October 7, 2015

Preparing for the IDEX

The IDEX is a comprehensive examination that will highlight your knowledge and education in the interior design industry. It is part of the certification process for California designers, however it is not free. Those eligible to sit for this exam would do well to thoroughly prepare for it and reduce your chances of failure. Testing fees run between $500-$600 and the California Council for Interior Design Certification, or the CCIDC, does not offer a discount for re-takes.

Study Guide

There is no definitive study method for the IDEX. The CCIDC offers a free study guide, which highlights the outline of test content, methods of taking and scheduling the examination as well as a section on retrieving your final results. It comprises an overview to the IDEX as opposed to functioning as an actual study guide to help you pass, which the CCIDC states on their web site. The California IDEX Study Guide lists the materials used by the council in developing the test, which includes building title and code information, technical bulletins, the CCIDC Code of Conduct and nine reference texts.
Those who have recently graduated may have the upper hand in reference texts, perhaps even using some of the same texts that supported the examination content while in school. The CCIDC suggests visiting a local library or purchasing the texts if you need them for study. A local library or Chamber of Commerce may be able to supply a free source of state building code and title, as well.

Assess Your Current Knowledge

The CCIDC Study Guide provides a framework for study; think of it as a place to get started and assess your current knowledge base. In a checkbox format, this free, printable guide lists each subtitle under the main three sections of the IDEX including business, design and code. The guide goes into further detail providing the referenced sources for each section at the end. This allows you to review the information and find the source or sources that you need to review further. Due to the overwhelming amount of information tested on the IDEX, reviewing this guide first may save you some study hours.

Getting Started

There are myriad choices for IDEX study tools. Obviously, you could choose to use texts from the bookstore and your personal collection. Another method employed is to purchase a study tool kit. The CCIDC does not promote or endorse any such kits, however some of them come with a money-back guarantee that you will be pleased with their wealth of information and content. These kits come in flash cards, CD ROMs and thick review textbooks. Choosing the right material is a matter of your learning style, financial options and the amount of time you have allotted to study. The time that has elapsed since your formal interior design education will matter, as some of the study kit content may be overwhelming if you have just left school and only need to brush up on title and code.

IDEX Exam Eligibility

IDEX Exam EligibilityTaking the IDEX, or the Interior Design Examination in California, will set your career apart from your uncertified peers. Those who pass this prestigious examination use the identifier CID, or Certified Interior Designer. Firms in the industry may elect to hire only those who are certified, as may the general public if you are working independently. However, a little experience in the field or some years of didactic training may not be enough to make you eligible for the examination.

Regulations for Testing

The California Council for Interior Design Certification, or the CCIDC, is the governing body for interior design certification in the Golden State. They have set forth three ‘pathways’ to certification as a CID. These paths vary by levels of experience, national certification and education as an interior designer. After these pathways take you to your IDEX examination, you still must complete one of the four categories of certification to be certified.

The Three Paths to IDEX

The CCIDC has created three pathways to eligibility to sit for the IDEX. The first pathway covers two types of designers — those fresh from interior design school and those with no formal schooling and at least 5 years of experience. If you just finished 40 semester hours of design school you may be eligible to sit for the IDEX. Similarly, those with 5 to 8 years, or 9,000 to 15,000 hours of experience, may be eligible for testing under the first pathway. However, following completion of the IDEX you will still need to meet one of the four categories of certification, which require a ratio of education and experience to become fully certified and are discussed in detail later.

The second way to become certified encompasses a large group of interior designers who may have been practicing in the field for years prior to the birth of the IDEX. This pathway uses the categories of certification to ascertain eligibility to sit for the IDEX. Since this group is already halfway to certification, they must only pass the IDEX to become certified. Refer to the categories of certification to see you if qualify for the second pathway to certification.

