ADVANCING THE PROFESSION OF INTERIOR DESIGN- STEPS FIVE & SIX

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A refresher first.  We are 2/3rd’s of the way through my multi-step platform, or how I see the profession of code regulated interior design establishing an identity that distinguishes it from the larger occupation of interior design/interior decoration which is unaffected by building codes and standards.  Essentially what I am proposing is that those of us whose identities and careers are limited by the continued misperception and lack of respect for our expertise and ability to practice at the highest levels of the code regulated building design professions must force a change in the current societal understanding of “interior design”.  I am certain that my peers agree that such a paradigm shift is necessary in order to truly advance the profession.  I am uncertain however, that we are willing to do what is necessary to establish an identity that is unique from “interior design”.  This particular post addresses my concern that we cannot simply legislate our way to societal respect and equality with our peer licensed building design professions.

If you just joined in please start at the beginning of this thread.  If you are still with me thanks for hearing me out.  The next steps are a challenge to rationalize in byte-sized chunks. Bear with me.

STEP #5

Licensure is a right to work issue based on proven abilities to protect the health, safety and welfare (HS&W) of the public and NOT a means to validate the profession.

Since the 1970’s those interior designers who learned, and subsequently earned, a level of expertise in the design of code regulated interior spaces have been using regulation as a means to distinguish themselves from those who simply work up one morning and self-proclaimed themselves to be an “interior designer”.  That is with the exception of the previously mentioned GBCIDS.  We have a 40+ year history of trying to legally own the title of interior design and to redefine it as our own. For the past 6 years and 340+ blog posts on this website I have been railing against the common perception that we can actually regulate our way to societal respect and resulting legal protection from the unqualified and innately talented.  This paradigmatic shift in our collective understanding is without  a doubt the largest cognitive hurdle in my platform.

Granted since the 2010 Locke v. Shore ruling in Florida the profession, vis-a-vis ASID & IIDA, have made some strides in trying to shift the professions collective understanding of regulation away from a means to distinguish the qualified from the self-proclaimed to one that is more focused on expanding interior designers rights to practice.  It is an economic liberty issue not a means to draw a line in the occupational sandbox.  We deserve the right to practice to the fullest of our learned/earned potential based on our abilities to protect the HS&W of the public as codified by building codes, standards and related built environment legalities….just like every other licensed building design professional.

Unfortunately this message has not crystallized among the wider profession simply because it would mean that those who do not practice in code impacted design environments would not benefit from such a razor-sharp distinction within the profession of interior design. Some will see this as an infringement or in some way unfair to them.  Not if we let them be “interior designers”.  I believe that it is possible to do this without postpartum consequences.  But it will require us to step back and reconsider much of what we have taken for granted.  We need to better regulate ourselves before we ask Uncle Sam to do the heavy lifting via regulation/licensure.

It is time to leave the interior design nest for good.

This is the crux of my proposition.  We must have the courage to cleave the profession into interior designers and code regulated interior designers (final title terminology TBD).  This is our job…..not Uncle Sam’s.

Now if I have not convinced you that “licensure” is not the answer to our conflicted identity issue let me try this.

STEP #6

Licensure is a political and legal quagmire that we are not prepared yet…to realize substantive success.

Okay if you are still with me please read this recent pronouncement from the Institute of Justice which puts interior design front and center in its campaign to eliminate occupational regulations and licensure http://ij.org/report/license-work-2/report/the-protectionist-origins-of-licensure/

I am not going to delve into the multi-year and well-funded effort to deregulate the profession of interior design here.  You are welcome to read my previous 320 posts to catch-up.  But if you aware of this war on our right to practice at the highest levels of the code regulated building design professions you understand the gravity of this situation.

Interior Design is the poster child for the anti-regulation movement.

I have been trying to elevate this issue to the forefront of our professional advocacy efforts for years.   While there has been some improvement in the advocacy arena we are still clearly on the defensive and the offense (deregulation proponents) continues to have the upper hand.

Unfortunately this is a political issue.  Many of us shy away from such topics.  That is understandable – but it is unhelpful AND potentially disastrous for the profession as well as your ability to practice to the fullest of your capabilities.

Unless you are happy that interior design regulation is in the deregulation cross-hairs you have to be asking yourself “what can I do?”

Well I have several answers, or suggestions, for you to ponder.

  1. Inform yourself.
  2. Don’t be afraid to become political.
  3. Ask your professional organizations what their advocacy efforts are nationally and locally.
  4. Volunteer to help with those advocacy efforts.

I want to clarify here that advocacy for the profession does not necessarily mean political/legal or public sector advocacy ONLY.  We have to be better advocates of our profession and its value to society on the private side of the social spectrum as well.

