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I'm going to get up on my soapbox again because another mainstream media journalist did not do her homework in writing a story about design.

Chicago-based journalist Hilary Gowins' Huffington Post piece last month basically slammed the interior design profession for requiring licensure in 26 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Calling the nature of interior design "innocuous" because it focuses primarily on style, design, and aesthetics, Gowins completely missed the fact that there's a difference between an interior decorator and an interior designer.

And boy, did she anger a community of designers. Their comments on her post truly point out her ridiculous assumptions.

Can Anyone Call Themselves an Interior Designer?

What's surprising to me was the comment that "by law, anyone can call themselves an interior designer." I don't know if that's true, but it's rather scary for healthcare if it is.

Because healthcare interior designers don't just focus on style, design, and aesthetics.  They, along with other members of the design team, are responsible for making decisions that can affect public safety and welfare.

Like the placement of sinks to cue hand washing, as illustrated in the hospital room above. Or surfaces that are easily cleanable to help with infection control. Non-slip flooring to prevent falls. And much more.

Credentials Matter

That's why it's important for the profession to be licensed and for interior designers working in healthcare to obtain credentials from organizations like the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers and The Center for Health Design to further qualify their expertise.

If you're a homeowner and want help choosing colors to paint your walls or new pillows for your sofa, you probably don't need to hire a licensed interior designer.

But, if you're a healthcare organization looking to build or renovate a hospital or clinic, make sure all the design professionals (architects, too) you hire have solid healthcare design experience and the qualifications to help prove it.

It's really a no-brainer.

Photo courtesy of HDR; © Ari Burling.

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H. V. Nagendra

8 years ago

Right-on
I don't know Hillary Gowins - her antiquated views of the professions needs a refresher.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Thanks, H.V.! I don't know her either.

Kirk Hamilton

8 years ago

Thanks, Sara, for making the clear case for the difference between unlicensed interior decoration to which the author was obviously referring, and qualified interior designers who deal with much greater complication and issues that influence infection control and life safety. As Roz has pointed out, licensure protects the public in this area. And in states with title legislation, one cannot simply adopt the title of interior designer. I'm glad you called the author on her misconception. I hope you have tried to contact her with the alternative view.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Thanks, Kirk! I have not reached out to her yet, but there were plenty of comments on her post that supported my argument. Also, John Czarnecki at Contract magazine also wrote his editorial this month on the topic.

Dale Anderson

8 years ago

Thanks, Sara - this debate over licensing for Interior Designers has been ongoing for years. The point you make for issues of patient care and those that involve risk and/or liability help to strengthen the value of licensing. Additionally, as you note, having credentials related to the market segments of practice (in all of our cases, healthcare) add to a client's comfort level they are working with professionals who are trained and knowledgeable in their specific care needs.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

It sure has. Many, many people have worked very hard to get these laws passed.

Erin Peavey

8 years ago

Thank you for calling attention to this, Sara. Our interior designers impact infection control, patient privacy, staff productivity and job satisfaction, which is just the tip of the iceberg. It is clearly not “innocuous” and is extremely meaningful and impactful to to the health and welfare of patients, their families and the staff that care for them. Thank you again, Erin.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Very well said, Erin.

Georgie Marquez

8 years ago

"What’s surprising to me was the comment that 'by law, anyone can call themselves an interior designer.'" I suppose it depends on the state, but in Virginia, you have to be licensed to call yourself and Interior Designer; the same applies to the title Architect. Sadly, this is symptomatic of the trend nowadays of folks simply downloading an app and assuming they can do the work professionals have trained years to prepare for.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Agree, George! Is there an app for interior design?

Georgie Marquez

8 years ago

There's an app for everything! But, yes, there are interior design specific apps out there.

Dan Lee

8 years ago

Sara, we are grateful that you get on your soapbox and hold accountable writers who are unqualified and uneducated on this topic. With the mounting body of evidence that interior design is as much science as art, one would hope that such writers with access to the public would be more responsible. The 26 States and Districts that have enacted laws regulating Interior Design did so after exhaustive review, ultimately ruling in favor of life safety for the public. Our aging population, not to mention our current concerns for infection control, demand better outcomes. Licensed and certified interior designers are essential for healthcare design.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Well said, Dan!

Ridley Kinsey

8 years ago

Give 'em hell, Sara.

I guess anyone can call themselves a writer.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Ah, so very true, Ridley!

Michael Dudek

8 years ago

I am a little late to this discussion but felt it important to add my 3 cents (inflation):

First I wholeheartedly agree with everything Sara shouts from her soapbox but I am sorry to confirm that anybody can in fact...legally call themselves an "Interior Designer."

Even in Virginia as Georgie assumed anybody can call themselves an interior designers. The legislation in Virgina only regulates "Certified Interior Designers" or CID's. Yes this is a very subtle semantic nuance but it is one that many design professionals fail to grasp.

In the end...until the general public, and ill informed journalists(?) such as Hilary Gowins, not only understand, but respect, the subtle distinction between a "Certified" Interior Designer and an "Interior Designer" we will continue to suffer the broad brush misunderstanding of our true value to society.

Thanks again Sara for the post...it's a start.

Sara Marberry

8 years ago

Thanks, Michael, for your comments! Afraid we have a long way to go...

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Sara Marberry, EDAC, is a healthcare design knowledge expert, thought catalyst, and strategic marketing and business development consultant. The author/editor of three books, Sara writes and speaks frequently about industry trends and evidence-based design. She can be reached at sara@saramarberry.com.

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