Getting RID of ID Regulation Pushback

Or at least minimizing the cries of  disenfranchised interior designers.

PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER has been bantering about the blogosphere lately with anybody willing to discuss the issue of interior design regulation. I gotta say it’s a thin crowd. None the less I have been enlightened by the ways in which we as a profession see regulation and, as my previous 250 posts point out, how the general public, vis-a-vis our lawmakers, sees interior design regulation.

I am now able to boil the justification for the entire effort into two (Okay 3) words; Respect and Practice Rights.

Let’s nix respect as it is not the government’s job to regulate, or grant, respect for any one professional domain. Unfortunately many in our profession do not realize this and due to a dearth of other means to gain respect they pursue licensure as a means of validation. “But….but….won’t weilding a license automatically distinguish me from the mere designer wanna-bes, self-proclaimed interior design posers and innately qualified decorators cum designers?”  Ummm let me think about for a second- NO!

It won’t, it hasn’t, it can’t, and it aint never gonna ya’ll- Get over it.

Now on to pursuing regulation as our right to practice as peers with, or independent of, other regulated design professionals within code based construction environments.¹ My discussions with California ID’ers on both sides of their regulation efforts have helped me focus on two key aspects of our effort to regulate; Intellectual Property Rights and Permitting Privileges.

PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER was under the misunderstanding that once a licensed design professional signed and sealed permit documents they became the owners of the intellectual property. Basically if an unlicensed/unregulated interior designer designed and documented a design project that, for whatever reason, needed the signature and seal of a licensed design professional (typically a Registered Architect) that the interior designer surrendered ownership of his/her design to the endorsing professional. Well I was wrong.  Evidently ownership depends on the use of copyright protection and confirmation of ownership in the project contract. Of course if a designer does not copyright their work and there is no contract (ie. AIA Document B-141 or similar) then all bets are off. Ultimately the argument that the endorsing licensed professional assumes ownership of the design is full of holes. This is one aspect of ID’s march to professionalization that needs much more exploration and dissemination and until then should not be used as a justification for licensure.

As to the issue of practice rights, the most important aspect of which is permitting privileges, that is being able to design, document, sign, seal, apply, and be awarded a building permit for our work within defined scope limits².  Add to that when the project scope exceeds those set limits and involves structural, M/E/P or base building life safety issues, registered ID’ers should be legally allowed to lead or be the prime design entity for such professional collaboration. That’s really the crux of all of this regulatory licensure legal political brouhaha in my not so mumble opinion.

Okay how do we get there? (see ) Well the light at the end of that tunnel…er path, lies in 3 key words included in the International Building Code- “Registered Design Professional” or R.I.D. for those of you into brevity. Specifically the IBC states in Section 107.1 Submittal Documents that;

“The construction documents shall be prepared by a registered design professional where required by the statutes of the jurisdiction in which the project is to be constructed.”

Repeat “registered” not “licensed”. Now certainly local jurisdictions can muck with the terminology so that “registered” becomes “licensed” but we can all guess who is motivating those subtle semantic changes.  This is where a strong advocacy effort with the ICC and other code official organizations would be a wiser investment of professional dues monies than lobbyists pursuing “licensure”…I digress.

So with that PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER posits that the entire ID regulation effort be focused in on the nuanced pursuance of legislation that regulates the title of “Registered” Interior Designer.  Not the practice of anything…..don’t even mention it. Our public mantra should disavow any effort to regulate the practice, or licensure, of the act of interior design. In fact legislation from here forward should not even mention the definition of interior design…to the lawmakers- ID is what it is and it can remain that way forever. We simply seek title protection for those interior designers who make the free choice to qualify as Registered ID’ers. Gross oversimplification? Maybe- but the current approach isn’t really working  is it?

Now the pursuit of title acts is nothing new but for the past 35+/- years we have typically tried for full licensure of the practice of ID only to be allowed regulation of the title at best. Still many of us still want that license and claim that title acts are simply a step toward full licensure. Not so fast.

Those of you in the know are aware that the most recent legislation attempts (California, South Carolina, Massachusetts etc.) are careful to frame their bills around the term “registered”. This may be a concerted effort by the ASID led ID coalitions to alleviate sticky legal conflicts with exclusionary language and legal infringement on “interior design” and “interior designer” as well as copyright protection on the acronym CID – I doubt it. But as usual I am willing, and in fact hope, to be proven wrong.

