Interior Design and the Public's Welfare

Oct. 1, 2003
Linda Elliott Smith, ASID

Interior Design and the
Public Welfare

As I contemplated what to write about for this, my first column as president of ASID, I turned to the question of what defines us as interior design professionals. Some might answer the question by cataloguing what we know or what we do. A dictionary definition would stress the extensive education and training required to practice in the field. In this instance, I homed in on the rationale that underlies the need to license and regulate any profession: to protect the public interest. The greatest difference between how interior design was practiced 30 years ago and how it is practiced today are the extents to which the designer must take into account the public's health, safety and welfare. This triad of responsibilities, individually and collectively, is our compass, pointing us in the direction our profession must take.Traditionally, protecting the public's health meant attending to disease prevention and nuisance control. Today's mandate is broader, encompassing mental as well as physical health. In addition to designing environments that reduce stress and promote healing, interior design professionals need to apply their skills to creating spaces that foster self-realization, unleash human potential and encourage hope, delight and vision. We also must be mindful of protecting the ecological soundness of spaces and their surroundings.The protection of the public's safety has mainly involved attention to fire safety and structural integrity. To broaden this area of responsibility, interior designers need to explore design approaches and solutions that offer occupants further protection from many other types of hazards, both natural and man-made. Such designs will need to take into account possible threats to security as well as safety in the traditional sense, whether in public spaces, the workplace or the home. Public welfare, the third element in this triad, is the most difficult and the most nebulous to define. Yet, interior designers have the most profound affect in this area. To my mind, welfare, within the realm of professional interior design, includes the following responsibilities:
  • Designers have an obligation to look to the greater whole, which involves, among other things, employing sustainable, environmentally friendly resources and otherwise protecting the environment.

  • Designers must be educated and encouraged to apply current best practices in the areas of design, design theory, products, business and ethics.

  • Designers and the design profession must educate the public as to what constitutes good design; how designers help to protect their health, safety and welfare; and how to demand and recognize current best practices.

    Interior design has come a long way in applying the principles and methods of design to address the public interest in the areas of health, safety and welfare. But there is more it can, and must, do. For interior design to mature as a profession, interior design professionals must take the lead in identifying areas where they can better serve the public interest and proactively seek more satisfactory solutions. This will require growing our body of knowledge through research and practice, as well as improving design education and training. A commitment to lifelong learning will be mandatory, for as the world we live in continues to change, the interior design profession must grow and change with it. The future of our profession lies down this road. Let us lead the way by taking the first steps.

    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) 546-3580; fax: (202) 546-3240;
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