COPAP/Rich Pedroncelli

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

I suspect that there are a few egalitarian designers out there who do NOT recognize the value of job titles, professional credentials, or licensure.  But 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 society in general.  Our day to day job’s define us and most of us do care how those jobs are perceived by the rest of society.  We communicate our job status via titles and credentials.  There is an entire field of science that deals with such identity constructs but Oen and Cooper [1] 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.”

Unfortunately many of my peers believe that the most impactful way to advance the interior design profession is by regulating the title or the actual practice of interior design.  Meaning that if one has a license, they are automatically afforded a level of respect via a general understanding of our value to society.  And, voila, our identity crisis is solved.  Have license-will design.  Well… that is not how it works.  That is not how any of this works.

If you agree that “interior design” is simply too broad of a label and that those of us who have endeavored to earn our right to practice at the highest levels of the building design professions suffer from the persistent stereotypes and societal biases inherent in “interior design” this is my attempt to offer a solution.  Please read on.

How do you advance the interior design profession via laws and regulations when many interior designers 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 essentially become an “indoor species” that spends 90%+/- of our 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 lives and livelihoods.

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? ;

Lucidio Studio, Getty Images

Why is it that when most people in the civilized world fall ill they typically seek and respect the opinion of degreed/licensed medical professionals?  And when most people in the civilized world wish to build shelter for living or working they typically seek and respect the guidance of degreed/licensed contractors, engineers and architects.  However, when those same people find the need to ensure that the interior environments of their shelters are safe, functional, and are designed to improve the quality of their lives there is no clear go-to vetted 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 is presented with a mind numbing array of options from Fung Shui experts to Home Depot carpet sales staff to Registered Architects .  It is a challenge for even the most knowledgable experts 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 must determine the difference between, an innately qualified interior decorator posing as “designer” whose talent is creating custom cashmere pillows for the uber-wealthy, and a certified interior designer whose career focus is the design of dementia care centers. Unfortunately comfy pillows are far more accessible than the design of cognitive care facilities.

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, other licensed building design professionals.  In other words residential interior designers (AKA decorators) who do not practice in code regulated construction and design environments have no need to regulate the profession of interior design.  They have no desire, or need, to pursue a license to practice.  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 or infringement of their rights.

Okay that is one group of interior designers that stands in the way of advancing the profession via government regulation.

At the other end of the interior design professional spectrum is an influential and rapidly growing contingent 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 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.

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 outnumber those interior designers who do see value in certification and licensure.  Which reminds me of another aspect of our misguided profession…many of us do not even know the difference between a certificate and a license.  More on this later

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 those interior design professionals may be highly qualified via certification, and may practice at the highest levels of the building design profession…they 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.

Have I convinced you that the numbers simply do not work in the favor of those who are fully invested 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 “interior designers” who choose to 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.

Let’s assume for sake of my point here 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 assume that there are about 73,000[2][5] 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/Council[3], society grants us a level of respect similar to licensed Architects and Engineers, and we are able to hire the best lobbyists nationwide.  Seventy three thousand members is a sizable profession and would be a force for state and provincial legislators to reckon with. For comparison the AIA has 90,000+/- total members.

So sticking with my number of 73,000 code regulated interior designers, one could assume 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.  Right?  Unfortunately, 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.

And that is the government itself.


The sociopolitical tides against occupational regulation/licensure 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.  Who 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 polarized politics and anti-everything the tide against regulation is growing and marginally defined occupations such as Interior Design remain in the cross-hairs

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 fundamentally 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… 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 interior designers who are educated/trained/certified to practice in code regulated design environments.

If step one does not happen the following steps 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. 

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


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

Still here?  Thank you.  Here we go.



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                                                   


Previously I surmised that the identity crisis within the profession of interior design 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 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……But not the end of this blog post though.

Consequently, there are two factions, or types 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.

If you disagree with that distinction then let me save you some time.  You should stop reading now.

As you may know there are a litany of ways in which we attempt 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.

Unfortunately in the mind of 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.

Lest you think I am making this bi-polar identity issue up you need to know that this identity 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.

“It’s in the designer’s nature to solve problems. But now, it’s time for interior
designers to solve problems and design solutions for their own profession.
Our profession must become a group of people who speak with one voice on
matters of regulation, legislation, ethics, and excellence. We must coalesce as
an assembly of well-educated minds that, focused on a research question or
a matter of social policy, can create, hold, and perpetuate new knowledge
that will contribute to the universal intellectual enterprise.”

