An interior designer has a direct influence on the places and spaces we occupy

When the phrase "interior design" comes to mind, many people cannot help but think of the deluge of home-makeover shows that seem to dominate daytime television. In reality, the job of an interior designer involves a great deal more than how MDF could be used. In fact, the life of an interior designer in today's market is extremely complex, for it encapsulates a great deal more than people realise.

Think of it this way: in Northern Europe, we spend around 90 per cent of our time indoors, whether it's at school, work, home, in shops, cafés, clubs, exhibitions, events, installations – even museums and galleries. Our environment says a lot about us, and the spaces that we inhabit in our daily lives can actually affect our emotions. As human beings we buy into the culture of places in order to suit our personal needs and it is often the space – not a particular item – that can affect us.

Interior design is about much more than designing for aesthetic appearance. It has to consider communication and the key user experience: how spaces work; how they deliver a message and how individuals respond to this when conducting their daily lives; and even how people move around space and interact with objects or people. When within popular design culture, people consider the look of architecture; the true meaning of spaces and places is developed by interior specialists. These are people with the ability to combine engineering, construction, art and psychology in creating spaces; they must consider the basic provision of spatial design.

Interior design requires knowledge of appropriate building regulations, health and safety legislation, project planning and technical specifications, all applied in a creative fashion to generate an environment.

Often you will find that the busy life of an interior designer requires adaptability: one moment you might be discussing a brief with a client, the next pitching a design to another. The interior designer has to liaise with their own design team, along with a range of on-site specialists. Communication, in all visual and verbal formats, is a key tool.

A good example of the power of interior design can be summed up by a recent project. The client, a well-known sports-car manufacturer, requested the development of an interior space for a new museum dedicated to their history. They had already commissioned architects and visual-marketing consultants to forge an identity for the project. A building shell was designed and, as such, the task was to create a new "experience" – within the void and within a strict budget.

The final proposal to the executives incorporated an upper mezzanine floor made of strengthened perspex, along with a series of creative structural interventions that linked the idea of the internet experience with a continuing journey throughout the museum space. It also incorporated lighting and interactive technologies.

This had been put together using a combination of research, experimentation and technical innovation. The output was within the budget constraints – visualised using a combination of effective models and computer-generated special effects – and it provided a new identity for the museum, going beyond the expectations of the client. It was at this point that the executives gasped, "We never knew you could do so much on the inside!" This is the key point: the interior experience is an exciting part of design society that directly affects everyday life in so many more ways than people realise.

To enter an interior design course you could study art and design at AS-level; a National Diploma in an art and design subject; or a Foundation diploma in art and design. Most interior design degree courses are affiliated with Interior Educators – an organisation set up to enhance the education of the subject. In addition, upon graduation you can attain accreditation with professional bodies such as the British Interior Design Association (BIDA) and the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD). For more specific information on entry to such courses you should look at the websites of specific institutions, but wherever you choose to go, be ready for an exciting and challenging creative career!

Dr Paul Bailey is subject leader for interior design at Birmingham City University

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