Essentially once we determine that the best way forward is to adopt a new professional identity we have to broadcast that message so that the general public begins to understand our value to society.  If we present a united front that promotes our abilities and knowledge to practice as peers with other licensed building design professions, whose work affects the HS&W of the public, as opposed to pursuing title regulation that seeks to simply codify the qualified from the not, then and only then can we realize success on the regulatory front.

Yes I understand that there are many states that have laws in place are based on our prior 40 years of effort to own the title interior design.  However, if we parse out all of the interior design regulation in the U.S. we will see that the majority regulates the title and not the act of “interior design”.  This is a vestige of our past 40 years of trying to own the title “interior design”.  I understand there are a few states that have managed to enact legislation that provides for state registered/certified interior designers to actually own their work through the permitting process and I hope that this paradigm shift can allow those jurisdictions to maintain their practice regulation.

In short we will need to address the value of existing regulation and be able to redefine the profession in a way that maintains regulatory success as well as allows existing title based acts to either sunset or be amended.  Easier said than done I know.  But how many interior designers were infringed upon or forced to grandfather in our old model of interior design legislation.  We did it once….well I have faith we can do it again in a much smarter more forward thinking combination of private self-regulation and public legislation that will let interior designers be interior designers without all the attendant political drama and ongoing identity confusion.

But it isn’t going to be easy.  Which leads me to step #7. Stay tuned.

ADVANCING THE PROFESSION OF INTERIOR DESIGN- STEP THREE & FOUR

For the sake of brevity and your patience I am going to combine some steps here;

STEP #3

We must all understand that certification is NOT the same as a license.

&

STEP #4

We must recognize that certification is a means, or a tool, to self-regulate the profession (see point one above) not solely a means to a license.

You may have noticed my previous post regarding use of the terms certified and licensed.  In case you missed it here is the gist;

If you attended an educational program that granted you a certificate upon completion that does NOT mean you are “certified” interior designer.

If you passed the NCIDQ Examination- that does NOT mean you are a “licensed” interior designer.

If you received an interior architecture degree from a CIDA accredited school- that does NOT mean you are an “interior architect”

Unfortunately our profession is rife with people who do not understand the above title/label/credential nuances as well as those who know the difference but choose to ignore the legal and ethical ramifications.  While this may work for the individual who may be promoting their personal brand, or academic programs that seek a sexier title, it certainly does nothing to help clarify the public’s understanding and perception of our conflicted profession.

So what can the profession of code regulated interior design do to sort this out and bring clarity to our mission?  Well we can all start by being informed and being honest.  And those who misunderstand or ignore the realities of such claims need to be called out.  We can do this on an individual basis by helping the individual understand the ethical or legal conflicts that they are promoting. We can also report these individuals if their claims cross professional organization rules or state/territory laws.  This is one of the tenets of self-regulating our profession.

If those of us who have earned our titles and credentials, by following the rules and ethical standards set forth by the profession and regulatory agencies, do not stand up to those who make false claims, then we deserve the lack of respect and societal misconception of our value to society which limits our ability to practice as peers with, or independent of, our allied licensed design professions.

I know that is a long run on sentence but hopefully you get my point.

Again, to be clearly confusing, in the U.S. the title “Interior Designer” is protected by the 1st amendment.  Canada can regulate the use of the title.  It is when you start to drill down on titles such as “Certified Interior Designer” or “Licensed Interior Designer” or “Interior Architect” that many of us cross ethical/legal boundaries.

For those of you who are still here and would like a bit more clarity on this please read on.certificate-of-achievement-template

INTERIOR DESIGN CERTIFICATION

First you need to understand that a earning a certificate through some sort of program does not necessarily mean one is “certified”.  To claim you are “certified” generally requires passage of a specialty exam (other than administered by the same program) that vets a person’s knowledge and skill set in a particular occupation, or practice area,  among other requirements.  More on that here http://www.credentialingexcellence.org/programdifferences

Then we need to understand what a designer needs to legitimately claim that they are a “certified” interior designer.  This is where the title/label of “certified” gets really confusing and ultimately abused.

We can boil it down to two levels of certification.  Private and publicly regulated.

Essentially there are two private entities that certify interior designers. These entities are also recognized by state regulations where the practice of, or title thereof, is legally recognized- which at this point is not necessarily in all jurisdictions.  What a mess…..anyway the National Council for Interior Design Qualification examination provides a certificate to all who take and pass their exam.  This certificate is recognized as the standard baseline of professional status in both the U.S. and Canada and does allow one to technically claim that they are “certified”.  And then there is California.  Ah yes the island nation off the coast of Nevada has its own certification examination, the IDEX, which is administered by the California Council for Interior Design Certification.  This certificate allows you to become a Certified Interior Designer in California and California only.

