What does it mean to be a qualified Interior Designer?

Interior Design is still a young and continually evolving industry and when it first began as an occupation in the early 1900’s there were no credentials necessary to ensure a job was done by a qualified person. It all began with a small group of people with good taste and natural talent. The first college programs integrated decorating into a “Home Economics” curriculum teaching women how to cook and sew so they were prepared for marriage. In The 1930’s the title Interior Designer was coined and the first professional organization for Interior Designers was formed that is now known today as A.S.I.D.; American Society of Interior Designers. In the 1970’s The Foundation for Interior Design and Educational Research (FIDER) and the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) were formed creating additional professional standards for the small but growing industry. In 1982 the first title registration legislation supporting the profession of interior design was passed in Alabama. While progress has been made over the past seventy years adding integrity to the occupation the world changed how we define ourselves in the early ninety’s.

The advent of cable television started with a few new decorating shows that gave the public tools to decorate their own homes. Anyone remember “The Christopher Lowell Show?” Then on December 1st, 1994 HGTV, Home and Garden Television aired for the first time. The T.V. watching public now had access to design 24 hours a day. Having professional integrity never became more important. The general public now defined us as a whole based upon what they saw on T.V. The industry had to set ourselves apart from the “drive-thru design” shows.

So what does it mean to be a qualified Interior Designer? We’ll before I explain, let me ask you a few questions first. Would you hire a Lawyer who never went to law school and didn’t pass the bar? Watching every episode of “Law and Order” isn’t qualification enough? Would you hire a doctor who just watched some shows on YouTube and says he’s an expert in his field? Would you hire a cab driver who never took any driving lessons and wasn’t insured? Of course not, if you are going to spend your hard earned money on someone you want to know that they are qualified to do what you need them to do, be it an accountant, doctor, lawyer, contractor, or cab driver. There are a few things that will help you discern the hobbyist from the qualified professional.

Education is a great place to start. There are hundreds of schools in the country that teach Interior Design. Some are two year associate degree programs and some are four year programs offering a bachelors degree. These programs are a great start to the career of a designer and typically the number one job qualification in a majority of design firms. They don't want to pay for someone who doesn't know what there doing any more than you do! Colleges and Universities will teach a student everything from Color, space planning, project management, construction documentation, and work on projects ranging from residential homes to hospitals and corporate offices.

Another thing you’ll notice with a growing number of Designers are appellation letters after their name indicating special credentials. Let’s first take an example from a Doctor; Dr. John Smith, M.D. “M.D.” Is the post-nominal letters or appellation that let you know he’s a doctor of medicine. In Interior Design there are several types of post-nominal letters to identify an Interior Designer has additional qualifications to practice:

  • CID stands for Certified Interior Designer and it lets the public know that the designer is licensed within their state to practice Interior Design. For instance, in Virginia there is a Title Act so Interior Designers have the right to call themselves “Certified Interior Designers.” This is not an easy appellation to obtain and a Designer can only get it after qualifying through a combination of education, work experience, and examination. Can someone in Virginia still call themselves and “Interior Designer” if they aren’t CID? Yes. This doesn’t stop anyone from working as a designer or decorator. It’s just an additional level of professionalism and allows designers to stamp their own drawings like an Architect would. For instance, Government projects require an Interior Designer be CID to work on them.
  • ASID is another credential and it stands for the American Society of Interior Designers. ASID’s website has the best description of what they do so I’ll let them describe it, “Founded in 1975, ASID is the oldest, largest and leading professional organization for interior designers.” To qualify for this organization, “Professional members of ASID must pass rigorous acceptance standards, including a combination of accredited design education and/or full-time work experience and passage of a two-day accreditation examination administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ).” ASID also has its own code of ethics all members must abide by.
  • IIDA is the International Interior Design Association is similar to ASID’s professional standards, qualifications, and goals to enhance the professionalism and integrity of the industry.
  • NCIDQ is a newer title. Although it’s been around for a while not many people know what it is or why it’s important. It stands for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. In short, this is where an Interior Designer goes to take a really long two day test to test basic design knowledge. This testing allows for registration or certification of licensure in states that require it. This credential used to be solely for the purpose of applying for other appellations such as ASID or IIDA, but the company now allows designers to use the NCIDQ after their names to indicate they have passed the exam. Just as an Accountant would take a test to advance their careers this is the Interior Design version of it.

So what if the Interior Designer I want to hire doesn’t have any appellations? Is he or she still qualified to work on my project? Of course. Just like hiring any professional you can ask about years of work experience, what education background they have, references, and ask to see a portfolio of previous work or check out their website. Appellations only add to the professionalism and integrity of a designer. Think of it as insurance for your project. Licensure enhances and protects our hard work and professionalism. It also ensures the safety and health of all inhabitants.

Can we decorate a living room in thirty minutes like on T.V.? No and you should worry about someone cutting corners to work that fast if you want a room that will last more than a few weeks without falling apart. I recently worked with a design intern and she made a great statement about design; “If you think you don’t need Interior Designers try living (and working) in a space with no furniture.” Take a look around you. Whether you hired an Interior Designer or not, one was involved in somewhere in the process. Be it designing furniture for Bassett or Ashley, creating graphic patterns on the pillows you bought for your sofa, or the carpet under your feet at work, a designer was there, somewhere, involved in the creation or implementation of what you see and use every day. Qualified designers work hard every day to make sure they have the knowledge and expertise to make your project the best it can be. This saves you time and money on your project and prevents costly mistakes.

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