I figured I’d take on this controversial topic since I hope to do a series of posts soon on starting a design business (though it can apply to any business). If you are thinking of starting a design business, you may well need to know what you can call yourself. And, you may be surprised to learn that if you are a designer or decorator depends on your state, not the job description.
(Even if you are not starting a business, and just love design, this may be of interest to you.)
Take Jonathan Adler and Kelly Wearstler, both very well-known designers…. their title depends on the state in which they are working.
Some states allow you to be called an interior designer if that is what you do, design interiors. Others, have a “title act” in place that restricts the use of the title “Interior Designer” to those with the education that is arbitrarily deemed proper – which would be a 4 year interior design degree, 2 years of experience under ASID professional members (there aren’t many to choose from) and NCIDQ exam certificate.
What is the NCIDQ exam anyway? The NCIDQ is an exam that is mostly about concepts like commercial codes and fire retardant fabrics. And, the requirements of the title act states happens to be exactly what the ASID requires for their professional level membership (as opposed to allied or associate memberships).
According to the IDPC, the NCIDQ exam (that only 40% pass) that ASID is fighting to see in place for all designers was actually founded by ASID itself in 1974 and then “spun off” in an attempt to deflect attention away from ASID’s efforts to have states require such exams (expensive exams).
So, simply put, in many states, the answer would be that two of my favorite “designers” would just be called decorators. They haven’t quite jumped through all of those hoops, nor do they intend to do so. Regardless, whatever you call them, they design fabulous interiors.
Check out some of her work below.
In fact, as Cote De Texas blog outlined, Kelly Wearstler, who lives in California began work on a Florida hotel only to be served this notice in 2007:
Kelly Wearstler: Case No. 2007-067706
Probable cause was found that Kelly Wearstler, Inc. of Los Angeles, California, is not licensed to practice interior design in Florida and contracted to provide interior design services on The Tides Hotel on South Beach in Miami. Ms. Wearstler specifically offers interior design services in the contract and is offering such services through a business entity without a certificate of authorization. An Administrative Complaint seeking fines will be filed and a Notice and Order to Cease and Desist will be issued.
Apparently Kelly was hired to work on the Tides Hotel, but she is not licensed to practice Interior Design in Florida, and a cease and desist order was issued to her.
It’s even more funny that the famous Kelly Wearstler was served this notice when her husband owns the realty group that owns the hotel she was designing in Florida. But, she’s not the only one – this has happened to many in Florida.
And by what definition is Jonathan Adler not an interior designer? He’s designed interiors for the Parker Palm Springs as well as numerous private residences – many of which have inspired furniture pieces sold in his retail stores.
And, Jonathan’s work is completely awesome like Kelly’s.
As stated earlier, a number of states have a “title act” in place that restricts the use of the title “Interior Designer” to those with the education that is deemed arbitrarily proper – which, to review, would be a 4 year interior design degree, 2 years of experience under ASID professional members and NCIDQ exam certificate.
What’s the big deal with that? I mean, shouldn’t you need to get the proper education before declaring yourself a designer? Aren’t they trying to protect the public? Isn’t a designer different than a decorator by job definition? A designer can rework walls and design built-ins while a decorator can just put things in a room and tweak layouts of furniture? That’s a popular myth, but it’s not true. That all depends on the individual designer or decorator and their personal experience and training, as well as ability to manage projects.
After all, are only designers allowed to follow building and health and safety codes to protect the public? Decorators cannot? Of course decorators or anyone working on a projects (even home owners) would be allowed to follow safety codes, but the good news is that it’s not on their shoulders. They are not architects or contractors. Instead, for projects that require it (such as structural changes), any decorator or designer is responsible for hiring the proper help such as contractors who are licensed and familiar with building codes in that city.
Of the estimated 112,000 designers in the U.S., only an estimated 4000 have passed the NCIDQ licensing exam and qualify to be called interior designers in states that require the exam. To choose from only those design experts, you’d be limiting yourself severely.
Now, I don’t say this to belittle one with an ASID professional membership. Your degree, internship work, exam scores and license were all hard work and you should be proud. However, in my opinion, taking the exam should be optional and not mandated by the government.
I do realize that if you have jumped through the hoops it could feel unfair for others to call themselves by the same title. However, had you chosen not to jump through the hoops, you would be in their shoes, yet with the same talent you have now.
States where “title acts” are in force, designers like Wearstler can have the same education but choose not to take the exam and not be allowed to call themselves an interior designer. And, in some states with “practice acts” such as FL (which has since been revised on some level), they also cannot practice in the said field.
Other design professionals such as my mother-in-law, can be in business for herself for 30 years with an extensive portfolio, yet not be allowed to advertise herself as an interior designer.
Another not so uncommon situation is to have your interior design degree, work for two years as an intern for someone who is a professional member of ASID and then not pass the test. Oopsy, no can work at all in “practice act” states unless they have modified the act to be commercial design only.
So, why are “title acts” and “practice acts” in place in certain states, anyway? To keep the public safe? That’s not it – there are no safety issues with interior design due to them hiring the appropriate architects and contractors if needed. Such responsibility is not on their shoulders. Nor should it be.
These acts are the doing of ASID (American Society for Interior Design). This organization lobbies for such regulations and allegedly have spent $6 million plus on that effort. After all, it benefits them to have people pay to take the exam and pay to join the ASID. They want to pass laws that prohibit anyone who has not taken the NCIDQ from practicing, and in that regard, they would be forcing designers to either take the exam or stop practicing, thus putting them out of business and limiting the competition.