There are several other exam based certificates for Interior Designers that may technically meet the letter of “certification” and allow one to claim they are “certified” but they are strictly private certificates with limited professional gravitas.  However, they are technically certificates.  The RIDQC and the  CQRID being two such certification programs.  There are also several specialization exams that interior designers can take to claim they are certified health care interior designers or aging in place specialists but these are not considered baseline certifications for the general profession of interior design.

Publicly there are many states and territories in North America that have laws in place that allow qualified interior designers (typically NCIDQ certified) to legally claim the title state “certified” interior designer.

I could go on about certificates and certification as well as the acronyms/credentials thereof (don’t get me started on the CID credential) but suffice it to say that if you are skeptical of a particular designers claim that they are in fact “certified” I encourage you to validate their claims by using the following resources;

For those claiming to be certified professional members of ASID 

For those claiming to be certified professional members of IIDA

For those claiming to be NCIDQ certified or state certified Most states and territories, where interior design is regulated (except California) one must be NCIDQ certified to obtain state certification.  You can also check your local state/territory professional boards.

For those claiming to be certified in California

For those Canadians who claim to be “certified”

Now if you come across an individual that claims to be a “certified” interior designer you can, and should, press them to explain how they are so “certified”.  You may not have any legal recourse to prohibit them from such  a claim but there are private resources that can help you sort out such ethical conflicts.

INTERIOR DESIGN LICENSURE

There are many who believe that being certified also means by default that they are licensed.  This is unequivocally false and should not go unquestioned.  Currently only about 50% of U.S. states and most Provinces/Territories, via regulatory boards, are the only entities that can grant licenses for the practice of interior design. If you come across a designer that claims they are licensed to practice in your state, or any other for that matter, you should check with your state professional board.  Unfortunately not all states regulate, or license, interior designers so it is incumbent on the consumer (or peer professional) to sort out such claims in their own jurisdiction.  In Kansas for instance one can claim that they are a licensed interior designer but since there is no such law in place there is no legal recourse. I am sure if you had the funds a lawyer would be glad to pursue a civil level law suit.  However, to claim “licensed” status in an unregulated state should be an alarm to any consumer to cease a business relationship.

INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE

In order for an interior designer to claim that they are an interior architect they must be a registered architect in their home state.  You can check this status with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards or your state board.  In Canada the use of the term/title interior architecture may be less regulated but again if one is skeptical of an interior designer claiming to be an interior architect you should check with your provincial/territory boards.

For those academic programs that have adopted the title “interior architecture” but are only CIDA accredited and not NAAB accredited, which would allow their graduates to legally claim the title and practice as an “interior architect”, we should demand that they become more transparent with their program descriptions.

One good model in this regard is the newly created Interior Architecture and Design program at the University of Kansas which clearly explains that graduates of their 4 year undergraduate IA program need to go on to their 2 year masters program in order to earn a degree that will allow them to sit for the Architecture Registration Examination  Which will ultimately allow their graduates to legally claim the title “Interior Architect”.

To wrap this up I want to emphasize this aspect of self-regulation.  We have to police ourselves and hold each other accountable.  We cannot rely on the state (or province) to do this for us.  Yes they can help but policing our profession is not their main purpose.

This leads me to my next mash-up of steps to advance the profession;

STEP #5

Licensure is a right to work issue based on proven abilities to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public and NOT a means to validate the profession.

&

STEP #6

Licensure is a political and legal quagmire that we are not prepared yet…to realize substantive success.

Clarifying Interior Design Titles and Labels.

If you attended an educational program that granted you a certificate upon completion- that does NOT mean you are “certified” interior designer.

If you passed the NCIDQ Examination- that does NOT mean you are a “licensed” interior designer.

If you received an interior architecture degree from a CIDA accredited school- that does NOT mean you are an “interior architect”.

If you want to be a “certified interior designer” learn what that means.

If you want to be a “licensed interior designer” learn what that entails.

If you want to be an “interior architect” take the ARE exam.

I do not know how much clearer this can be.   This is not my opinion folks…the above are legally and ethically demonstrable titles and labels that are often applied inappropriately and even illegally.  It is easy to get confused.  If this helps one person figure out who they are, or what they do, then I am good.

You are welcome to ignore the above…but now you do so knowing the difference.

Confused? Feel free to ask.  Disagree? Tell me why.

Thanks for reading on.

