IIDA: Licensing for the Good of our Communities

June 1, 2007

By Carrie Fitzpatrick

Legal recognition of the profession of interior design- achieved through licensing, registration and certification- safeguards the health, safety and welfare of the general public; brings uniformity to the profession; defines responsibility; and encourages excellence in the interior design industry.

This has been IIDA's position since its inception. Our profession has been fortunate to celebrate recent legislative successes in Iowa and Oklahoma, and we look forward to strong activity in 2007. However, with this momentum comes new questions from allied practitioners and even from the media regarding the role and necessity of interior design legislation. It is our responsibility to articulate the value of the profession, and IIDA is pleased to take a leadership role in providing design professionals with arguments to rebut misleading reports and clarify common misconceptions.

George Will's March 22, 2007 article in the Washington Post is a recent example of the way any profession's work to establish professional standards can be misconstrued. The fundamental flaws in Will's article are due to his lack of understanding interior design as a profession (affecting the public's health, safety and welfare) and his mistaken portrayal of the profession's state-based advocacy coalitions as turf battles for market share.

The fact is that the primary purpose of interior design laws-as with all professional licensing-is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public, not to qualify a designer's taste or style. This is the case regardless of educationor examination prerequisites for such laws. Professional interior designers are qualified by education, experience, and examination to  enhance the safety, function and quality of interior spaces. They're trained to choose products that meet the functional needs of the user while understanding how those materials and systems behave in a fire, how they affect air quality, ergonomic issues, and other factors.

For these reasons, it's important to support legislation establishing interior design qualification and oversight. Legislation will establish standards of practice, which will ultimately protect the consumer and increase the value and opportunity for every interior designer.

The difference between a qualified and unqualified interior designer impacts everyone. When designing a space in a hospital, for example, a qualified interior designer understands the relevant safety code and practices necessary to design a safe, effective space and will know which type of products and finishes are flame retardant, antibacterial and antimicrobial; which ones will withstand harsh cleansers and meet strict sanitary  protocols; and which colors and types of lighting will aid recovery and enhance healing. When designing a residential or commercial space, a qualified interior designer would address similar issues. Without a clear understanding of important regulations, an unqualified designer might inadvertently violate codes, or even create life-threatening hazards.  According to the National Fire Protection Association's March 2006 report "U.S. Fires in Selected Occupancies," there are more than 700 fires in public spaces each month that involve interior content as the first ignition point of the fire- leading to 23 deaths, 330 injuries and more than $399 million in direct property damage each year.

Interior design laws set parameters for interior design professionals, as well as provide a means for the consumer to bring action against those practicing who are unqualified. Legislation is not a barrier to free speech; it's a platform for protecting the public. And protecting our communities from unqualified practitioners should be something we can all agree upon.

Carrie Fitzpatrick, IIDA, is the 2005-2007 vice president of government and regulatory affairs for IIDA, and also serves as vice president of Solomon Cordwell Buenz. IIDA is headquartered in suite 1540 at the Merchandise Mart, Chicago, and can be reached at (888) 799-IIDA or [email protected]; and on the Web at www.iida.org.

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