Interior design showdown

It’s days like this when I wish the Minnesota Fantasy Legislature was still around. A bill that got a hearing in a Senate committee today is the type we used to sink our teeth into — the kind that would get almost no coverage.

SF376 requires the licensing of interior designers:


Any person shall be deemed to be practicing licensed interior design within the meaning of sections 326.02 to 326.15 who holds out as being able to perform or does perform any professional service in connection with the planning, design, or administration of construction for the purpose of ensuring compliance with specifications and design of any private or public interior spaces, including preparation of documents relative to non-load-bearing interior construction, programming, space planning, finishes, materials, and furnishings where the safeguarding of the occupants’ life, health, safety, welfare is concerned or involved, when the professional service requires the application of design theories related to human behavior and aesthetics, acquired by education and experience. Licensed interior designers are design professionals who are qualified by means of education, experience, and examination.

This is a legislative initiative of the International Interior Design Association Northland. It says licensing will make sure that poisonous toxins are kept out of your workplace, fire retardant substances are used, and more effort will be made toward using renewable materials. The group’s top 10 list of reasons to support the bill includes, “to keep your wrists and backs in good health through the personal application of ergonomic standards.”

Apparently, this is causing quite a stir nationwide between designers and remodelers. Other states have also moved to license interior designers, according to a blog called Interior Design Freedom Coalition.

“This bill will add nothing to the health, safety and welfare of the public. Rather, it will enable a handful of interior designers to corner the design market at the expense of our members and others in the design community who will essentially be barred from working. Study after study has shown no evidence to suggest that harm is occurring to the public as a result of the unregulated practice of interior designers,” it said last year when a similar bill was filed.

  • BJ

    International Interior Design Association Northland

    Interior Design Freedom Coalition

    Really, really… Thanks for the “understanding why government does not get anything done” moment.

  • Devin Grdinic

    This is the exact same rationale that over 800 (yep, eight hundred) occupations have used throughout the country to establish what is essentially a legislatively supported monopoly of the labor market. Here is a short quiz:

    Which of the following occupations require licensing in at least one state:

    A – Physician

    B – Frog breeder

    C – Weather Maker

    D – All of the above

    The correct answer is D.

    The main argument that organizations use to justify their licensing request is essentially what Mr. Collins already listed above. In short, occupations need to be licensed to ensure public safety, standard levels of quality, etc., because we as consumers are not able to distinguish good quality from bad. Sounds fair, right?

    Well, what’s interesting is that there has yet to be any empirical evidence that provides a link between licensing and public safety, quality of goods/services, or any other relevant measure. What’s more interesting is that the only groups of people that pursue occupational licensing are the professional organizations that already represent the profession. With that said, I ask one question: if there is a public need for occupational licensing, don’t you think consumers would be the ones to propose it?

    One additional side note… There is plenty of empirical evidence that shows a direct link between licensing and cost to the consumer.

  • JSmith

    Personally even I wouldn’t go to an unlicensed physician… even if it was an option.

  • http://www.browncollege.edu Justin Wilwerding

    The best argument for Interior Design licensure is to examine other professions who have sought lisencing, and their reasons for doing so; since physicians have been mentioned already let’s start there.

    In the article, “Medical Licensing Examinations

    in the United States” by Donald E. Melnick, M.D.; Gerard F. Dillon, Ph.D.; David B. Swanson, Ph.D. the authors state that medical licensing was initiated by the medical profession as “… first efforts to ensure a minimum quality of medical practitioners….”. You may recall that medicine prior to the mid-nineteenth century consisted primarily of folk remendies and bleeding the patient, which, while this practice persisted for centuries received few complaints from patients or their families, despite the fact that it often killed them. Thus the argument that the public has not lodged complaints about the profssion are specious, since, for a group to be able to lodge a complaint they must first be able to point to a standard of practice which has not been met, and thus be able to substantiate the source of their injury.

    Interior Designers seek licensure for similar reasons to those in the medical profession;…at this point I am sure that there will be a range of audible groans from readers intimating that the comparison between medicine which saves the lives of many thousands of people, and Interior Design is a stretch. Let me explain why this might be otherwise. As was noted by Dean Thomas Fisher (an Architect by profession), of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, Interior Designers are responsible for specifying most of the materials that have the potential to create serious hazzards for the occupants of public buildings; materials such as finsihes and furnishings that can create fire hazzards, or toxic smoke when burned, or may off-gas toxic chemicals such as formaldahyde. Further Interior Designers are often responsible for shaping exit paths out of buildings, and other critcal elements of the building design that can affect the life health safety and welfare of the general public.

    This brings us to the second issue, that is, who are the practitioners of Interior Design; as the author of the bill noted, at this point anyone regardless of education, or experience may call themselves an Interior Designer and practice under that title. This would be akin to the conditions prior to efforts to licence medical professionals, in that anyone, (often barbers), could practice as medical professionals, often with unfortunate results. Interior Design professionals who acquire a Bachelor of Science degree in the discipline, and undertake an internship in the State of Minnesota may, after completing a qualifying examination apply to use the title Certified Interior Designer, but this title is all that is regulated, unlike medicine, the actual practice of the profession is not delineated legally, and thus anyone may still practice regarless of their competence to do so.

