When design professionals ask me why they should take continuing education courses, or complain about their states having CEU requirements, I have to take a moment before responding, "How can you afford not to continue learning?" The design professional's world has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. With the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the increased aging of the U.S. population, the constant and rapid changes in resources and technological advances, it is impossible to maintain a viable practice without taking time to educate oneself on these complicated areas of knowledge.
In order to maintain a competitive edge, design professionals must embrace the technologies their clients and competitors are using. It is a new business world out there, and knowledge of computers and software and the Internet are the keys to that world. These technologies are driving the professional harder and faster than ever before. The days are gone when a designer could count on an extended period for problem solving, i.e., waiting for samples to arrive, cutting and pasting those materials and then creating a mechanical "presentation board." Clients in today's digital, virtual business world expect nearly an almost "instant" response. A design professional who continues to avoid continuing education with regard to technology and software is like the proverbial ostrich. Ignoring computers, software and Internet technology will not make them go away, but it can make business go away.
Accessibility issues and an aging population make it mandatory that design professionals educate themselves in the practice of design for this widely expanding market. Commercially, design professionals have been required to design according to ADA- or state-mandated accessibility standards for almost 15 years. However, with the aging population and the knowledge that only about three percent of the U.S. population live in homes with any kind of accessibility feature, it becomes imperative that residential designers look to continuing education as the means to meeting the needs of this vast market. As baby boomers age, they will demand environments that will not hinder, but will assist in the physical limitations we all face as our bodies grow older. Those design professionals who do not spend the time to educate themselves along these lines will lose market share to those who do.
In addition, the knowledge and understanding of how the built environment affects humans have evolved exponentially. Recent research into the impact of the use of color on humans both physically and psychologically requires that designers re-learn what they think they know about the effects of color on the health and well-being of humans. Knowing that fabrics, fibers and lighting have an impact on indoor air quality in the built environment requires new learning. Evidence that furniture and finishes have an impact on the health, safety and welfare of humans requires new learning. Understanding that our planet has a finite amount of certain resources requires new learning in the areas of appropriate product and finish specifications and additional methods of conservation. The list of "new learning" a designer must have goes on and on.
Finally, we are living in an age that demands more knowledge relative to the practice of design than ever before. To embrace that demand for knowledge with a commitment to lifelong learning is the key to success for the design professional. Embracing opportunities to expand knowledge in critical areas is a powerful tool against diminishing market share. The old adage is true: "Knowledge is power." Therefore, continuing education is not an option; it is the only way to stay competitive in today's marketplace.
Linda Elliott Smith is president of education-works, inc. in Dallas, TX, and serves as president of ASID. She has served the society in a number of volunteer positions for more than 20 years. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480; fax: (202) 546-3240; www.asid.org.