Sound familiar?  I wish I could claim the above proclamation but to be honest Cindy Coleman, former editor and chief on Interior Design Magazine included this professional wake-up call in the introduction to her book The Interior Design Handbook of Professional Practice which was published in 2002.  Let me repeat….2002!

Basically while a few scholars  and well-meaning practitioners 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”.

Exactly……While those interior design/architects 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.

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

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 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 really 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 plus, 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. We know that “Contract Interior Designer” has been tried and the current trend is to regulate “Commercial Interior Design” .  Both have merit and both prefixes add a clear distinction in my mind.  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 does not need to 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 RID 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 Wieland, “occurs through ongoing mundane interactions in addition to critical moments”[4].  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 their 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 in the continuum of the profession and it is unfortunate that their efforts have been lost over time.  I will continue to refer to their effort as the GBCID.  Simply put, the GBCID used a title via certification as a means to advance their status separate from interior designers.  Unfortunately, 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 collective mission statement we have. Consequently, it 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.

First and foremost 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.

With that we will 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 the 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?

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


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.

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


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

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;  privately 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 far from nationwide.  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 which has its own certification examination, the IDEX. The IDEX 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 code regulated interior design.

In the public realm 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). 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 a designer that claims to be a “certified”  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.


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.   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.


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 sit for the ARE and legally 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 . Passage of the ARE and subsequent registration with a state board will ultimately allow their graduates to legally claim the title “interior architect”.  If you want more information on how one becomes an interior architect this video may help;

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- it is ours.

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


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.



Essentially what I am proposing is that those of us whose identities and careers are limited by the continued misunderstanding 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”.   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.

The next steps are a challenge to rationalize in byte-sized chunks. Bear with me.


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”.  With the exception of the previously mentioned GBCIDS, what we have is 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 hurdle in my platform.

Granted since the 2010 Locke v. Shore ruling in Florida the profession, vis-a-vis ASID & IIDA, has made some strides in trying to shift the profession’s collective understanding of regulation away from being 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. There is nothing in this for them.

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.


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;

In case it has not sunk in, interior design is the poster child for the anti-regulation movement.  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.  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, first and foremost, a political issue.  Many of us shy away from such topics.  That is understandable – but it is unhelpful AND potentially disastrous for the profession.  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 as code regulated interior designers 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” which is what I am railing against here.  Just ask yourself “how well has those very nuanced title laws actually worked out for us?”

I also 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.  There are very limited pockets of the country in which state regulated designer can sign and seal/stamp their drawings and submit them for a building permit.  This is a step in the right direction but the actual success of this bit of practice regulation is mixed at best.  I hope that this paradigm shift can allow those jurisdictions to not only maintain their practice regulation but also add clarity and consistency as well as to increase the scope of our work.  That is another discussion.

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.  Hopefully in a much smarter more forward thinking combination of private self-regulation and public legislation that will let interior decorators and unregulated residential 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 #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.

Let’s assume that all of my thousands of readers agree with me and we magically unite to force the paradigmatic shift that I have been promoting; that is the creation of a new branch of the interior design domain that is based solely in the code regulated building design professions.

What then?

On the regulatory organization front we must not lose sight of the need to attend to the impact of parsing code regulated interior design from interior design as it pertains to existing ID legislation.   Furthermore any legislation that does allow for practice rights will need to be protected and/or amended.  Of course there are as many variations on permitting privileges for interior designers as there are laws. Some jurisdictions that claim to allow interior designers the right to sign and seal documents to obtain a building permit really do not.  I understand that over the past 30+ years of legislating the practice of interior we have had to compromise on what little regulation we were able to enact.  That’s politics.  Unfortunately what this hodgepodge of title and practice acts has left us is confusing, at best, and ineffectual at worst.  In reference to the Council for Interior Design Qualification regulatory map only 7 states have some form of legislation that allows for interior designers to own their work all the way through the building permit review and approval process.  Let me repeat that….only 14% of the U.S. allows qualified interior designers to work to their fullest potential as peers with, or independent of, other licensed building design professionals.  Furthermore these few practice/permitting acts vary widely in their scope, approbation, and they are not reciprocal.  Process that figure with the fact that we have been trying to codify interior design for +/- 40 years.  Therefore I maintain that we need a plan that helps us strategically move forward while trying to clean-up our existing regulatory framework in light of our new professional identity.