    So what defines this competence? Interior Design as a profession has in recent years embarked upon an effort that also mirrors the medical professions, that effort is known as “evidence based design.” This effort which is now integrated into most Bachelor of Science Interior Design Programs, teaches designers to utilize peer reviewed scientific research to provide the best possible solutions for users. The practice of evidence based design is nowhere more prevalent than in the design of medical facilities, hospitals and clinics. The reasons for this are obvious, first, it is in this setting that users are most vulnerble, second it is that the procedures that occur in these environments are technically laden and that the technology, the actual treatment procedures performed by medical professionals and the environment must work together in a seamless fashion to provide the best patient outcomes. An excellent example of this sort of research that was recently conducted, examines the relationship bewteen the location of nursing stations on an Intensive Care unit and patient outcomes. This study condicted by an Interior Designer, examined the question of how the location of the nurse and their ability to monitor critically ill patients, can impact the recovery of those patients.

    The training, knowledge and ability of Interior Designers, is therefor, directly tied to many significant outcomes felt by the users of oublic buildings, very often without them being even slightly aware of the influence of the expertise of these professionals. It is this expertise that the professional Interior Designers engaged in the effort to license Interior Designers seek to guarantee, and it is this highly refined expertise that has a direct impact upon and is a direct benefit to the public.

  • KThompson

    A few things I’d like to point out for everyone:

    1. The bill before the senate today is one designed to license COMMERCIAL interior designers as a profession. This leaves the fate of those in the residential sector in the hands of the consumers. (It also rules out the requirement to have a licensed design professional for many small commercial spaces, such as mom and pop shops, and other more do-it-yourself applications.)

    2. An interior designer is different from an interior decorator. Most people do not understand the difference. (By the way, the bill is not trying to regulate interior decorators either.)

    3. To practice as an interior designer in Canada, you have to be licensed. (Interesting to anyone else?)

    4. Of the 26 trades in our construction industry, the designer on the project is the only one that is not required to be licensed.

    5. Ask yourself, would you hire an architect that wasn’t licensed? Once architecture was unlicensed too.

    In our homes, to each their own. But I personally think this bill is important for health, safety, and welfare considerations in public spaces.

  • Elizabeth T

    My profession is Industrial Hygiene. This is – as most have no idea – the direct application of science to the control of work-related hazards. For example, measuring noise to assure it is at a level scientifically deemed ‘safe’. The entire purpose of my profession is to assure your safety at work. This directly impacts people’s safety & life, I would argue more directly than an interior designer. There is no license required to be an industrial hygienist or any other safety profession.

    There is a certification, which requires professional experience and education and an exam. Fairly typical stuff. I’m planning to take this exam later this year.

    I would argue against licensure for my profession, and likely Interior Designers. The CIH certification will not make me more qualified; it’s a short-cut for an employer to understand how much training I have. None of this paperwork involves verification that I’m actually good at what I do.

    However: there is no requirement to hire a CIH to run your company’s safety program. It’s beneficial to me, since it will put me ahead of someone who doesn’t have one, and I can likely get more money due to it. Devin’s above argument against the whole process being a monopoly is only valid if it is mandatory.

    Like BJ, I don’t understand why the legislature is debating this. Now, if they were arguing about requiring these people to pay for the licenses, to balance the state budge, I might understand it being a topic. (grin) Let the profession duke it out internally and get back to us when they figure it out.

    BTW: the state of medical education in the country was pretty pathetic up to the 1910s – yes, 1910s. The introductory chapters for both The Great Influenza (in great detail) describes the situation rather well.

  • Bruce

    Which state(s) licenses Frog Breeders?

  • Dean

    If you are remodeling your personal or work space would you prefer to use a contractor/designer with 30+ years of experience or an Interior Designer who picked up there certification yesterday by taking a test with no real experience. This bill would have in effect eliminated the Contractor/Designer with the experience and only allowed the latter.

    This is an extreme example but an applicable one.

    Do not both entities have to meet state and locla code in both design and application?

  • Carolynn

    Most of these licenses are for the benefit of schools who teach the “required” courses and for the benefit of the organizations who represent people currently in the field. Elizabeth T is right – having the certification basically says you took the courses and paid the licensing fee. As in any other profession, there are beginners, who are learning and adding to their skill set, and there are veterans, who have the most experience and biggest portfolios. Usually their fees reflect this. If you are going to hire someone to do something for you, the best thing to do is get a recommendation from someone unrelated who has hired the person in the past. For those just starting out, most customers go with their gut feeling, or have them start small. Maybe EVERY profession should be licensed so that we will know who to sue if we don’t like the job someone did.