If you reached this site because you are interested in pursuing a career in interior design in the United States (or Canada- to an extent) please know this;
This site is not funded or financed by anyone. I am not here to promote any particular interior design degree/certificate program or interior design organization (do you see any ads?). I am here to help you make informed decisions without any judgement.
I am an NCIDQ Certified Interior Design profession with 25 years of commercial and residential design experience. I have also been teaching interior design for the past 14 years at a highly regarded 4 year interior design program.
Interior design is a broad and somewhat ill-defined occupation. It can be confusing and if you make the wrong decision in your journey…it can also be very expensive.
This blog post is focused on getting to the point. The internet is getting clogged up with a lot of information. I want to help you cut through it. Even sites such as the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics, while helpful, can be overwhelming at this stage of your journey.
I will provide links to trusted sources so you can explore your options a bit deeper but know you should be on the right path. Okay ready?
Q- WHAT TYPE OF INTERIOR SPACE DO YOU WANT TO DESIGN?
A) I want to design people’s homes. I love to watch home make-over shows and videos. I prefer the more artistic aspect of design and do not want to deal with a lot of technical, or complex, problems. While I am confident in my innate sense of creativity I also know that some specialization, such as kitchen and bath design, does require some advanced training.
B) I want to design restaurants, nightclubs, high-end retail, and hotels. I like the ultra creative aspect of glamorous entertainment or shopping spaces but I do not want to get too technical or bogged down with the details. I do not want to design people’s homes….too much drama for me.
C) I want to design a variety of commercial interior spaces including hotels, retail, healthcare and offices. I am interested in Architecture and want to help design the interior spaces of larger buildings. I like technical challenges, working in teams, and find solving complex problems rewarding.
D) I want to design residential and commercial interior spaces that are creative and also help the client live a better quality of life. I want to make a difference for people of all ages and social levels. I enjoy working in dynamic and challenging environments with other like-minded professionals.
If you fall on the fence between the above options that is fine. Read the details and that should help you focus on one path.
If you answered ‘A’
Okay your options are actually pretty wide open here. You wish to pursue a career in interior design that utilizes your innate creative skills but does not require knowledge of building structures (math…yuk!), codes, standards or regulations. You are more interested in furnishings and colors than wall framing or floor joists. More commonly known as interior decoration there is a lot of cross-over into interior design. At a minimum you will need a baseline knowledge of floor plans, construction and materials. Obviously the more you know in this regard the more valuable your skill-set becomes. You may not need to know any advanced computer design programs but, as with any profession, a general knowledge of basic office programs is essential. Again the more you can offer a prospective employer in the area of technical skills the broader your options. Ultimately this aspect of interior design requires no formal design education but if you wish to pursue advanced education or certification to elevate your opportunities in this rather competitive aspect of interior design here are several legitimate organizations that can provide much more detail for your consideration.
A note of caution here. Since this is the lest restrictive aspect of interior design there is a lot of misleading info on the internet in this regard. Buyer beware.
If you answered ‘B’
If you wish to pursue a design career that deals with public commercial spaces such as restaurants, hotels or chic retail stores you have two sub-options to consider.
I prefer to be involved with the furnishings and color choices for these spaces and not so much the details or technical aspects. OR……..
I would like to be involved in the planning and construction of these types of spaces. I am technically inclined and understand that there are many codes, regulations and standards that must be dealt with.
If #1 above describes you then your choice aligns with career path ‘A’ above. It is possible to find a rewarding career decorating and furnishing these types of commercial spaces without any advanced education or certification. But your involvement will be limited to those aspects of the project that do not involve building codes which are typically performed by other licensed or registered design professionals. Again if you do pursue some advanced education or certification, or demonstrate an affinity for technical skills your options will be greater. See the links under path ‘A’ above for more detail.