ASID’s Allied members (which make up the majority of ASID’s members) don’t seem to see that their own organization is pushing for regulation that will not include them, as they did not take the test and are therefore not professional members.
I am all for regulation and licenses when it pertains to architects who could actually put the public in danger, but not with interior designers. I also advocate private certification as a means to gaining additional knowledge as well as enhancing marketability. But, I do not condone the government forcing it on businesses when it does not enhance safety, but serves the lobbying organization instead.
Design professionals should simply have a choice. If you are one of the minority who is a professional member of ASID, please put those letters behind your name and get the recognition. If not, at least in non-practice act states, you can still practice and use whatever title you choose. Ultimately, your portfolio and work will speak for itself.
So, back to what would you call yourself if you started a business? Better check your state. It depends on the state, not your job description as many believe. Not all states have rules and regulations that have been pushed by the ASID, and others even have reversed previous acts.
In fact, according to IDPC, “in 2007, the Supreme Court of the state of Alabama struck down their Interior Design Practice Act. In his opinion, Justice Parker stated: ‘Nor should this court embrace the paternalistic notion that the average citizen is incapable of choosing a competent interior designer without the state’s help. The economic liberty of contract remains a protected right in Alabama, especially in a field like interior design that involves expressive activity.’”
It was concluded that there is no public safety at stake within the field of interior design.
“In 2009, the Connecticut limitations on the title “interior designer” was declared unconstitutional, and the four remaining states with “pure” title laws have corrected their constitutional defects to avoid legal challenges. In a legal decision earlier this year, the title prohibition in the Florida law was declared unconstitutional, and the court sharply narrowed the practice act’s anti-competitive restrictions on commercial design by unlicensed persons.”
IDPC says “virtually all new bills being introduced after 2005 exempt all residential scope of practice, do not restrict the title ‘interior designer.’”
For instance, the title act bill in Massachusetts reads: “Nothing herein shall prohibit any person from performing interior design services or using the title “interior designer,” “interiors consultant,” “interior decorator” or the like, so long as the word “registered” is not used in conjunction with the word “interior designer.”
So, that begs the question – does your state have a title or practice act, when was the bill in your state passed and how is it worded?
The good news is that organizations have been able to successfully argue against claims that licensing is needed to protect the public, that consumers lack the ability to make informed choices about who they retain for design services. So, things are changing.
For a rough idea, the Interior Design Society says the following is true when it comes to state laws and boards. However, I do not know the date of when this was published, so please double check the rules in your state.
• Alabama (Title Act) – Alabama State Board of Registration for Interior Design
• Arkansas (Title Act) – Arkansas Board of Registered Interior Designers
• California (Self Certification) – California Council for Interior Design Certification (CCIDC)
• Colorado (Permitting Statute) – No state board
• Connecticut (Title Act) – Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Professional Licensing Division – Interior Design
• Florida (Title/Practice Act) – Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design
• Georgia (Title Act) – Georgia State Board of Architects and Interior Designers
• Illinois (Title Act) – Illinois Department of Professional Regulations
• Indiana – Indiana Professional Licensing Agency
• Iowa (Title Act) – Interior Design Examining Board
• Kentucky (Title Act) – Kentucky State Board of Examiners and Registration of Architects
• Louisiana (Title/Practice Act) – Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Interior Design
• Maine (Title Act) – Maine State Board of Licensure of Architects, Landscape Architects, and Interior Designers
• Maryland (Title Act) – Maryland Department of Licensing and Regulation Board of Certified Interior Designers
• Michigan – Michigan State Board of Architects
• Minnesota (Title Act) – Minnesota AELSLAGID
• Missouri (Title Act) – Missouri Interior Design Council
• Nevada (Title/Practice Act) – Nevada State Board of Architecture, Interior Design & Residential Design
• New Hampshire
• New Jersey (Title Act) – New Jersey State Board of Architects
• New Mexico (Title Act) – New Mexico Board of Interior Design
• New York (Title Act) – New York State Education Department Board of Interior Design
• North Carolina
• North Dakota
• Oklahoma (Title Act) – Oklahoma Board of Governors of Architects, Landscape Architects, and Interior Designers
• Rhode Island
• South Carolina
• South Dakota
• Tennessee (Title Act) – Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance Board of Architectural & Engineering Examiners
• Texas (Title Act) – Texas Board of Architectural Examiners
• Virginia (Title Act) – Virginia APELSCIDLA Board
• Washington, DC (Title/Practice Act) - DC Board of Architecture and Interior Design
• West Virginia
• Wisconsin (Title Act) - Wisconsin Department of Regulation & Licensing
Should you know more specifics about any of these states, I’m happy to update the list.
I hope that helps you a bit if you are thinking of starting a business. Now you know a bit about what may be required to call yourself a designer or if you need to call yourself a decorator.
And, if you are hiring a design professional, I hope that deciphers some of the names and letters a bit.
As an extra tidbit, you also now you know that the “practice act” concept could really hurt some legit small businesses out there. IDPC is trying to fight against this, if you are interested in rallying.
So what does your state allow? For me, UT and AZ allowed me to be called an interior designer. Even in Texas, though it has a title act, due to HB 1484 (passed May 2009), I can be called an interior designer, just not a “registered interior designer.” Makes me no huge difference to me as I still offer the same services and enjoy awesome clients, no matter the title. But, it is at the least, interesting, huh?
If you find that you can’t use the term “interior designer” try designer or home stylist.
Where are your favorite designers from? What can/do they call themselves?