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

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