ADVANCING THE PROFESSION OF INTERIOR DESIGN- STEP TWO

STEP #2

The profession must better define itself and promote that message to the public

Of course this step assumes that the profession collectively agrees with Step #1 .  Short of that the rest of this proposal is simply moot.  I am however, willing to risk my time and two remaining brain cells none the less. I have faith that someone, someday will smack their forehead and proclaim….“He was right…he wasn’t insane”

You will note that I did not say “the profession must rename itself……”  Hard as I have tried over the past decade+ I do not have a decisive suggestion as to a label that might solve our conflicted identity crisis.  I wish it were that simple.  Again let’s not forget the growing cohort of interior designers that have adopted the label “architect” as a means to pursue an identity unique from “interior design”.  This certainly is not a new phenomenon and I am not the only one to express concerns with this trend.  While I sympathize, I am sorry they feel this is their best option.

We need to create a profession that will compel these label refugees to re-embrace “design” as well as to coax those who hide under the regulatory cape of their architect partners/employers to see the light of an independent and valued profession.

Whether the redefinition process leads to a logical semantic shift remains to be seen. Regardless let’s proceed here with the mutual goal of redefining interior design to better address the differences between regulated interior design and the decoration of interiors that need not comply with any codes and standards. For purposes of this discussion we will refer to our new identity as regulated interior design (RID) vs. traditional interior design/decoration that occurs in the unregulated realm (ID).

Enough title talk for now.

With a nod of respect and appreciation to the numerous scholars and progenitors that have pushed the profession to this point I think we can all agree that the profession of code regulated interior design has evolved. Unfortunately, our public message, or our brand identity, has not.  And as I have whined innumerable times prior…we cannot legislate our way out of this identity crisis.  We owe it to the profession’s forefathers (and foremothers) to re-define our professional domain so that it better aligns with our real value to society  .  In other words we need to reconstruct our collective identity which, according to Stacey Wieland¹, “occurs through ongoing mundane interactions in addition to critical moments”.  I maintain that we are at that critical moment….but acknowledge this blog post is merely a mundane interaction.

It is important at this point to also acknowledge that we are not the first to find fault with the current social identity of the profession.  In fact many have shared this concern for decades. One group of influential interior designers came together in the 1980’s to invest copious amounts of time and energy to create an advanced certificate process that they believed would help better distinguish code regulated (AKA “Contract) designers from those with merely baseline qualifications.  In 1987 the Governing Board for Contract Interior Design Standards was formed.  This was not a half-baked response to our ongoing identity crisis (like this blog;-) and was supported at the highest levels of the code regulated side of the profession.  Unfortunately it was dissolved due to lack of  support/inertia in 1999.  This was certainly a critical moment for this group.  I will continue to refer to their effort as the GBCID.  Simply put, the GBCID used advanced certification as a means to provide a means to advance their status separate from interior designers. And although they were certified Contract Interior Designers, in the public’s eye they were still Interior Designers.  Had the public definition of “Contract Interior Design” been widely available and promoted maybe the common understanding would have helped their cause.  You cannot self-regulate as one thing without some common understanding of the meaning of that credential or qualification.

This is why I believe the official definition of Interior Design plays a critical role in our advancement. It is really what defines us….pun intended.  It is how the profession sees itself and it is the public face of the profession.  It is the only mission statement we have.  It certainly is the one publicly accessible message we have in which we can maintain our unique position within the building design professions.  Agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (except the “read blueprints”part), the Council for ID Accreditation the Interior Design Educators Council, 3 out of 5 of the interior design professional organizations in North America, as well as many traditional dictionary sites reference it.

Most importantly much of the existing legislation involving interior design is based on this official definition.  It is codified and bound legally in many of our title and practice acts.  Therefore any change to the official definition must be made in this light.

Note that the current official definition has not been updated since 2004.  This is an eon in the constantly churning internet age.

It is not my intent to actually perform the work necessary to redefine the profession here. My point is simply to force us to acknowledge the opportunity to apply some design thinking to this issue.  The actual process to update/revise the definition will take a lot of “mundane interaction” and a lot of time.  However, if we choose our words wisely in order to describe the nuances between code regulated design and non-code regulated such that the common person can identify with it, I maintain that we will then have the basis of a cogent and meaningful identity.

Once we have collectively decided to make this paradigmatic shift, or tack (for you nautical fans), in our professional identity we need to make sure that all components of the profession are sailing in the same direction.

We need to develop a message that is unique and intelligible by all. Then, and only then, do we roll out our new brand identity.

First and foremost we need to get our regulatory entities on board.  CIDA & NCIDQ will need to embrace the new focus on RID and may need to adopt the new title or label that falls out of this process.