If you answered #2 above then you are beginning to head down career path ‘C’ described below. In order to practice in any form of commercial architecture or interior design, which must abide by building codes and life safety standards, you will typically need an advanced/accredited education. Most likely you will also need to validate your baseline knowledge and competency to work in these regulated environments by earning your NCIDQ Examination certificate. See the links under path ‘C’ below for more details but there is one professional membership organization that will have good information for those who may straddle the professional fence between residential/unregulated design and commercial/code regulated interior design;
Interior designers that practice in commercial spaces that are typically regulated by building codes (does it need a building permit?), life safety regulations, accessibility requirements, and other contractual obligations will need an advanced education, monitored apprenticeship, and a certification via examination. While innate talent is helpful one must also be able to work on complex problems in a team environment that is driven by time sensitive deadlines. If this is not your ideal environment then consider career path ‘A’ or ‘B’ above. One can expect to invest at least 6 years in order to practice at this level of the profession. Here are some important links to review and consider;
Congratulations! You are here for the right reasons. I commend you. That said your career path options are a bit more open. I am going to show my bias here but if you truly want to help people lead better lives or livelihoods, apart from a career in medicine, I am not sure of a better option. In order to achieve some level of influence in this regard you will want to practice at a level that it is overseen by federal, state and local regulations. An awareness of various public policies and socio-economic trends will be helpful. Research, information gathering and problem seeking skills play an increasingly important role. Hence an accredited education will be important to have any influence. If these topics scare you do not get discouraged. Again your objective is noble and the profession needs you. With that you should explore career paths as described by the links under career path ‘C’ above. In addition you should explore the following human health, and design for social justice links;
Well Buildings (oversees programs promoting building design that promotes human health and wellbeing)
“INTERIOR DESIGN LICENSE AND REGISTRATION PLEASE…..”
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  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…..no 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? ∨;
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”.
DO WE EVEN HAVE A QUORUM HERE?
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 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, 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.
MAMA TOLD ME NEVER TO DISCUSS MONEY, POLITICS AND RELIGION
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 http://licensure.rethinkwhy.org/
So fellow designers if we are going to rely on legislation and licensure to pull us out of our professional identity crisis we must position code regulated interior design so that it fails the questionable regulation sniff test. And we must do it YESTERDAY!
“But……but…PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER if the numbers really are not on our side and our own government is skeptical of our right to regulation what can we do to 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…..plus you have read this far into my latest diatribe cut me some slack and read on.
The profession has to muster its collective courage, creative problem solving skills, and intellectual capacity to address the disparity between those interior designers who do not practice in code regulated building design environments and 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.
The interior design academy and the regulatory agencies of the profession need to better collaborate to shift the culture of the code regulated interior design profession.
We need one professional membership organization
We need one national (or U.S./Canada) council to oversee regulatory efforts of the profession³
Still here? Thank you. 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.
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 Practicewhich 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”. 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.
MOVING RID FORWARD
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.
INTERIOR DESIGN CERTIFICATION
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 http://www.credentialingexcellence.org/programdifferences
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;
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.
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.
INTERIOR DESIGN LICENSURE
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.
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.
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;
Don’t be afraid to become political.
Ask your professional organizations what their advocacy efforts are nationally and locally.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oen, Carol; Cooper, Marianne. Professional Identity and the Information Professional, Journal of the American Society for Information Science (1986-1988); Sep 1988; 39, 5;ABI/INFORM Collection pg. 355
This number includes ASID’s 13,500 members, IIDA’s 15,000 members, IDC’s (Canada) 5,000 members in total. I also include an additional 40,000 certified interior designers that are unaffiliated with any professional membership organization. Myself for example.
For those of you who have been around awhile….this idea may sound familiar. An influential group of contract interior designers created The Governing Board for Contract Interior Design Standards in the mid 1980’s. This group was a voluntary certification board with no real regulatory influence and disbanded in 1999 due to lack of inertia and support from the larger profession. So please do not tell me this label confusion is a new problem.
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
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.
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”.
If you want to be a “certified interior designer” learn what that means.
If you want to be a “licensed interior designer” learn what that entails.
If you want to be an “interior architect” take the ARE exam.
I do not know how much clearer this can be. This is not my opinion folks…the above are legally and ethically demonstrable titles and labels that are often applied inappropriately and even illegally. It is easy to get confused. If this helps one person figure out who they are, or what they do, then I am good.
You are welcome to ignore the above…but now you do so knowing the difference.
Confused? Feel free to ask. Disagree? Tell me why.
Following up on my recent post regarding California’s Certified Interior Design, or C.I.D. credential I came across this recent missive from the CCIDC regarding the legal rights to the “C.I.D.” credential.
I have mentioned this little alphabet tug-o-war, or mudfight, depending on your metaphorical preferences, in several previous posts and really try not to think about it too much in the hope it will all go away. Unfortunately the three letters of C, I, and D, in that order, make for a perfect credential in our industry.
On the surface the above blog post ruffled my PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER feathers….Mr. Stolman clearly blurs the line between interior decoration and Interior Design which is a particular sore point with moi……..but.