What we need to do is start thinking, acting and promoting ourselves as RID’s. We need to educate ourselves as RID’s, we need to apprentice as RID’s and we need to vet our professional status as RID’s. This is where self-regulation comes into play- which is another discussion. Once we present ourselves as a profession that has earned the right to title protection without infringing on the rights of non-registered interior designers or registered architects then we might have a chance at realizing our true professional aspirations.  It’s the permit stupid.

If you’ve read this far I would love to hear your thoughts. Is this a legit model or am I missing something?


1. Paraphrasing a joint statement by Don Davis of ASID and Alyson Levy of IIDA issued in response to the 2010 ID deregulation effort in Florida.

2. The definition of the actual scope of work that a Registered Interior Designer can legally/contractually accept all liabilities for is another moving target across the country. Additionally local jurisdictions apply their own interpretations so there is no consistency and little chance for reciprocity. Like our title effort this is another aspect of our professional validation process that needs to be applied consistently despite the vagaries of state and local regulations.  In other words if we do not define and vet it first others will do it for us- much to our disservice.

4 responses to “Getting RID of ID Regulation Pushback”

  1. A deeper look at the history and use of the word ‘register’ relative to the word ‘license’ would be an interesting one. Most legislative bodies consider them one and the same. However, for those who are in the profession of word history, I would surmise that there’s more to the story. Registered design professional has always been the language of the building code system, allowing each state to determine whether that is congruous with the licensing system within their state. Perhaps there is an English professor, or legislative historian in one of the states that could help our profession understand it a bit more.


  2. Thanks Janice. I agree we should do a scholarly investigation of the real meaning of registered vs. licensed in case the ICC interprets it as one and the same. That said I posit that the final interpretation is up to the ICC- does anybody know what the intent of saying “registered” vs. “licensed”….architects are generally “registered” and engineers are “professional” in P.E. (also licensed I believe)? Of course the state and local code officials vis-a-vis legislation and ordinances etc. can bring their own interpretation to the table. Which is why we need to be very clear on the meaning and intent. We tried to co-opt the term “interior design” and that it took us 30+ years to figure out that semantic battle was not worth fighting. Maybe we should shift the focus.

    Again I think this would be a better use of our professional dues monies than spending it on lobbying for practice licensure- at this point.


    1. I agree that a formal study should be done. I believe that professional association dollars have been spent on this, via consultants who have spoken to legislators through IIDA and ASID national legislative leadership.

      With regard to claiming “interior design”, we didn’t attempt to co-opt the word, we did in fact establish and define it, legally and legislatively, where no definition existed in many states. It didn’t exist as a profession in the standard industry classification code. Interior design changed from the hire of a woman or a gay man with a flair, to the beginning of interior design firms lead by people who had practiced interior design within architectural offices and no longer wanted to live in a shadow. We believed that the term interior design was the profession, and that interior decorating would continue. But during those same years that we were making legislative advances, television introduced its first shows depicting interiors people (no definition) and the shows were quite popular. Those who were before practicing interior decoration, became less interested in those words per se, and the interest in the words “interior design” increased, perhaps because greater fees were realized. Then cable TV expanded and the number of shows produced increased substantially, introducing even more make-over shows. With all of this popularity, secondary (interior design related, but not primary) organizations repositioned. And, in addition in the last 20 years, technology has played a significant role in altering the course of the profession that I have addressed in other published work.

      At the time that legislation first was introduced and design first defined, there was a clearer professional practice of interior design. particularly with the large firms completing commercial projects; and a healthy respect for interior decorating between architects and decorators. The latter term has all but disappeared now. It was not possible to have forecasted all of the change. Yes, it remains very worthwhile to fight for our professional practice rights, as we have made much progress in this profession through its evolution.


  3. Well we could do an egg vs. chicken type argument over what came first, interior design as a learned occupation, a legitimate profession, or regulation defining it. We could also debate whether there was a concerted effort by early pro-regulation ID’ers to own the term or not- I have proof that there was. Doesn’t matter though because the courts have told us we can’t own it. Case closed
    So now what?
    Well we need to be much more strategic about how we define who we are, what we do, and what our objectives are. Those of us who are in the thick of the regulatory effort get it- for the most part….except for those that still think licensure is a method of distinguishing the qualified from the not. It is all about our right to practice as peers with, or independent of, other “regulated” (note change from “licensed”) design professionals who wish to practice in code regulated construction environments.

    I agree that early on given the state of change in society that it was not possible to forecast all of that change. I would counter that after 35+ years of trying the only constant about our effort to regulate the profession is that it will change. We need to accept that change and figure out the best way to proceed.


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