Then ID academy will need to adapt.  Easier said than done but without a solid foundation of emerging ID professionals this change in direction will simply fail.  Maybe  it will become the RID academy?  I am sure there is a research opportunity in there somewhere.

More thoughts on this particular aspect of our identity shift later in Step #7

But back to how we might promote our new identity.

We are often guilty of looking toward our allied licensed design building professionals for how we might approach or solve our own structural identity and process issues.  The interior designers posing as interior architects conundrum being one.  In this case I would urge us to look outside that box for inspiring best practices that might help us step back and consider a new approach befitting our paradigmatic change in messaging.

For instance financial planners have faced a similar identity crisis to ours.  That is that the term “financial planner” and the act of financial planning are not regulated (unless by a Certified Public Accountant).  Therefore anyone can claim to be a financial planner and plan your financial matters….anyone.  Hence the CFP Board was created to self-regulate the profession such that the general public can begin to distinguish between a dead-beat with a gift for sales and flair for math vs. an educated, trained and ethically vetted financial professional.  You may remember these rather self-deprecating prime time commercials that tried to address that misperception;

See humor can be effective.

We can also look to the Society for Human Resource Management which again is trying to distinguish those who are qualified vs. those who are not simply by advancing a message on the private level.

Not quite as humorous but again a good example of shifting a paradigm without government regulation.  Some will argue that neither CFP’s or SHRM’s actions directly affect the health or safety of the public so legislating their professions is a reach.  I don’t disagree but if you consider how much of the public’s welfare, or wellbeing, they might affect, as in losing your life savings, or your career, the argument loses ground.  Keep in mind that both of these entities are simply promoting a message.  Both would like to become legally protected but both also realize that they cannot achieve legal recognition before the public really understands their worth and value to society.

I am also not advocating for TV commercials to solve our profession’s identity crisis.  I am advocating for a new approach.  How we do that leads me to Step #3.  Stay tuned

NOTES:

  1. Ideal Selves as Resources for the Situated Practice of Identity  Management Communication Quarterly,  Volume: 24 issue: 4, page(s): 503-528
    Article first published online: August 31, 2010; Issue published: November 1, 2010 retrieved 10/17/17 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0893318910374938

ADVANCING THE PROFESSION OF INTERIOR DESIGN- STEP ONE

STEP #1

The profession has to muster its collective courage, creative problem solving skills, and intellectual capacity to address the disparity between those interior designers who do not practice in code regulated building design environments and those who are educated/trained/certified to practice in code regulated design environments.

 

building-permit 24HPERMIT DOT COM                                                             https://www.24hplans.com/do-i-need-a-building-permit/

Per my previous post on this subject I surmised that the identity crisis within the profession creates several impediments to advancing the profession.  My main premise is that not everyone is on board with the idea that we have to advance the profession on any level but in particular by way of regulation and licensure.  Consequently the numbers simply are not there for us to realize any momentum, or inertia, to move the profession forward on the legislative front.

So in that rather dim light how, or where, do we start in order to successfully advance the profession?

First we have to accept the fact that there are two types of interior spaces. Those that are regulated by codes and standards ……….and those that are not. PERIOD. END OF STORY……Okay not the end of this blog though.

Consequently there are two factions of Interior Designers…those that work within code regulated building design environments and those whose work is not encumbered by the restrictions of codes, standards, and concern for their clients health, life safety, and well-being.

Of course there are exceptions.  There are some interior designers that are able to cross-over into both aspects of the interior design realm outlined above, hence the title “generalist”. To be clear these generalists must prove that they are knowledgeable of codes and standards that apply to their permitted work in order to truly be considered generalists. So for all intents and purposes of this argument we consider these generalist interior designers to be code regulated.

And yes we also have a litany of ways in which we have tried to distinguish the qualified, code regulated, and professional from the innately talented, self-proclaimed interior decorator/designers. For example you can be a Certified Interior Designer, a State Certified Interior Designer, a Registered Interior Designer, a State Registered Interior Designer, or a Licensed Interior Designer.  But to the general public we are still Interior Designers.  A licensed barber does not mean by default that an unlicensed barber does not know how to cut hair. A subtle nuance no doubt.  Yet that is how I see our various labels of interior design at this point in our professional journey. No matter how we parse our legal and ethical obligations or regulate titles or add credentials to our names….. we are still “Interior Designers” and that is how society sees us for better or worse….generally worse.

So back to my point.  Again we have code regulated interior designers and we have unregulated interior designers.  Note I am not trying to apply a title to this rather nuanced distinction. I simply want to clarify this fundamental point.  More on the label issue later.