While I appreciate Mr. Stolman’s impassioned plea for relevance I wonder if interior decoration just might wither away. Maybe interior decoration will become crushed under the weight of its inability to add anything resembling real value to our increasingly harried and techno-focused lives in which the quality of those lives is getting harder and harder to manage. Certainly it has always been an elitist pursuit and with the redistribution of wealth in the world, eliminating the middle and upper middle class, the market for pure decoration-as-art services is getting narrower and narrower.
As Mr. Stolman notes technology has actually lowered the standard for entry into the interior decoration occupational domain. Why pay when you can do it yourself?
With no real technical skills or body of knowledge to master before proclaiming oneself an interior decorator the occupation of interior decoration has always been more of an art than a necessity. I now see a bleak future for the occupation of decoration. Maybe that is just me hoping…….
Now we, the professional Interior Designers, have to make sure we do not suffer the same fate as predicted in this article;
And we wonder why our policy makers are confused…………
Sure this is just one misguided policy maker but he is standing on the floor of the capitol building in Springfield, Illinois and he has a microphone (he also has a website ). Yes his tirade was countered (by the bill’s sponsor I assume) but he was probably successful in sowing doubt among those who were listening in Springfield and many of his constituents back home. Unfortunately if you listen carefully there was not a whole lot of attention given to Mr. Reick which means that his cohorts had either made up their minds or they simply did not care about him or his message. Fortunately it seems that it was the former as the effort by Illinois ID’ers to create a Registered ID act passed. While not a practice act it does validate the importance of CODE REGULATED Interior Design being much more than interior decoration and worthy of official recognition.
Now if we can just figure out how to distinguish our right to practice at the highest levels of the code regulated building design professions as peers with, or independent of, our allied licensed design professionals before we get to the floors of our state capitols.
I know the answer is out there…….
Time for my daily manicure.
P.S. (6/18/2107) So while waiting for my favorite manicurist to finish his previous customer PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER decided to check messages and notices from his numerous peeps….when this article popped up on the ID press radar…..
I have spent a lot of bytes on this blog pointing out the drawbacks of relying on Uncle Sam to validate our professional status via title and practice legislation. Unfortunately we tend to lump our decorator vs. designer identity crisis in with the massive effort to gain regulation that codifies our right to work in code regulated building design environments. This broad objective for legislation causes confusion among our policy makers and raises the ire of those who feel that we are infringing on their rights to practice as interior designers.
While some see the effort to advance the profession using government regulation as the only path to distinguishing the qualified, ( earned credentials from “NCIDQ Certified” to “Licensed” to “State Registered Interior Designer/RID” to “State Certified/CID” to “ASID/IIDA/IDC/ARIDO etc”) from those who are unqualified (“Hmmm my Mom tells me I have a flair for color and I feel like being an Interior Designer today!”),I maintain that it is our responsibility to enforce the distinction.
We have to prove to Uncle Sam that we are serious about our right to work in code regulated design environments with other licensed design professionals before we can expect his full attention and respect.
In other words, it is not Uncle Sam’s (or Mother Canada’s- for our Northern neighbors) job to distinguish Interior Designers from interior decorators. Unfortunately this common perception that interior decoration and Interior Design are interchangeable is the bane of our effort to advance the code regulated aspect of the profession. How much time have you spent trying to explain the difference between interior decoration and Interior Design? Frankly the differences are so subtle that it is virtually impossible to educate the uninformed in an elevator pitch. Hell I have been doing this 35+ years and I have trouble defining the nuances in way that succinctly defines our differences. We need to stop with the academic and abstract explanations and start citing tangible and justifiable examples.
Regrettably, for the vetted design professional, anybody can call themselves an “Interior Designer” and no amount of legislation and regulation will change that. So how do we earn respect as regulated design professionals whose primary focus is the health, safety and well-being of our clients, if others continue to blur the distinction between vetted design professionals and those who decorate and claim to be “professional” or “certified” when they are not?
Whose job is it to make sure the code regulated Interior Design professional domain is clearly defined and defended?
The answer is that it is up to us to make sure those who claim to be “qualified”, “certified”, “registered”, “professional” and most definitely “credentialed” are in fact what they claim. While it may seem elitist or protectionist to police such claims it is essential if we want to add value to our conflicted and contested profession.
We have to ask ourselves “can the general public understand and respect the difference between someone who claims to be an “Interior Designer” and someone who claims to be a “Certified Interior Designer”…particularly when they are practicing in a state that does not have title legislation in place?
