Last year, a carefully assembled group filed suit against the State of Florida to void their Interior Design Practice Act. This law allowed Licensed (also called "Certified" or“Registered”— as in Illinois) interior designers to produce their own blueprints, sign and seal them for issuance of building permits. The Practice Act was upheld in the state court. Then, attorneys went before the Supreme Court to dispute the law at our highest court and, quite recently, the Supreme Court ruled that they will not hear the case.
So? What does that mean? Since the 1970’s, when Puerto Rico started licensing Interior Designers, many states have followed, each setting criteria for certification. Three states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have “practice” acts to give designers a broad range of responsibilities to present and complete their own projects. Twenty-one other states have State Registration/ Licensing including Illinois. Each state has its own ability to regulate and distinguish the qualifications required to separate higher qualified and more thoroughly educated professionals. By acknowledging these designers, consumers as well as other businesses and professionals that interact with designers can be confident of the designers’ educational background and their understanding of technical aspects of the profession.
Illinois Registration requires passing a national qualification exam (NCIDQ), plus six years of education and work experience. In the 1990’s, when Registration started here, designers who had been working a long time were “grandfathered” in, but that privilege has expired. Anyone meeting the educational and work requirement can take the exam to qualify for Registration. There is no direct connection between any of the design organizations (like ASID or IIDA) and “permission” to take the NCIDQ. Most Registered designers are hoping that Illinois will support a Practice Act, which will then allow designers who prepare plans for their blueprints to be able to seal them so that they are considered “Permit Ready”. Now, these drawings have to be presented for permit by licensed architects.
Does it matter, or matter to Me? Mistakes in this sometimes delicate business could likely be avoided if the bar were maintained a bit higher…and having “a flair” is not high enough. Registration reminds us that interior design is much more than choosing colors, fabrics and furniture. The education and examination process covers mechanical and structural elements. It’s not just the ability to read blueprints, but the ability to prepare them. Preparing plans includes lighting and electrical layouts, ADA (Americans for Disabilities Act) requirements, proper ventilation and energy requirements plus many specialized requirements for hospitality, health care, educational and other commercial use. Because designers are asked to work with fine antiques and art, they have to understand these design elements as well. Business practices and contract writing are also part of the exam.
A couple of myths/facts about Registration/Certification/Licensing:
MYTH: Registration has been established to annihilate interior designers that are not registered.
FACT: Nope! It doesn’t state that registered designers are wonderful and talented and smart. Neither does it imply that all un-registered designers are incompetent. Rather, it should encourage designers that aren’t qualified for the exam or registration to learn more (from school or work). Then, everyone in the same profession could be on the same level “playing field”.
MYTH: Other professions don’t have “special” laws or requirements to meet.
FACT: No, no, no! Most professionals from doctors, lawyers and architects to massage therapists, manicurists and time-share salesmen are all registered. Each state has lists of professions on their Professional Registration websites. You can check on the State of IL Registration page online to check any professional’s registration in any field (pretty interesting).
It seems that the Supremes are not interested in reversing recognition of the serious work done by qualified designers. It’s about time!