The third and final path to certification is for those previously certified under the old interior design exam or the California Codes and Regulations Examination, known as the CCRE. Most of these designers will have plenty of field experience and possibly education in the field. However, under the new guidelines they are only grand fathered into certification if they have already passed or plan to take and pass one of the three national designer examinations including the CQRID, NCIDQ or the NKBA.

Categories of Certification

Regardless of which path to certification fits you, you will need to complete one of the four categories of certification to finalize your CID. These categories provide the ratio of education to experience for interior designers, allowing both those with higher levels of schooling or field experience eligibility for the IDEX. The ratios of education to experience for the four categories are as follows: those with 4 years of education require 2 years experience, 3 years education need 3 years experience, 2 years education need 4 years experience and those with a total of 8 years of mixed education and experience.

IDEX Test Development and Content

The Interior Design Examination, or IDEX for short, is a comprehensive test that covers the business, design and codes involved in this industry. Passing this test alone does not ensure certification, as you will still require experience and education within the field either before or after your test. However, if you have just graduated from at least 40 hours of design school, you may wish to take the IDEX test immediately upon graduation while the information is still fresh, as a large portion of the IDEX involves rote memorization of California building codes.

Content Developers

The California Council for Interior Design Examination is responsible for mandating the IDEX content. Groups of subject matter experts are selected every two years to update, review and change the examination to reflect the growing needs of today’s interior design professionals. The professionals developing the IDEX come from varied backgrounds to cover all three sections of the IDEX: business, code and design. This list of professionals includes CIDs and educators, fire department professionals, contractors and architects. In your career as a CID you may work with one or all of these types of professionals.

Codes and Regulations

Within the IDEX, the entire first section is attributed to building codes and regulations of California. Each state has independent contractor laws, which is why the IDEX helps you get certified in California easier than one of the national interior design tests. There are nine subsections within codes and regulations, which further narrow the content into more specific, testable areas. To pass this section you must possess knowledge of the construction and regulations of interior construction, including a firm grip of building code, zoning and professional responsibility such as fire, waste and health at both the county and state levels. The test may include a number of questions on California Title 24 encompassing fire and electrical components or cover building aspects such as plumbing, ventilation and acoustics issues. For those new to the state or with limited professional experience, this might be one of the most harrowing aspects of the exam due to the amount of rote memorization needed and the fact that it is the largest component of the examination.


The second and smallest section of the IDEX involves the business aspect of interior design, which includes four subsections narrowing test material down to ethical and legal issues in the industry. Prolific interior designers or those who have recently graduated may have the advantage in this section, having just studied the legalities of design consulting or actually living through them. The subsection of ethics is vague; the CCIDC suggests that it covers business relationships through CIDs and their clients while focusing on the ethics of delivery. The legal section delineates the different types of code, which vary by civil, business or corporate codes. This section also touches on contractors and tax laws in California, but mostly has a heavy focus on contracts including litigation, arbitration and the scope of practice.


The third and final aspect of the IDEX is all about design, with seven subsections to support every facet of the interior design profession. The subsections return to contracts, but the information in this section is focused on the development and delivery of contracts, not the legal issues involved. There are subsections on human needs, such as ergonomics, theory and planning. This final section tests on the usability of the spaces you may design, such as final furnishings, as well as the quality of the space in regards to acoustics and environmental needs.

Interior Designer Careers in California

Interior Designer Careers in CaliforniaStarting an interior design profession is a competitive endeavor. These professionals don’t simply decorate the intimate parts of homes and retail stores, they develop complex living environments that are both friendly on the wallet and the eye. Although the artistic talent for this profession is innate, the certification that highlights competence is not.

In California, this certification test is called the IDEX, or the Interior Design Examination. This examination encompasses a broad spectrum of topics in the industry and is a test of your overall knowledge base, not just your skills in design. For example, the IDEX includes aspects such as California building code as well as portions on legal, ethical and business aspects. With three separate sections covering code, business and design, the preparation for this costly examination should not be taken lightly.

