Who Gets To Be Called An Interior Designer?

I have a five-year professional degree in interior architecture (that took me seven years to get and cost a whole bunch of money) from one of the top interior design programs in the US and have practiced some form of interior design for the past 15 years.  However, there are many who claim that I have not earned the right to call myself by the title Interior Designer.  This is particularly true (I was told) in California (where I now reside) that because I have not taken NCIDQ tests in order to be “certified” to practice commercial interior design, I could not call myself an Interior Designer.  (Well we all know I’m “certifiable” –but that’s a different story altogether!)  The fact that I don’t practice commercial design seems to be irrelevant as I was told that all other designers that practice other sorts of interior design should be content to be called something else –other than what they do— because, after all they ARE a lower life form.

I recently responded to a blog by Susan Dickenson of Home Accents Today titled:  “Interior Designer vs. Interior Decorator” http://www.homeaccentstoday.com/blog/240000224/post/280047428.html.  Quoted from within:  “The Institute for Justice’s press release on the ruling defines these "title acts" as laws that regulate only the speech, but not the work associated with a given occupation. The IJ’s release goes on to say that "in Connecticut – as in 46 other states around the country including New York, Massachusetts, and California – anyone may work as an interior with no license or other special government oversight of any kind." (and I’m assuming that the absence of the word "designer" after the word "interior" was an oversight on the part of the IJ’s press release writer) Next sentence of the release – "But since 1983, Connecticut law has prohibited anyone not registered as an interior designer with the Department of Consumer Protection from referring to himself as an ‘interior designer,’ even when that term accurately describes what he does”."

I commented that I began my practice in commercial interior design in a state that didn’t require certification and later changed my focus to residential design and ultimately to kitchen and bath which I have been doing exclusively for the past 9 years.  I now have no affiliation or certification from NCIDQ, ASID or NKBA.  I call myself a kitchen & bath designer WHICH IS A TYPE OF INTERIOR DESIGNER.  I have no reason to pay for or believe it fair to be forced into certification by testing in replace of my education, experience and reputation. Perhaps the industry of interior design needs to take a broader approach to its definition of practice and the use of the title Interior Designer.  Licensing of contractors is a good example.  There are many types, levels and certification tests depending on the kind of work and the state that the contractor practices in.  I think interior designers (and interior architects) for far too long have tried to follow the examples of professional identification and certification by architects, when in actuality, interior design covers a much broader scope of professional practice.

HGTV Design Star

All that being said… along comes the HGTV Show “Design Star” (“Designer Inquisition” as I like to call it.) which is in it’s fourth season. (I have to admit this is the first season I have actually attempted to watch.) Wanabe interior designers from all over the country apply to be on the show with the grand prize to have their own HGTV design show.  These people have all sorts of backgrounds from being hair dressers to set-building carpenters… and occasionally one or two that actually have interior design backgrounds and education (the latter apparently the least qualifying attribute).  I thought it was amusing that one of the judges commented in the premiere show of the season to the contestants that they were getting a chance to just be ‘given’ a show without having to go through the trials an tribulations that ‘real’ designers (like themselves) go through to become ‘design stars.’  Albeit all of the judges have lofty backgrounds and educations, they didn’t take any consideration for the fact that many of the contestants also had lofty backgrounds and educations.  One would have thought they’d plucked this bunch of know-nothings right off the street. 

Over the course of the season, the contestants are given a series of “design problems’ to solve in the form of room types, time and budgets constraints, and sometimes material limitations.  At the end of the show, the judges evaluate the projects.  The judges then eliminate one or two of the contestants from the running as they deem them to be failures in one way or another.  Interestingly, most of the ‘successes’ are based on execution and carpentry skills rather than true design talent and knowledge.  It seems that the real goal of the show is drama (with a capital D) and on-air presence.  When the designs fell flat (pretty, but less-than-interesting), the judges suddenly became ugly and cruel –my guess to boost the potential of a flat-lined TV rating.  While I’m sure most would agree with the assessment of the judges regarding talent and ability to execute (work power tools and paint), I’m sure most would agree their methods of “canceling the contestants’ shows” was less than delicate. 

One person was most recently “cancelled” because her design was “textbook” in nature –and not out of the box enough.  Well I’m here to tell you, that a room design lacking fundamental (textbook) elements and principles of design is just not design.  Designing outside the box is good.  New & fresh design is good. However, I’ve seen Beatlejuice.  I want to see rooms that look like the designers know how to design beautiful spaces that people want to be in.  I could care less if they know how to use power tools!

Since Design Star first aired, I have been disgusted by the premise of a TV show that makes my chosen profession seem trite and silly.  I am further irritated that it is so very misrepresented to the public that is also inclusive of my potential clients.  This show and others on TV have done more to falsely stereotype the profession and those who practice it than the ASID, AIA, NKBA, IBD, FIDER, NCIDQ or any other regulatory or certifying organization promoting “title acts” in the alphabet soup ever could.  I can’t bare to watch it anymore as my idea of a good watch is not one that centers on emotionally destroying people and their career aspirations.  Reality TV or not –I’m done.  So for those of you who have been following my “soap box” reviews on Twitter or FaceBook, there will be no more. 

I don’t care what anybody says… I am an Interior Designer who practices kitchen and bath design primarily.  I’ve paid my dues. ‘Nuf said.

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