Reconciling ineffective ID regulations with laws that truly allow us to work to the fullest of our skills and knowledge will not be easy.  We must not let the fact that we have existing legislation, of dubious/mixed benefit, obscure our need to move forward with this new branch of the profession.  Just because we have done it this way in the past does not mean we should simply muddle on as we have the past 40+ years.  We have learned a lot over the past 30+ years let’s use that to our advantage. This is a design challenge….HELLO!

Obviously if we determine that a title change is necessary in order to leave “interior design” behind us then we will have to adapt everything from credentials, model/uniform language, practice scope, titles and letterhead to the ID Body of Knowledge as well as the aforementioned definition interior design.  So who is responsible to lead this messaging and advocacy effort?  See step #8.

On the professional membership organization front……please see step #7b below.

Now to the academy AKA IDEC & CIDA.

If the paradigm is shifted, as I propose, we will need to revisit 50+ years of “interior design” knowledge.  The academy will need some time to process this notion.  Papers will need to be written.  Well informed and deeply considered editorial pieces will need to be disseminated and debated. Discussion panels will need to be aired out. Standards will need to be revisited. Program titles and curriculums will need to be reconsidered.  This is what the academy does.  Now for those academics who are skeptical of my proposal I will say that this shift is occurring as we speak (eg. interior designers claiming to be interior architects) regardless.  We can get ahead of this organic paradigm shift or we can accept our new role as defined by others.


To its credit the academy, with the input of countless visionary scholars and tactical researchers, has been the major force behind the profession’s maturation process .  Of course the academy did not force the shift from aesthetic concerns to one of health safety and welfare in isolation.  Professional practitioners have also provided input as to what they see as the future direction of the profession. All one has to do is compare the late 1900’s FIDER (now CIDA) professional standards as well as the NCIDQ examination with the current manifestation of each.  The transformation, particularly with the NCIDQ examination, over this time is remarkable.  We have clearly moved the profession of interior design away from its traditional roots in interior decoration to one that owns specific skills and knowledge that is akin to other licensed building design professions. Of course they would disagree….another story.

We should be proud of this accomplishment but now it is time for the academy and regulatory agencies to embrace the concept that we are no longer simply “interior designers” and the societal understanding of our skills and knowledge simply has not kept up, despite our best efforts to own the definition of “interior design”.

It is my hope that if we do this right, we may be able to entice those ID’ers who have adopted the interior architect mantle to reconsider their abandonment of interior design.  Again we created this exodus…..we need to stem the tide or accept the consequences.  I digress yet again.

STEP #7b

We need one professional membership organization.  

Should the professional domain of code regulated interior designers have the courage to bisect interior design into two distinct branches then we certainly do not need two or more organizations to represent this new professional branch.  Enough said.

So who is ultimately responsible for advocating for our new professional branch in the public domain as in legislation, regulations, state boards, acts, laws, and ordinances, etc.?  Who is responsible to advocate for the entire profession in this regard? Hold that thought………………………

STEP #8 We need one national (or North American) council to oversee regulatory efforts of the profession.

This is the final chapter of my proposal to advance the profession of code regulated interior design.  It will be my most challenging to explain…because quite simply the current system by which the profession advances itself legally (AKA licensure) is convoluted at best.  It is the least understood and certainly most underappreciated aspect of our collective ability to practice at the highest levels of the building design professions.

Let me remind you that there are many practicing interior designers who believe that passing the NCIDQ Examination means one is “licensed” to practice interior design.  Furthermore there are many interior designers that see the effort to legislate interior design as an infringement and an economic threat.  We have a long way to go.

Hence the basis for my 8 step plan.

In order to explain my proposal to advance the profession of code regulated interior design legally and politically, so that we may in fact practice as peers with, or independent of, our allied licensed building design professions, I have created an organizational chart of the profession.  Are we not visual people?  My assumptions here may not be 100% accurate but this has helped me wrap my brain around how this profession manifests itself internally and regulates itself publicly.   And finally, if I error at any point in this analysis, please feel free to correct me via comment.  Again if anybody else has a better/clearer visual of the profession I welcome your input.

At this point, and in my opinion, the profession of interior design consists of several (too many?) organizations that work to advance it both publicly and privately.  These organizations fall into two categories, regulatory (public/typically non-profit) and professional membership only (private/typically for profit).



Hopefully you noticed the addition of a 3rd category to address entities that do not fall clearly into the main two categories.  The Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC) provides CEU credits to both regulatory and membership organizations where such evidence of ongoing education is required.  Most, if not all, states and provinces where ID is regulated require continuing education in order to maintain licensure or registration via the state.

