The Long Battle for Legislation

Utah has become the 27th state to recognize interior design as a licensed profession

by Robert Nieminen

Well, it’s official: Utah has become the 27th state to officially recognize interior design as a licensed profession! This is a huge win for supporters of interior design legislation in the state, as well as across the country.

Both ASID and IIDA announced earlier this month that Utah Senate Bill 117 was passed, a legal victory that creates certification for commercial interior designers and will allow them to submit their documents for building permits. The effort, led by lobbyist Amy Coombs, Senior Partner, Prestige Government Relations and Consulting Group, has been a two-year process championed by key industry partners, including ASID, IIDA, Interior Design and Education for Legislation (IDEAL) for Utah, and the IIDA Intermountain Chapter. For a more detailed explanation of the applicability of this landmark legislation and the impact it will have on interior designers, visit ASID’s One Voice campaign site.

As such, the following map of states that have enacted laws supporting interior design that we published last year should be modified slightly to change Utah from red to blue.

As much as I’m pleased to hear another state has joined the ranks of the (slim) majority that have legitimized the profession in this way, there are two realities to face: one, there are still far too many states that don’t have any legislation on the books; and two, the opposition to licensing is still pretty fierce. As Randy Fiser, CEO of ASID, noted, “This bill is a winning testament to securing just one basic right of interior designers. We have many more to go before we can declare a total victory for the profession.”

I know from personal experience that when we took a stand as a magazine in favor of interior design legislation back in 2008, people came out of the woodwork to write to me as then editor-in-chief to express their disappointment in us for selling out to the “design cartels.” I kid you not.

As I wrote in an essay I contributed to the book, The State of the Interior Design Profession (Fairchild Books, 2010), I believe the issue of licensing is among the greatest challenges to the profession as a whole:

Much like other professional practices serving the public—such as doctors, architects, lawyers, and nurses—interior designers have struggled to gain the recognition they have sought in establishing the profession’s legitimacy and requiring licensure to practice across all 50 states. To date, only 25 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have some form of legislation (Title Acts or Practice Acts) regulating the profession (American Society of Interior Designers, 2009). In others, wars are being waged in our courts where opponents of licensure are claiming an infringement on their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech—presumably to be able to call themselves “interior designers” as opposed to “interior decorators”—and with the mission to annihilate the idea that the work interior designers do has any measurable impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the public (Carpenter II, 2006). Add to all this the fact that interior designers essentially are divided in their allegiances to one of two professional associations—the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and International Interior Design Association (IIDA)—and it becomes clear why the profession of interior design needs to resolve its inner conflicts and unify its members under a common body of knowledge, with a common purpose of serving the public (not narrow self interests), if it hopes to be taken seriously and survive the challenging years ahead. In short, the profession needs a unity of purpose and practice with a well-developed identity.

Since I penned those words seven years ago, only two states have enacted legislation to regulate the practice of design. As I said earlier, I’m happy that Utah has joined the ranks of those that do, and I applaud those who fought long and hard for this.

Although the battle may have been won, I’m afraid the war is far from over.