Although each state varies, the governing body for the IDEX in the Golden State is the California Council for Interior Design Certification, or the CCIDC. There are interior designers who are not certified, however they cannot use the coveted designator of CID, or Certified Interior Designer. This certification may make the difference between a successful entrepreneurship and an unsuccessful venture into the business. It also helps to distinguish between ‘decorators’ and those with advanced training and experience in interior design. The CCIDC sponsors two tests annually and is responsible for the regulation of awarding certification to those who pass.

Although the layman may confuse the professions of interior decorator versus interior designer, there is a vast difference between the two within the field. Decorators are more commonly used to help arrange one or more rooms including the appearance of the objects therein such as furniture, drapery and accessories. Interior designers may indulge in these aspects as well, however their experience and knowledge base is also suited to arrange usability – such as working in conjunction with a contractor to rearrange exits for practicability as well as visual pleasure.

Preparing for certification is a multi-step process. Potential exam candidates must have both experience and education in interior design before they qualify to sit for the exam. The combinations of experience and education are myriad. For example, if you have eight or more years of experience you may be allowed to take the exam without a four-year degree, whereas those with advanced schooling will still require experience in the field prior to taking the examination. The guidelines for eligibility are set forth by the CCIDC and are explored in more detail in the article “IDEX Exam Eligibility”.

To get started in interior design consider the educational programs available. California has universities, community colleges and vocational schools that offer programs in design. Choosing the educational institution is a personal choice that may be based on your finances or your desire for a certificate versus an advanced degree from a university. You can work as an interior designer immediately upon your training completion, however potential clients and employing firms may search for an interior designer based solely on their certification status. This certification provides tangible proof of your knowledge base, education and professionalism.

Interior Design Examinations and Job Prospects

Like many certified, licensed or registered professionals, there is sometimes confusion regarding the titling of interior designers. Once you are educated in interior design there are many ways to promote your knowledge base. The bottom line – your testing, education and experience requirements are dependant on the state where you will practice. Some states require passing a national licensure examination prior to practicing in interior design. California is unique in that national licensure, although proof of your experience and knowledge, does not trump state certification. To work independently as a CID, or Certified Interior Designer in the golden state, you must take and pass the IDEX, which is the Interior Design Examination.

State Versus National Exams

The state exam for California is different from the national examination in many ways. The California Council for Interior Design Certification controls state testing whereas several bodies govern the national examinations. California recognizes three agencies for national examination including he National Council for Interior Design Qualification, or NCIDQ, the National Kitchen and Bath Association, or NKBA and the International Interior Design Association, or IIDA. Interior designers do not need to take a national examination to become certified in California unless you have passed the old certification exam, the CCRE, and are still not certified in the state.

Testing nationally with the NCIDQ requires at least two years of interior design education followed by four years of experience. Passing this test results in a license in interior design, whereas taking and passing California’s IDEX results in a certification in the same. The CCIDC does not except reciprocity; a national licensure or certification from another state will not get you certified in California. You must take and pass the IDEX to work as a CID in California regardless if you hold a national license.

Getting Work

The Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that interior design is a highly competitive and growing field. Obtaining a desirable position is dependent on a number of factors. Your education, experience and business sense will get you in the door of contracting firms or help you set-up your own work. If you choose to work independently, either as a freelance designer or as a contractor, a certification is desirable proof your expertise and professionalism.

Like many professions, interior design has nooks of specialty where you can further your education and experience. Emerging fields such as evergreen designers and those who accommodate the elderly are examples of these interior design specialties. Some firms specialize in environments, such as retail stores or medical buildings.

Pay Range

Interior design has a wide margin of pay scales, mostly due to the variations between education, experience and certification levels of practicing designers. Annually, low-end designers make $27,230, mid-range earns between $34,620 and $61,880 and high pay is more than $82,750. The low-end earners could be new designers or those who only contract part-time. High-end interior designers may be working in firms, as contractors for large corporations or have a wealth of experience within the industry.