Many of my previous posts have addressed the ongoing professional struggles between architects (represented in this corner by the AIA) and professional interior designers (represented in this corner by an assortment of interior design legislative coalitions and hiding behind the curtain-ASID).

But is there really a struggle?  Well yeah but…………

When it comes to the relationship between qualified interior design professionals and architects I firmly believe that respect and mutually rewarding collaborations are commonplace. I have no data other than my 25+ years of commercial interior design/architecture experience in which I have worked for, or with architects.  Of course some unfortunate stereotypes persist but once an IDer proves his or her mettle within the code regulated building design environment the relationships generally turn synergistic.  If an interior design professional can walk the walk and actually contribute to the success of a design effort any licensed design professional with an ounce of common sense will respect that ability.

However try as we might interior designers still struggle with overt biases that have built up over the years. For instance we have the proverbial, “we are only qualified to select furniture and finishes” misperception not to mention the more covert/unspoken prejudices such as sexism and even homophobia.  Yes many of these biases and prejudices are a result of  larger and more complex societal intolerance but to say that they are not endemic in the much smaller cadre of building design professions is simply delusion.  These prejudices generally start in school and little is done to tamp these misunderstandings and biases out until one professional has an interaction with another professional that forces him, or her, to reconsider their assumptions.  This is a hard way for our professions to move forward with any amount of mutual respect and benefit.

I have always maintained that we need architects and more importantly they need us. Much like doctors need nurses……or maybe much like Zubin Mehta needs Vladimir Horowitz….or does he…I digress.

But when it comes to those devout independent ID’ers who are gung ho regulationists I am in the minority on this belief…..add in the gender issue and I maybe alone on my middle age hetero male interior designer island. For it is the issue of regulation and licensure, or right to practice, that severs our professional domains like a serrated knife.  This is an unfortunate circumstance for both professions and is the crux of the aforementioned “struggle”.

Ultimately when the debate turns to which professional domain is best suited to own code regulated interior design work the gloves come off.  The well entrenched AIA continues to lobby against all legislation pursued by various interior design coalitions (vis-a-vis ASID). The AIA oft kicks sand in the our collective professional faces.  I understand the turf protection aspect of this issue as I have been on all sides of this fence.

Ultimately the AIA wants to protect the income producing potential interior projects provide for its sole/small practice members and the pro-regulation interior design contingent claims that they have earned the right to practice in certain conditional code regulated interior environments without the oversight of an architect.  That’s the “struggle” in a nutshell folks.  Correct me if I am wrong.

So over the past few years, as the profession of interior design has slowly made strides in advancing its worth to society and its place in the design of code regulated interior design environments, there have been lot’s of suggestions as to how regulation minded interior designers should, or could, create a valid professional path that avoids both practice conflicts with licensed architects and, at the other end of the spectrum, the vitriolic push-back of disenfranchised interior decorators and residential designers.  By default we have unfortunately modeled our professional path after architects and our similarities are also our biggest roadblock.  Should we continue this potentially incestuous path to professional status or should we create a new and unique paradigm that is uniquely our own?

The one alternative model for ID professional advancement getting the most traction (IMO) is the nursing model….er….um the

The Medical Profession Model


Of course this is not a new analogy.  Both sides of the interior designer/architect equation have pondered its validity and viability for some time now.  The Interior Design Coalition of Arizona has adopted the nursing analogy in its legislation justification material;

“Other states have concluded that establishing this category of registered professional in the field of architecture and design is similar to the prior emergence of the physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner in the medical field.”

Most recently the medical model was promoted as a way for ID to move forward in this March 2013 article in Design Intelligence Magazine.

In it John Weigand posits a very reasoned and eloquent case for ID to follow the nursing model, particularly its education pathways, to move ID out of its professional stasis.

He is correct in this observation;

“Nurses, technicians and others are important contributors in the medical system, but they are credentialed at levels appropriate to the work. There is flexibility in the system.”

And there are numerous comparisons one can make between the two occupations.  Decorators and Medical Assistants , Interior Designers (non-NCIDQ certified) and LPN/LVN’s, and Certified Interior Designers and RN’s or Nurse Practitioners.

He is also correct in stating that the ID education model has many of the academic prerequisites in place but getting buy-in from the architect side of the equation would require a quantum leap in cross profession collaboration

“This model could be developed jointly by NAAB and CIDA and might need to exist for some period of time in test mode, not replacing but paralleling current standards.”

Well yes and when all 8 planets, Pluto and the Sun align these discussions MIGHT be possible.  Call me a skeptic.

