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? ∨;
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. 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.
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.
The profession must better define itself and promote that message to the public
We must all understand that certification is NOT the same as a license.
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
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.
Licensure is a political and legal quagmire that we are not prepared yet…to realize substantive success.
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.
We need one professional membership organization
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.
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
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.
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.