And if you think I am making this bi-polar identity issue up you need to know that this crisis has haunted the profession for decades, as noted in this lament by Florence Knoll in 1964 and this reflective editorial by Walter Ford II penned in 1967 (date crossed out on copy- reprinted by Contract Design Magazine in 2010).  Let me reiterate our identity crisis is now one half of a century old.  While we may be a “young profession” (compared to Neanderthal cave decorators) it is clear that we have not made much progress on our identity crisis. Basically while a few scholars have tried to force the profession to ponder our conflicted professional identity nobody has been willing to say “Enough! It is time to get serious”.

If you are keeping up with me you should be thinking….”yes…yes PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER that is why there is a growing contingent of interior designers who are abandoning the label “designer” and adding the title “architect” to their name even though they are not architects”.  While they are not shouting their disdain for the failure of interior design to fully describe their work, or provide a modicum of respect for their professional identity, their actions certainly speak volumes.  Frankly I do not blame them.

If you do not already know where I stand on this topic let’s just say I have been calling ‘ENOUGH”! for at least 10 years.

IT’S TIME.  LET’S DO THIS.

Call it a strategic separation.  Call it a divorce.  It is time to distance ourselves from our eternally conflicted interior decorator/designer past.  Hopefully the separation can be amicable..but if not then so be it.  Such a paradigmatic change is not going to be easy, and there may be some hurt egos/feelings, but we have to stop being everything to everybody if we are to have any control over our own professional identity.  This is the only way we are going to garner the numbers of like-minded individuals who are willing to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary to change the paradigm

I believe we can do this potentially nasty bit of business and professional housecleaning but it is going to take more than this diatribe to make it so.  As Stacy Wieland explains in her article on how individuals and organizations frame identity constructs this will require individuals within the profession to undergo a “dynamic back and forth relationship” in order to settle on an identity construct that is amenable to the “stencils” among the profession.  I understand that this platform has a very narrow market and limited, if any, influence but I know my mother reads it…so for me that is a start.

Now if you are still following me and see the need for, and benefit of, forcing a divorce between unregulated interior designers/decorators and those who practice in code regulated interior design your next question is probably something to the effect of… “what in the Sam Hill do we call this new form of interior design?”

Ahhh yes the age-old question and the one that is most difficult to answer……….which makes a perfect segue to my Step #2 “The profession must better define itself and promote that message to the public”

Stay tuned.

“INTERIOR DESIGN LICENSE AND REGISTRATION PLEASE…..”

COPAP/Rich Pedroncelli

But…But Officer I’m Not a Licensed Interior Designer

While there may be a few egalitarian designers out there who do NOT recognize the value of job titles, professional credentials or licensure – reality tells us that labels are a fact of life. What we call ourselves, how we label our work, and how we distinguish our personal occupational pathway is not only important to us and our egos it is also important to our professional domain and ultimately to society in general. For most of us – our jobs are who we are.  Our job’s define us and most of us do care how those jobs are perceived by the rest of society.  There is an entire field of science that deals with such identity constructs but Oen and Cooper¹ provide the most pertinent take away;

“Labels can serve well only if there are common definitions of terms and widespread association of a given label with a given set of activities. One who performs surgical procedures on humans , for example,  is labeled a surgeon.  For professional identity, such clarity of understanding is essential.”

My point here is that the profession of interior design (educated/trained/certified) has an identity crisis.  Our “label” is fuzzy at best.  If you do not understand please see my previous 340 posts on the subject.  My entire reason for this blog is to ponder how interior design professionals present our value to society and how we advance our profession in a world that is becoming exponentially more complex and competitive.

Unfortunately many of my peers believe that the most impactful way to advance the interior design profession is by regulating the title or the practice of interior design.  Meaning that if one has a license, one is automatically afforded a level of respect via a general understanding of our value to society and, voila, our identity crisis is solved.  Well…..no that is not how it works.  That is not how any of this works.

I acknowledge that there are a few code regulated interior designers who understand that regulating our profession is  fundamentally about our right to work in an economic sense and they are right. Their focus is the pursuit of regulation and licensure none the less.  Same objective…just different motives.

How do you advance the interior design profession via laws and regulations when many members of the interior design profession do not care to actually advance it?

Okay if you are scratching your head over that one let me explain.

Given that the humans have evolved to become essentially an “indoor species” that spends 90%+/- of its collective time in man-made shelter it baffles me that interior designers are not looked upon and sought out as essential contributors to the betterment of the quality of our indoor based lives and livelihoods.  I understand that humans are fundamentally adaptable and that our collective standards as to what constitutes suitable indoor living/working environments have evolved over time.  Generally, if it keeps us warm, dry, and relatively safe we call it “good” -no highfalutin design types are needed.  An oversimplification?  Of course.  I also acknowledge that not all human society has advanced in unison for reasons way beyond the scope of this argument but work with me here….I am trying to make a point.