The other hybrid entity is ID coalitions.  This group did not fall easily into either category. Since coalitions typically represent states/provinces in an effort to lobby and enact ID legislation within their jurisdiction they are not yet a public entity but should remain independent of any particular private professional organization lest their interest be misconstrued as self-serving. Unfortunately this fundamental aspect of our profession’s ability to pursue regulations that will grant us the legal right to work to the fullest of our knowledge and skills has been hindered by lack of a cogent message and a unified mission. Not to mention the overarching identity crisis that the profession of “Interior Design” suffers among society. Given this convoluted branding it is actually commendable that we have been able to cobble together the disparate and confusing record of regulations that we do have.

Also note the arrow linking CIDQ and the state/provincial boards.  CIDQ not only administers the NCIDQ Examination and maintains certification credentials it also acts to link the regulated states and territories with the broader profession.  Similar to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), part of  its original mission is to support regulated state boards and advocate for licensed and certified interior designers internationally. We should think of CIDQ as an International Council of Interior Design Boards (ICIDB) since it combines the regulated aspects of both the Canadian and U.S. interior design professions.  One might question the wisdom of combining Canadian ID’ers with the U.S. in this regard, since our legal/regulatory systems are different, but I maintain that we can use this to our advantage.  More on this in a minute.

Unfortunately the progenitors of the regulated aspect of the profession, way back in the 1970’s, could not foresee the trials and tribulations that the profession would experience as it developed and pursued legal recognition through the 1980’s to today.  Again I mention the efforts of the Governing Board for Contract Interior Design Standards formed in 1987 in a profession wide effort to expedite the distinction between qualified interior designers, in this case “contract” interior designers, and the unregulated residential interior designers.  This was the first attempt within the profession to change the paradigm in order to acknowledge the certified and code regulated.  Although this movement died from lack of inertia in the late 1990’s we cannot discount the amount of time and effort it took to create this organization.  We might also call the trend of interior designers claiming to be interior architects as yet another wake up call to the profession.

So several lawsuits, deregulation efforts and shifting political tides against occupational licensure later, here we are still trying to advance the profession with this less than cohesive model.  Even if you disagree with my hypothetical re-imagining of the profession into traditional interior design and code-regulated interior design you have to admit that it is time to rethink how we collectively and effectively advance this profession or…occupation.

Here is my vision for the way forward.


Ultimately, in order to realize substantive progress in our efforts to be considered peers with, or work independent of, our allied licensed building design professionals we need to act like a profession that deserves such recognition.  This includes organizing the profession in such a way that it is cohesive, nimble and defensible.

I believe that including Canada in this effort is to our collective benefit since we have more in common than not and we need their numbers…plus they are nice people.  Mexico, as they continue to coalesce their code regulated ID profession is certainly welcome to join.

Now for those of you who have followed along and have even a glimmer of hope that such a shift has potential I thank you and encourage you to get engaged with the profession however you can.  Being informed as to the many nuances of our current system (no…the NCIDQ certificate is not a “license”) as well as understanding the options to move forward is the only way we are going to realize any collective benefit to this monumental effort.

I know this is a pipe dream but I also firmly believe it is possible….no it is necessary.  I also am open to other ideas.  My ego can take it.  But if you are going to tell me I am off my rocker please be considerate enough to tell me why.  I will go sit back down on my rocker, ponder your comment and hopefully we can come to a resolution.

Lastly I do not promote this blog widely nor have I monetized it.  This is not about me or me making money.  If you like what I am proposing please feel free to share.

  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.
  4. Wieland, Stacey M.B. Ideal Selves as Resources for the Situated Practice of Identity,  Management Communication Quarterly, Aug. 2010, Vol 24, Issue 4, pp. 503 – 528
  5. UPDATE 10/3017- THIS JUST IN FROM INTERIOR DESIGN MAGAZINE….THERE ARE ACTUALLY 112,000 INTERIOR DESIGNERS OUT THERE……Hmmmmm guess I am not the only one who does not have a handle on how many of us there are.

