From Design Basics to Business Practices: NCIDQ Exam Section 2

The NCIDQ Exam Section 2 tests principles and elements of design

Don’t confuse design theory with style. image credit

The NCIDQ Exam Section 2 covers a lot of what you learned in practice and theory while in school. Remember the elements and principles of design?  You use them every day, but can you name them all?  And when was the last time you discussed design theory?

Design Theory

Don’t confuse design theory with style. Design theoryis a designer’s unique approach to a creative problem solving process based on one or more of the following:

  • Historic precedent
  • Human behavior and perception
  • A particular process
  • Environmental design research
  • A designer’s personal world view
  • Functional needs

The Elements and Principles of Design are the tools that interior designers, architects, painters, graphic artists etc…. use as the foundation of their designs.  Interior designers manipulate the Elements and Principles to create spaces that meet functional and aesthetic goals.

Elements and Principles of Design


  • Form
  • Point
  • Line
  • Plane
  • Volume
  • Shape
  • Scale
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Pattern
  • Light


  • Balance
  • Harmony & Unity
  • Rhythm
  • Emphasis
  • Variety
  • Proportion
NOTE: While Design Theory such as principles and elements is still listed by NCIDQ as a content area on the exam, focus more on programming, business practices, ethics, and content areas that affect health safety and welfare.


programming in interior design defines problem and solution

The programming phase defines the problem and finds a solution. image credit

The programming phase of the design process defines the design problem and creates a strong design solution. The 4 major programming considerations are:

  1. Form
  2. Function
  3. Economy
  4. Time

Consider the client’s wants and needs to include:

  • functional and aesthetic considerations and budget
  • the site and building –  including spatial organization and adjacencies
  • existing architectural parameters
  • applicable codes and timeline
  • human factors, including social and cultural influences on the design
  • environmental responsibilities

5 Step Programming Process

  1. Establish goals
  2. Collect and Analyze Facts
  3. Uncover and test concepts
  4. Determine Needs
  5. State Problem

Business Practices and Ethics

Designers do more than create beautiful interiors. It’s your responsibility as the designer to create interiors that protect the health, welfare and safety of the users. A professional designer must also be a sharp business person, use solid business practices, and honesty and integrity in all professional dealings.

Qpractice NCIDQ Study Plan

  • Section 2.1 Design Theory and Human Behavior
  • Section 2.2 Programming, Sustainability and Site Analysis
  • Section 2.3 Analyzing and Synthesizing Programmatic Information
  • Section 2.4 Sourcing and Researching Manufacturers’ and Vendors’ Information, and Selecting Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment
  • Section 2.5 Visual, Written and Verbal Communication Methods
  • Section 2.6 Project Coordination and Roles of Other Professionals
  • Section 2.7  Ethics and Business Practices and Post–Occupancy Evaluations

Use the Interior Design Reference Manual: Everything You Need to Know to Pass the NCIDQ Exam

  1. Monday Ballast Chapters 22 – 24: Developing Design Concepts, Elements of Design and Principles of Design
  2. Tuesday Ballast Chapters  25 & 26: Programming and Site Analysis
  3. Wednesday Ballast Chapters 27 & 28: Information Analysis and Synthesis and Sourcing and Researching Manufacturers’ Information for FF&E.
  4. Thursday Ballast Chapters 29 & 30: Communication Methods and Project Management
  5. Friday Ballast Chapters 31 & 32: Interior Design Business Practices, Owner-Designer Agreements
  6. Saturday Review Improve Your Odds: Taking the NCIDQ Multiple Choice Exams
  • Jillian

    How can I get these as posters for my classroom?

    • Kelley Murphy Drawdy

      try teachers pay teachers

  • lisaleague

    Hi Jillian, the image credit link above has the link to the source.

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  • Shelley Johnson

    Can you share the image credit link for the design principles? The image credit links above are for the clipart, not the design principles images. Or is it possible to purchase the design principles posters individually?

    • lisaleague

      Shelley, the link is right above the opt in box. Sorry it’s not more clear.