There are also some parallels with the examination and licensure of nurses…they protect the health, safety and welfare of the public and so do we…..or at least that is how we try to frame our right to be regulated. But let’s face it- justifying nurses responsibilities in that regard is a no brainer. Interior designers ability and obligation to protect the HS&W of the public…well that is a very hard sell….even if you are shopping for ID services.

And to address the 800 pound white male gorilla in this discussion.  What about the issue of gender subservience?  Articles on the subject abound;

So what is the difference between being subservient to male dominated profession of architecture?  Well nothing- no improvement here.

It also appears that at the highest level of the medical profession that Nurse Practitioners and Medical Doctors are vying for control of the patients health…

Sound familiar?

And let’s be honest the profession of architecture as we know it is evolving and reinventing itself.  The days of the black caped walking stick wielding master of the built domain are long gone.  Given the quantum leap in construction and design technology, coupled with the great economic resetting of the past decade (resulting in up to 45% unemployment in the profession at the peak of the downturn), architects, vis-a-vis the AIA, are scrambling to redefine their position in the design of the built environment.  So maybe architects need to retool their image and approach as to how they validate their value to society as well.

Given the UNDERLYING issues of subservience, turf (or in this case patient) protection and gender bias inherent in the nursing model PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER would like to think outside the box a little bit…….okay maybe a lot.

I would like to be so bold as to propose a new model for ID professional advancement….oh and this applies to the architects as well.

The Musical Profession Model


Cutting to the chase. Let’s imagine that the role of the conductor is played by the architect and the interior designer is first chair violinist or if you’re so inclined…the pianist.  Obviously in the design and execution of a large multi-discipline building somebody needs to make sure everybody is in tune, on time and contributing their individual effort to the betterment of the whole composition.  For me the analogy between architect and conductor is much more palatable than architect and doctor.  Another nuance of this analogy that should appeal to ID’ers is that when an orchestra is not necessary, as in a violin solo, or simple string quartet recital, there is no need for a conductor.  If an interior designer/violinist wishes to go solo…they are welcome to do so and can even make a living performing solo.  Arguing with myself here- YES Nurse Practitioners can also treat patients to a certain extent without the oversight of an MD…..but then remember all of the other legal, political and territorial baggage that comes with that.   No thanks.

Now obviously the professional musician analogy looses some validity when you drill down to the issue of regulation and licensure.  But if we believe that ID leaders and architect leaders can get together to even consider the possibility of some sort of mutually beneficial education/examination/practice pathways then what the hell….let’s take full advantage of this fantasy and create something that benefits both of our professions.  Just some food for thought folks.


Fade out and fade in:

Fade to black.

Roll the credits

Cut. Print. THAT’S A WRAP!


  1. Michael, I wish you had never gone here. You seem to be trying to put a positive swing on the old nurse / doctor stereotype. What is wrong with the analogy of two specialists working together to help the patient, designer and architect? As I designer, I can lead the design process and bring in an architect partner when I need their area of expertise, and vice versa. Different areas of expertise working together, depending on the scope, not one working under another. Next thing you know I am going to have to marry an architect, too.


  2. Robin you may want to tell that to those interior designers that feel that paying an architect a fee simply to sign and seal interior design documents to obtain a building permit is an infringement of their rights and abilities as design professionals that it is just a matter of working within one’s area of expertise.
    I do not disagree with your assertion but I can tell you that there are numerous ID’ers who vehemently disagree.
    What you see as “expertise” others see as infringement. THANKS FOR YOUR COMMENT


  3. Oh and P.S. Robin I think my analogy to the music profession allows for such mutual reliance on various expertise…whereas the medical profession model has defined limitations…unless of course you marry an MD who is also a registered architect.


  4. Using the orchestra analogy seems like it is out of the box, but many may still argue, there is a conductor to make it sense out of all that noise. Architects may feel they are that conductor. I see more and more, especially with BIM, the contractor is now the conductor. I also see that architects don’t like the loss of control, which is why there has been renewed push on their end. What is happening overall is a total shakeup of the building arts industry; where it will end, we will only know if we help shape that end.


  5. Great comment! Life would be grand if we could step back from the divisive legal and political machinations that consume our collective time and energies……all of this occurs at the expense of the art and social/physiological benefit of our expertise. Sure the reality of the architecture/design business demands attention to risk and responsibility that musicians do not have but me thinks the scale has tipped too far to the technical/litigious side…..maybe we need a two conductor model…an architect and a CM at risk.


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