I find the efforts of the Certified Financial Planners to promote their message of qualification to the general public extremely relatable. The CFP board seems to be focused and proactive in this regard. The CFP enforcement of professional standards is admirable. Their national campaign to help the general public understand the nuances between a financial planner and a Certified Financial Planner are quite effective in my humble opinion;
Keep in mind that it is a violation of professional ethics (ASID, IIDA, NCIDQ) to claim you have achieved professional status, or earned professional certification, within those organizations, when you have not. That line is typically very clear and inarguable. Of course there are many other forms of “certification” and many ways to define “professional” but to claim you are a member of the profession it is easy to confirm- or should be.
We need to do more of this self-policing and we need to start calling out the violators wherever and whenever we can. We failed to take ownership of the title “Interior Design” in the courts but it is not illegal to begin a campaign to redefine Interior Design by shifting public perception…..or helping people understand what it is not.
Case in point. We have all witnessed the evolution of on-line design service providers…much to our chagrin. Laurel and Wolf Interior Design seems to be one site that has gained traction in the competitive dotcom decorator posing as designer foray. I appreciate the convenience for those who have the money to spend on interior decorator services and I appreciate the fact that many interior designers and decorators can earn income from this site. We should not denigrate them but we certainly can differentiate by countering their claims.
So is this really “Interior Design“? And are Laurel and Wolf’s “top designers” actually “certified” Interior Designers?
Well in my not so humble opinion NO- it is not “Interior Design”. This site is clearly about “Interior Decoration” and is in fact the epitome of decoration (not that there is anything wrong with that).
Let’s start calling it what it is…a website that promotes residential interior decoration. Again not that there is anything wrong with that.
To the more important question of certification or qualification…… Let’s just say that Laurel and Wolf plays fast and loose with the idea of “Certified” designers. Many of the designer profiles do not have any certification at all and several list unaccredited degree and academic certificates of dubious origin as confirmation of being “certified” Interior Designers. A degree is not the same as being “certified”…that is a big stretch.
Let’s start reporting those individuals who may be bending the truth about their real “certifications”. ASID/IIDA/NCIDQ should all have easily accessible rosters of current/active dues paying members so we can confirm false claims of professional or associate membership where that applies. With that they should also be able to enforce their membership rules.
Other cases in point. Here are a few more examples of individuals, companies and trade practices that need to be continually called out for dubious if not deceptive portrayal of professional code regulated Interior Design services and/or interior decoration presented as Interior Design. Again I appreciate the fact that companies and people need to earn a living but to claim you are doing something you are not is unacceptable and compromises my ability to gain respect for my skills and for accredited Interior Design students to justify their significant tuition investment.
Ethan Allen’s “Free Design Services” Our design knowledge should not be free. Don’t even get me started on trade only pricing practices. Ethan Allen is free to run their business however they see fit. However, we are also free to use their questionable ethics as an example of who we are not and what we refuse to do.
Kwikie design diploma or certificate courses promising successful careers as certified “Interior Designers”. They aren’t and they don’t! We have to have the collective fortitude to defend the term and title of interior design particularly when an on-line decorator certificate mill makes the following claim;
‘This online interior design course is a comprehensive program that will teach you everything you need to know to become a professional interior designer.’
Again it isn’t and it will not. If nothing else we can help unsuspecting decorator wannabe’s understand that they are being mislead. If we do not set their record straight, these decorator mills will simply continue to produce interior decorators who are empowered to misrepresent the profession of “Interior Design”.
Finally our professional membership organizations must do a better job of holding their professional members to the highest standards. Again I fully respect a designer/decorator’s right to make a living and their freedom to self promote..but if you are going to sell pillows please understand that your message has broader implications for our effort to combat certain stereotypes. I am sure this will tick a few folks off….I accept that…cue the criticisms.
We have to stop being concerned who we are upsetting….if they are clearly in the wrong then let’s diplomatically help them understand the errors of their ways. We have to stop trying to be everything to everybody. We have to accept being offensive so we can stop being defensive.
Or maybe…..just maybe I need to heed the advice of drag star and renown interior designer Ru Paul and stop taking this stuff so seriously;
AD: Would you say that drag influences your interior design sense?
RuPaul: Absolutely! Yes! Drag is all about reminding people to not take life too seriously. Our goal, our mission, is to say: This body you’re in is temporary. Have fun with it. Dress it up. Use all the colors in the rainbow. It’s there to enhance your experience. You are God, for lack of a better term, experiencing humanity. Have fun with it. Don’t hurt anybody else. Don’t take it too seriously.