shall be neatly assembled in an 8 1/2 x 11 portfolio or organized folder/notebook. Submittals not adhering to this size requirement will not be reviewed.

The following guidelines have been established to assist applicants in selecting additional samples of personal work for the portfolio.

  • Consider including examples of drawings, artwork, photography, or anything else that may demonstrate visual and creative abilities.
  • Consider including examples of creative work such as graphic design, fashion design, industrial design, furniture design and/or other examples of creativity and invention.
  • Consider including work from course assignments (if any), as well as work completed independently.
  • Only submit mechanically-drafted or computer-aided drawings if they are illustrative of personal design work.
  • Submission of the original item is not necessary. Inexpensively reproduced drawings, photographs, reductions, and photocopies are acceptable. Digital design work must be submitted as a hard copy (no slides or disks). For work that does not lend itself to representation in an 8½ x 11 format, such as films, websites, or recordings, include appropriate information, such as a labeled CD.
  • Label all work with name, date when work was executed, and media. Indicate if it was part of course work.
  • The cover or cover page of the portfolio should include the student name and contact information as well as the program to which the application is made (Architecture or Interior Design).
  • Include a hard copy of the application to UT and personal information in the portfolio.
  • Submit the portfolio by the published deadlines.

The portfolio will be reviewed by faculty members of the College Admissions Committee. Include a self-addressed stamped mailer for the return of the portfolio. Otherwise, portfolios will not be held nor returned.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

The College of Architecture and Design provides a variety of meaningful learning experiences and opportunities beyond the basic professional program. An active lecture series and exhibition program bring a variety of nationally known designers to Tennessee. Local practicing interior designers and architects participate in many activities. Numerous field trips take interior design students to product shows, regional firms, lighting facilities, and  award-winning interior spaces.

The Interior Design Program requires a summer internship experience for all of its graduates. The College assists with information, interviews, and job placement, while monitoring the quality of the experience. Through the internship experience, interior design students appreciate their education and gain insights into their profession.

Highlights of Interior Design

From the first year in the College of Architecture and Design, students are part of a smaller community within the larger University. Because all students have their own desk in the studio, the Art & Architecture Building is a second home, where students come to know each other well and where the student-faculty ratios are low. The faculty are exceptional and dedicated teachers who are active participants in the students’ program. The faculty includes professional architects, interior designers, engineers, and scholars, with diverse educational backgrounds and with impressive experiences in practice.

The award-winning Art & Architecture Building provides one of the finest facilities in the country for design students. Facilities include all design studios, a student café, a supply store, the Ewing Gallery and two sculpture gardens. Architecture and interior design students have a well equipped wood shop, darkrooms, a resource library of materials, an experimental building platform, presentation spaces, two computer labs, a print center with extensive digital printing capabilities, and a digital fabrication center with laser cutters, 3D printers and CNC mills.

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

The Interior Design Program provides study abroad opportunities for its students, either during the fall, spring or summer semesters.  Each year, different faculty members in the College plan fascinating summer courses of study held during the mini-term to various locations.  Students in the College are strongly encouraged to participate in one of the study abroad opportunities to enhance their educational experience while at UT.

Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. Beginning with first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students entering in the Fall 2013 semester, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

For More Information

Amy Burns
Academic Advisor
College of Architecture & Design
1715 Volunteer Boulevard
Knoxville, TN 37996-2400


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.