While we have pretty much left dwelling in caves behind us, I think we can all agree that our standards for the quality and functionality of our interior environments could use some improvement.

So this is where the profession of interior design as defined here comes in….right?

Well if you believe that to be true- then WHY when most people are asked “what is interior design” or “what do interior designers do”, do they most likely think of this? ;

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Lucidio Studio, Getty Images

Why is it that when most people in the civilized world fall ill they seek and respect the opinion of licensed medical professionals?  And when most people in the civilized world wish to build shelter for living or working they seek and respect the guidance of licensed contractors, engineers and architects.  However, when those same people find the need to ensure that the interior environments of those shelters are safe, functional, and are designed to improve the quality of their lives and/or livelihoods there is no clear go-to professional. That is not to say that everybody needs to hire a full-time-on-call-certified interior designer professional to “design” their every spatial need but when the need does present itself the public appears confused.  It is a challenge for event the most seasoned authorities of interior spatial needs to sort through the options. Seems to me that is both a problem and an opportunity for the actual profession of “Interior Design”.

There is no question that the market is there.  Yet the general public still cannot determine the difference between an innately qualified interior decorator posing as “designer” whose specialty is creating custom cashmere pillows for the uber-wealthy and a certified interior designer whose career specialty may be as complex as the overall design of the dementia treatment center that some of us may live out our final days…..depressing thought? Well yeah…but point made hopefully.

This fuzzy delineation of  interior design by its nature includes a large number of residential interior decorators and non-code regulated interior designers that have no interest in pursuing legislation that would allow them to practice as peers with, or independent of, licensed building design professionals.  In other words residential interior designers (AKA decorators) who do not practice in code regulated construction and design environments could care less about regulating the profession of interior design.  They have no desire to practice as peers with, or independent of, our allied licensed building design professions.  I will admit that I have no facts to back up that statement….other than 35+ years of experience watching the profession of interior design suffer through the misinformed stereotypes imposed by interior decorators proclaiming themselves to be “interior designers” and their work as “interior design”.  Pursuing regulation and obtaining a license to practice is the furthest thing from their daily occupational or career objectives.  In fact many of them have campaigned against any efforts by our profession to pursue regulation.  They actually see it as a threat. Yet our professional organizations still welcome their participation and dues monies.  Another story.  I digress.

Okay that is one group of interior designers that stands in the way of our advancement via regulation.

At the other end of the interior design professional spectrum is an influential and rapidly growing cadre of interior designers who are intentionally disavowing themselves of the label interior designer in favor of the more revered title of interior architect.  In other words these interior designers have simply abandoned the title “interior designer”.  They no longer wish to be subject to the stereotypes (if you need to know what those are please see my previous 320 posts) and despite the ethical and legal issues inherent in adopting a title of another licensed and regulated profession, more and more interior designers are bailing on the label “interior design”.  They do not see any value, or any future, in interior design as it is commonly understood by society.  If you have to ask how this semantic word play actually hinders interior design’s ability to achieve legal parity with other licensed building design professionals I really cannot help you.  The implications should be obvious.

So if you still think that all “Interior Designers” are all-in and on the same page regarding the effort to pursue a “license” please think again.  Another educated guess on my part but I am fairly certain that the number of interior designers who could care less about licensure far outnumbers the number of interior designers who do see value in a license, be that for the label cache’ or to actually practice independent of architects.  Which is another aspect of our misguided profession…many of us do not even know the difference between a certificate and a license.  I digress again.

To make the numbers even worse… somewhere in the middle of our vast professional domain (between the “I could care less about a license” residential decorator and the actual practicing licensed interior designer) are numerous legitimate/certified interior design professionals who are gainfully employed by licensed architecture or engineering firms.  While they may be highly qualified via certification, and may practice at the highest levels of the building design profession…they too have no immediate need for a license.  Why would they when they work for  licensed design practices that assumes that liability?  So be it out of fear of competing with one’s employer (usually an architect) or simple comfort with the status quo these designers care little to enlist in the effort to advance the profession via regulation.  I understand…I used to be one of these don’t rock the boat types?

Guess I fell out of that canoe.

Have I convinced you that the numbers simply do not work in the favor of those who are all-in the effort to pursue licensure for the profession?  None of us really know the actual number of interior designers who are investing copious amounts of effort to regulate the profession vs. those who claim the title of “interior designer” yet stand down on any effort to advance the profession and clarify our label.  Yet we continue to invest untold amounts of dues monies, time, blood sweat and tears into this very narrow objective.  We should all question the return on that investment and I should stop here.

