ASID Update: A Goal of Licensure, Not Limitation

May 1, 2008

As claims that interior designers play a crucial role in protecting the public's welfare are scrutinized, advocates for professional licensure look to lawmakers to formalize the accountability associated with that responsibility.

By Rita Carson Guest, FASID

Please, don't let me be misunderstood," goes the old song. I feel that way too when I read news accounts of pending interior design legislation. Over and over they repeat the same misstatements that our goal is to restrict
the trade of decorators and others offering design services. Nothing could be further from the truth. Quite the contrary, we are asking to be allowed to practice our profession.

Advancements in building engineering, technology, and product design, along with increased health and safety standards, have caused our profession to develop rapidly in the past several decades. Our clients are demanding more from us, and we have become more knowledgeable in many more areas to keep up with changing market needs and regulations. The almost daily innovation of communication and computing technologies, the growing adoption of sustainable design approaches, and the looming challenge of our aging population are just a few of the more well-known examples of social changes that are transforming our industry.

Accredited interior design programs focus on preparing students to design spaces to protect the health, safety and welfare of the occupants. The NCIDQ Exam tests knowledge on health, safety and welfare. The myth that the work of interior designers does not affect the health, safety and welfare of the public is told over and over by people who do not understand the work we do.

While the principles of decoration have not changed substantially for hundreds of years, the practice of interior design is evolving at an unprecedented pace. Yet, laws that were put in place even before interior design became a profession in its own right prevent us from providing full design services to our clients. Our only recourse, therefore, is to seek to have the law brought up to date. We are asking that those practitioners who can provide evidence that they meet the necessary requirements—similar requirements demanded of other professionals—be permitted to provide certain services, which they are trained and qualified to perform. We are not arguing against the rights of others to offer their services or to compete for similar clients who may require those services in the marketplace. That is a mistaken inference that is often used against us by our opponents, who hope to frighten others into joining their cause.

We, as a nation, highly value individual freedom. We have prospered by encouraging individuals with talent and ambition to pursue their dreams into whatever field of activity or sphere of society they desire. It is understandable that Americans question any effort that would appear to infringe upon those liberties. Perhaps it should not be a surprise, then, that one of the arguments used against regulating interior design is that we want to "license" interior designers and a "license" is a restriction that prohibits everyone else but a select few from conducting a certain type of business. It goes to show how twisted words can become when they are taken out of context. A quick check in any standard English dictionary will show that the word license means "permission to act" or "freedom to act."

To those who say to us, "Why do you need a law for interior designers?" we say, interior design is already regulated de facto. The law is there to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, and we support that. But those laws are preventing interior designers from fully practicing their profession. We simply want states to grant interior design professionals who meet the necessary qualifications to be permitted to offer their services. We want to loosen the restriction on interior design professionals, not add a new one.

Words can be slippery, but our position is clear and has been consistent from the beginning. Twenty-six U.S. states and jurisdictions have seen the merit of our request. Other design services continue to thrive in those states and jurisdictions. Interior design professionals regularly work hand-in-hand with other professions and trades to design spaces that meet client needs. We know and respect the value that they bring to the project. Let them do what they are trained to do, and let us do what we are trained to do. Everyone, including the client, will benefit.

ASID president Rita Carson Guest, FASID, is an award-winning interior designer and longtime advocate for the interior design profession. She is president and design director of Carson Guest, a law office and corporate design firm in Atlanta, GA. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at

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