EDIT 12/31/2019-  Hmm I will take this little bit of plagar…..ahemmmm tacit inspiration as a compliment;



  1. PID- you are not off your rocker; you are on (a rather long winded) point. The path is there, but the timing may not be. We have been fighting this “war” for some time, but like so many other political movements ( yes, unfortunately, it is political), there seems to be a need for a catalyst to push it forward. The Governing Board died years ago, as the economy got better and there was work for all. It came about as we were trying to distinguish ourselves from the decorators of the world. From that effort, came better recognition, but it also brought about reactions from other competitive organizations which then spurred us on to licenses as the answer. As you have pointed out, that was not the answer either. What has been left in it’s wake is simply confusion, and a movement to align ourselves with another profession ( IA). Many have noted, if we follow that path, we will be taken over and will lose our identity. Some may say, it is more like a marriage, where the bride takes the grooms last name.
    In any case, I believe the confusion will remain, at least in North America. In other countries IA is the term. Having just returned from SE Asia on a 2 week trip, I can say that it is the design of a space that separates it from a civilized to uncivilized world. The hotels are well designed, inside and out, whereas the homes of many locals know no such design, only survival. So money makes the difference- one can afford design, versus let’s make sure there is a roof over our head.
    The path forward begins with educators- as we push to use the term IA, as a means to encourage male student enrollment, versus the goal to align with the rest of the world; we are helping create this chaos. While I firmly believe that the use of IA is not a path we want to go down ( think of all the renames we would have to do, let alone opening up all the legislation acts which use the terms ID); if we research other countries viewpoints on this, I have to wonder if we are clinging to something just because that is the way it always has been done. Imperial vs Metric?
    We both know that one of the main problems is the 2 associations- that they seem to be at odds, but really, will having one solve the problem magically? There are plenty of architects who will not subscribe to AIA doctrine; as there are plenty of designers who don’t see the need for membership in a club, now that NCIDQ has finally gotten smart and allowed us to use the appellation after our names.
    It is just common sense that we look to other models to fix this mess- SHRM or CFP or CPA’s may be the way to go. But aren’t we already there? Again, back to NCIDQ. One of the reasons we all felt the need to be licensed is to say we were qualified- but many did not want to join ASID or IIDA. Now that NCIDQ finally let us use the appellation, this is the real certification- YES I PASSED A TEST, SAYING I AM REALLY A DESIGNER.
    SO, is the onus on CIDQ? Should not this be the real over-arching certification, recognized by states? Well, so long as there are building departments which state, in order to pull a permit, one must be licensed ( not registered, not certified); this will continue to be the thorn. IBC says registered may be okay, but states are lobbied by licensed professionals to keep that wording in their statutes.
    As you have pointed out repeatedly, it is the need to work in a code- regulated space, to have the ability to own your own work, to pull a permit for construction- this is the real need here.
    So how do we get every little township, village, city or state to say, it is fine- that a NCIDQ qualified individual is the same as a Licensed by the State architect or engineer? We can’t. It is a legal distinction and the purview of the states to regulate buildings in their jurisdiction. I don’t see any name change or other certification qualification changing that. It will be up to the building dept and the Fire Marshall who say it is fine. We need to take this argument to them.
    Thanks for the thought provoking plan. I think we need to look at it from the angle of simply who is NCIDQ and who wants to work in a code-regulated environment, and not fret so much about the many other distractions. They are just that, distractions. As you are part of CIDQ, perhaps we can have them work on a public campaign to help out?
    Oh, forgot, none of us has any money to do this type of PR/ again, that is always the problem. And so it goes…..


  2. Thanks for the well reasoned response…and for taking the time to read all of this. I will disagree on your timing comment though. My first reply to that is “when is the right time then?”. .
    I also need to clarify that this divorce….code regulated ID’ers from traditional unregulated ID’ers, is not going to happen overnight but we have to file papers with the public ASAP. Once the divorce is formalized the code regulated ID’ers will need a lot of time to establish a unique identity, an effective professional organization, and a social compact via 21st century branding. I hate to belabor the divorce analogy but we are going to have to let the unregulated ID’ers have the house. It is where they do their best work anyway.

    We code regulated ID’ers will need time (5-10 years?) to establish an identity that is unique from ID and IA but does not infringe on their domains. I acknowledge that it will take time….but we have to start. Then and only then will we be able to realize any substantive progress on the licensure front. In other words we may actually have to take a few steps back before we can regroup and leave our sordid identity crisis behind us.

    I appreciate your thoughts on IA. But will add that if we do not reconcile ID from Code Regulated ID soon and NCARB/AIA/NAAB continues to formalize a path to license interior architecture those schools that adopted IA in their program titles may not have to change their letterhead. Code regulated ID will be subsumed by the architects and Interior Design progams will be relegated to their pre-1960’s decorator traditions.

    That may be the natural evolution of this dilemma…..if we just let it happen. I will be dead by then. C’est la vie….can’t say I did not warn us.


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