Credentials Count

Titles are a dime a dozen these days; it’s the professional credentials after a name that tell you who knows their stuff.

Titles are important in the workplace, as they help people understand what one does for work; of course, titles can also be a liability (more on that in a bit). Professional credentials, on the other hand, function in a different way: they typically indicate minimum standards of education, experience and, in some cases, examination. A credential is a “seal” that has far more meaning than a title—a fact that was reinforced for me recently while I was talking with a real estate broker.

After we met to review a commercial property for a client, I asked the broker what the letters CCIM on her license plate stood for. She shared with me that it was a professional credential she had earned, but that it was “an unfortunate set of letters that are meaningless to most people.” It turns out that those letters stand for Certified Commercial Investment Member, and are given to experts in the disciplines of commercial and investment real estate. I later discovered that only 6 percent of all commercial real estate professionals have earned the designation.

Most people know the title of commercial real estate broker, and many even have a general idea of what those in the profession do. But learning about the designation and my colleague’s achievement gave me an even greater appreciation for the expertise she offers her clients.

An example that many design professionals can relate to is that of the LEED AP and LEED GA designations. People from all different kinds of industries and backgrounds hold this credential, from engineers and bankers to interior designers and code officials. And while the general public may not be familiar with what LEED stands for, it tells those in the know that the holder is knowledgeable about energy and environmental design.

While conducting research for this article I came across a video of a panel discussion at the University of Minnesota featuring Janice Linster of Studio Hive, who happens to be a highly regarded design professional in Minnesota and a NCIDQ certificate holder. “The title interior design has been somewhat of a liability,” she said. “I choose a more generic title [designer] to avoid stereotyping or misconceptions about what interior designers do. The title means too many things to too many people—it has been stretched like elastic.”

The truth is I’ve had a love-hate relationship with titles for a long time. Back in 1996, I opined in an IIDA Perspective article that if we didn’t tell people what our titles were (interior designer, not architect and not decorator), then the public would continue to hold a misconception of what interior design is all about. I later wrote an essay for the State of the Interior Design Profession (Fairchild, 2010) pondering titles and the profession’s identity crisis.

After almost a quarter century of membership in the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and close to 20 years of membership in the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), I dropped both, keeping only the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) credential. My business card now has my name but no title.

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