What We Don't Know

Feb. 1, 2004
Linda Elliott Smith, FASID

. . . can hurt us in the long-term.

FORUM ASIDWhat We Don't KnowWhat we don't know about the profession can hurt us in the long-term.
by Linda Elliott Smith, FASIDNo news is good news." "What you don't know can't hurt you." These time-honored words of wisdom occasionally can help us regain our perspective in the midst of turmoil. But, it is equally true that "knowledge is power," for without a clear understanding of how things are, we are hampered from creating meaningful change.For a long time the interior design profession has been at a disadvantage because there was very little public information about who we are. Designers love to talk about design, but they are more tight-lipped when it comes to revealing information about their business practices. Given the competitive nature of the design business, a certain amount of this reticence is understandable. But without question we have done ourselves a disservice because we lack the kinds of business standards and measures that are commonplace in other professions.Likewise, our efforts to establish our profession have been impeded by a lack of clear definition of a discrete body of knowledge and the scope of services for interior design. Having been involved in a number of professional associations, I can't tell you how many discussions about the profession I have participated in. Almost without exception the refrain is the same: "If only we knew." If only we knew how many designers there are. If only we knew what kind of design projects they were doing. If only we knew how much product designers specify. If only we knew how tomorrow's designers are being educated and trained.Up to now, we have had to rely largely on anecdotal evidence and common sense for our understanding of the actual state of interior design. Few comprehensive surveys of the interior design industry exist, and most of those are proprietary and skewed toward the information needs of the survey sponsor. Public data, such as that available through the federal government, is only partially helpful because of the way data is collected and classified. What is needed is a true census of interior design practitioners.In an attempt to help fill the knowledge vacuum engulfing our profession, ASID recently issued a new publication, The Interior Design Profession: Facts and Figures. Drawing on a wide range of both public and private data, it brings together in one place for the first time information about interior design practice, education and legislation in the United States and Canada, with commentary and insights from industry experts. It also provides an overview of how the design media cover interior design and a directory of design-related professional societies and associations, including information about their membership, major events and competitions. Although far from the complete, totally up-to-date, wholly statistically accurate profile of the profession that we all crave, this publication is an important first step toward dispelling some myths and assumptions and creating a shared understanding of the issues and challenges facing our industry. We hope it will spark discussion and debate, and that it will encourage greater sharing of information and knowledge within the profession. To find out how to obtain a copy of The Interior Design Profession: Facts and Figures, visit the ASID Web site at we have struggled to define and establish our profession, we have had to combat prejudice, error and misunderstanding. We might be excused if we have erred on the side of holding our cards close to the vest. Experience teaches us that beyond a certain point what we don't know can hurt us, often much worse than having the truth come to light. For the interior design profession, we are at that point. More than we need to protect ourselves from scrutiny, we need the power of knowledge to take our profession to the next level.

  • Linda Elliot Smith is president of education-works, inc. in Dallas, TX, and serves as president of ASID. She has served the society in a number of volunteer positions for more than 20 years. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480; fax: (202) 546-3240;
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