ASID Update: Broadening the 'Design" Conversation

June 23, 2009

Addressing the issue of inclusivity is expected to play a major role in the current and future direction of ASID.

With all the many choices available today for networking and continuing education—both face-to-face and virtually—what value can professional associations offer their members? That is a question that ASID, like so many other associations, struggles with … especially in the current economy.

What is it about ASID that has led it to grow from a handful of pioneer designers in the 1930s and ’40s to the largest interior design organization, with the 40,000-plus membership we have today? And whatever the reason, will it be what motivates tomorrow’s designers to become ASID members?

ASID was founded, in the words of its bylaws, “to organize and unite in fellowship the Professional Interior Designers of America.” Over the years, there has been some sensitivity to the use of the word “professional” as it has applied to the Society’s membership criteria and the degree to which it is intended to include or exclude some practitioners.

What does it mean to be a “professional” designer? Is a designer who conducts his or her practice and business professionally a design professional? Is one whose occupation is interior design a professional designer (as opposed to an amateur designer)? Or does one need to have certain credentials to meet the standard of professional designer? There are many different views on this question, both within and outside of ASID.

Within ASID, the term Professional (with a capital “P”) has been used to refer to a practitioner who has achieved a certain level of education and experience and who has demonstrated a level of competency by passing the national qualifying examination. Some of our members are Professionals, but all of our members agree to uphold the Society’s professional code of ethics (i.e., to conduct themselves professionally).

As I think about what will make ASID viable for the future, to me it comes down to a basic question: Are we a Society that seeks to set the standard for professionalism and only welcomes members that meet that standard; or are we a Society of the profession as a whole that welcomes members from all different parts and career stages of the profession and acknowledges that there are many different paths to being a design professional?

This is not a simple question to answer. But I look around me at the successful businesses and conferences, and I see a lot of diversity. I see wide conversations. I see open interaction and a lot of inclusivity. Conferences like TED and Applied Brilliance, retailers like Starbucks and the new National Geographic store in London (yes, that’s right), and the amazing new Venetian Casino in Macau (the largest in the world, so far), all expand our horizons and offer up complex experiences that enrich us. They all have something to do with customization, too. Mass-customization is what many of us are looking for: an inclusive experience tailored just for us. How can ASID apply that model to provide greater value to its members?

We can see in our design practices that as time goes on we find ourselves working with many other specialists—designers and other related professionals—to get our most complex projects done. We interact with other professionals, and we learn from them and grow as designers. This seems to be another type of “wide conversation” going on.

I think that we need to be having this kind of conversation somehow within ASID. We should encourage this kind of complex cross-pollination of skills, ideas and points of view.

I feel that ASID should be the Society that sets the very top standards for professionalism in the industry and maintains those standards as the professional benchmark (even while other such standards may differ in different legislative districts). But we also want to be an inclusive organization for interior design, even as we maintain these high standards that our best and brightest aspire to achieve. This would mean there is a meaningful place in ASID for many kinds of interior designers, including those with differing levels of experience, education and examination.

As I said, this is not an easy question to resolve, and there are many differing—and legitimate—opinions out there about how ASID can best serve its members and the profession.

But I think addressing this issue of inclusivity in our Society is critically important for us now and for the future. Engaging a greater audience within the industry will allow ASID to maintain and grow its position of leadership in the profession of interior design.

ASID president Bruce J. Brigham, FASID, ISP, IES, is an award-winning interior designer and authority on retail and lighting design. He is principal of Retail Clarity Consulting, specializing in retail design and brand development, based in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with clients in the United States, Hong Kong and PRC China. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at www.asid.org.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!