Great Expectations

May 1, 2004
Great ExpectationsThere is much about Lauren Rottet's career that is intriguing. In particular, I am struck by her "rock is art" theory of design, as well as how she was able to translate her childhood fascination with building interiors into an overwhelmingly successful architectural career. But a specific comment she offered during her interview for this month's cover story gave me special reason to pause: "I wouldn't want to work with someone who doesn't challenge me. I'd rather work alone in that case. With a colleague who challenges you and pushes you farther, the work is so much more exciting."There are not many professionals who would admit, as Rottet does, that she deliberately seeks to hire colleagues who are "smarter" than she is. And while I am sure that in her case finding such individuals is a difficult thing to do, you have to admire her honesty in stating the fact aloud, as well as her desire to do so. Indeed, I think every professional gets to the point where who they work with weighs equally with what they do. Life would be much easier if the status quo was the solitary goal being pursued, but Rottet is right: it would also be singularly boring. Repeatedly producing cookie-cutter designs would mean the absence of anything that makes work interesting: a passion for and belief in the purpose of the tasks at hand, the triumph that comes with a job well done, and the unintentional disappointments that spur us to try harder and be more creative the next time around. Certainly, earning the respect of the people we work with are among the greatest personal motivators we have to do our very best work.As I read Lauren Rottet's story for the first time, I couldn't help but reflect on Lewis Goetz's commentary in this month's Forum: IIDA column. Titled, "Raising Your Bar," Goetz explores the personal and professional motivations that come with taking the NCIDQ Exam—the interior design profession's standardized test of minimum competency levels. He enumerates many benefits of taking the exam, including the pride that comes with passing it, and the fact that this credential can serve to distinguish the professionalism of one designer from another. He also cites many reasons why designers may be reluctant to take the exam: time, cost and perhaps even the risk of failure. But his "big-picture" advocacy for taking the exam overrides these individual concerns: only with an accepted examination of minimum competency levels will the design profession ever be taken seriously and be able to raise the perception and standard of the profession and those who practice it. Goetz also argues that if the profession does not accept this exam and its importance in measuring minimum competency, then it is doomed in the long-term. He asks, "How can we make others believe that interior design can only effectively be practiced by those individuals that are properly educated and trained unless there is some mechanism for testing those skills and knowledge?" A Fellow of both AIA and IIDA, Goetz is uniquely positioned to see the broad perspective of the certification issue as well as both sides of the contentious turf war currently underway between the interior design and architecture professions; his arguments resonate with common-sense validity. (Donna Vining, FASID, writing in this month's Forum: NCIDQ column, also explores the interior design/architecture disconnect in her article titled, "Is This All Simply a Little Misunderstanding?")It is difficult enough to survive—much less thrive—in these tough economic times. If an impediment like the debate over standardized testing of minimum competency (i.e., the NCIDQ exam) could be eliminated, just think of how different the practice of interior design might be. If you were to count up the thousands of hours of time and effort and the associated financial resources that have been spent on this single endeavor—on both sides of the debate—the amount would be staggering. Then think if that same effort had been applied elsewhere, say to the joint research of evidence-based design or the continued development of sustainable design as a best practice model or the increasing examination of universal and adaptive design standards to meet the massive demographic shifts underway. You can't help but wonder where the A & D profession might be today.We all learn at an early age that the things we value the most usually do not come easily. Much of something's worth is a direct result of the hard work that we put into producing or achieving it in the first place. Granted, great expectations are easier to talk about than achieve, but at the end of the day, would we really want it any other way?

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