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.
“Designer” Showhouses…they are decorator showhouses…period. Let’s start calling them what they are.
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.