The Changing Face of Advocacy

IIDA members offer insight on what interior designers should be doing to help others better understand the profession.

10/02/2017 By Louisa Fitzgerald

Stacey Crumbaker Susanne Molina Roberta Pennington Kelly Ennis Carmen Preston Clara Mechelle Karnai Jessie Santini

The role of interior design advocacy has changed significantly over the last three decades as the profession has gained recognition, created educational standards, and expanded its role as vital to the health, safety, and well-being of people in the built environment. In July, IIDA members from different specialties, generations, and parts of the country gathered at IIDA headquarters in Chicago to discuss what advocacy means to them, how it has changed, and how designers can get involved. The following is what they had to say.

Why does interior design advocacy continue to be critical? 

Stacey Crumbaker, IIDA, Northern Pacific Chapter: Advocating for our industry is about reshaping public perception and the perception of our colleagues in allied professions so they understand what it means to practice commercial interior design. Being an advocate for the
profession allows me to shape my story about how the profession is contributing to the world.

Susanne Molina, FIIDA, Southern California Chapter: I’ve found that within the commercial interior design industry, we are not always able to communicate effectively about what we do. Advocacy is ultimately about having a common vocabulary we can use to educate the public about what interior design is. 

Roberta Pennington, IIDA, Oregon Chapter: When interior designers sit at the table with our collaborators, I’m the only one who needs to list off a resume in order to explain what I do. Other people say, “I’m a registered architect” or “I’m a registered engineer.” My hope is that our advocacy efforts will eventually allow me to say, “I’m a certified interior designer in the state of Oregon,” and everyone will know what I mean. 

How has advocating for the industry changed? 

Kelly Ennis, IIDA, Mid-Atlantic Chapter: Advocating for commercial interior design has changed drastically over the last 25 years. We’ve gone from being considered people with “taste” to a credentialed and acknowledged profession in many jurisdictions. We still have goals to achieve, but we have the acknowledgement of our peers and stronger educational programs. 

SC: Over the last decade, advocacy has changed from a conversation that would almost become a conflict to a respectful dialogue about interior design, how we practice, and what recognition we deserve for contributing to the building and architecture community. 

RP: We’ve gained more respect from our design associates in architecture and engineering. My peers in architecture understand what interior design is and feel emboldened to speak to their peers at the chapter and board level about what we do and why interior design needs a legal definition.

What can interior designers do to advocate for the profession? 

Carmen Preston, IIDA, Alabama Chapter: Talk to students about the importance of advocacy. I go to the universities in my area to inspire students to become commercial interior designers, take the NCIDQ, and advocate for the profession. Starting at the student level has given grass roots advocacy new energy.

RP: Get involved with local politics. I stay involved with IIDA because the organization respects the grassroots advocacy efforts and understands that this is a local political issue—every jurisdiction in America has different interpretations of how building codes should be read. 

Clara Mechelle Karnai, IIDA, Texas/Oklahoma Chapter: Get familiar with the legislators in your district. Visit them at their offices and let them know that licensed interior design is important to you and why it should be important to them and their constituents. 

Jessie Santini, IIDA, Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware Chapter: Be able to tell your story as a professional interior designer. Have that elevator pitch ready when you get in front of your local representatives or even your father, your mother, and friends. Educate everyone around you about the importance of what we do to protect the health, safety, and well-being of the public. 

For IIDA advocacy resources and information, visit advocacy.iida.org

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