But let’s assume for sake of my rant that every ‘Interior Designer” in North America supported the profession’s pursuit of government regulation that allowed them to hold a license to practice code regulated interior design.  Let’s say there are about 73,000² of us, for the sake of this argument, and we are all united under one organizational umbrella, we are all NCIDQ certified (or in pursuit thereof), we self-regulate via a North American Board/Council³, society grants us a level of respect similar to Architects and Engineers, and we are able to hire the best lobbyists nationwide.  73,000 members is a sizeable profession and would be a force for state and provincial legislators to reckon with. For comparison the AIA has 90,000+/- total members.  EDIT UPDATE 10/3017 THIS JUST IN FROM INTERIOR DESIGN MAGAZINE….THERE ARE ACTUALLY 112,000 INTERIOR DESIGNERS OUT THERE……Hmmmmm

With that we should be able to muster a successful campaign to implement legislation in many, if not all, states and provinces that would grant us a license to practice as peers with, or independent of, our allied licensed building design professionals.  Well I have more bad news for those of you who have bought into my hypothesis and are still reading this lengthy diatribe……there is a larger and seemingly more intractable force that stands in the way of this pursuit of government regulation and licensure real or otherwise.

The sociopolitical tides against occupational regulation are growing with each passing session of state and federal government.  While the effort may be rooted in Libertarian ideals, the notion actually crosses over into all political parties and few can argue that we in the states are over-regulated.  Well okay, there are probably a few licensed florists, auctioneers, and sports agents that might argue for needless regulation, but common sense tells us that much of what is included in the latest effort to reassess occupational licensure is true.  In this age of anti-everything the tide against regulation is growing and marginally defined occupations such as Interior Design remain in the cross-hairs http://licensure.rethinkwhy.org/

So fellow designers if we are going to rely on legislation and licensure to pull us out of our professional identity crisis we  must position code regulated interior design so that it fails the questionable regulation sniff test.  And we must do it YESTERDAY!

“But……but…PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER if the numbers really are not on our side and our own government is skeptical of our right to regulation what can we do to fundamentaly advance the profession of code regulated Interior Design?”

Funny you should ask.

I have actually thought about this.  Here is my outline of a plan that in the coming months will help me provide a framework for your consideration.

“Seems pretty arrogant of you PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER. You are not the boss of me or Interior Design…….Who do you think you are?”  

Well okay why don’t you tweet me your plan then and I will be happy to post it here…..plus you have read this far into my latest diatribe cut me some slack and read on.

STEP #1

The profession has to muster its collective courage, creative problem solving skills, and intellectual capacity to address the disparity between those interior designers who do not practice in code regulated building design environments and those who are educated/trained/certified to practice in code regulated design environments.

If step one does not happen the following points are moot. But let’s assume the best.

STEP #2

The profession must better define itself and promote that message to the public

STEP #3

We must all understand that certification is NOT the same as a license.

STEP #4

We must recognize that certification is a means, or a tool, to self-regulate the profession (see point one above) not solely a means to a license

STEP #5

Licensure is a right to work issue based on proven abilities to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public and NOT a means to validate the profession.

STEP #6

Licensure is a political and legal quagmire that we are not prepared yet…to realize substantive success. 

STEP #7a

The interior design academy and the regulatory agencies of the profession need to better collaborate to shift the culture of the code regulated interior design profession.

STEP #7b

We need one professional membership organization

STEP #8

We need one national (or U.S./Canada) council to oversee regulatory efforts of the profession³

Still here?  Thank you.  Check back later and I will elaborate on the above.

NOTES:
  1. Oen, Carol; Cooper, Marianne.  Professional Identity and the Information Professional, Journal of the American Society for Information Science (1986-1988); Sep 1988; 39, 5;ABI/INFORM Collection pg. 355
  2. This number includes ASID’s 13,500 members, IIDA’s 15,000 members, IDC’s (Canada) 5,000 members in total.  I also include an additional 40,000 certified interior designers that are unaffiliated with any professional membership organization. Myself for example.
  3. For those of you who have been around awhile….this idea may sound familiar.  An influential group of contract interior designers created The Governing Board for Contract Interior Design Standards in the mid 1980’s.  This group was a voluntary certification board with no real regulatory influence and disbanded in 1999 due to lack of inertia and support from the larger profession.  So please do not tell me this label confusion is a new problem.

 

 

 

Can We Really Legislate or Define Our Way Out of This?

Kudos to Ms. Coryell for taking advantage of her right to promote her business. I don’t agree with her methods but I admire her entrepreneurial spirit.

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