What Training Should a Designer Have?
Many designers are under the impression that formal training, education, and certification is either unnecessary or should not be necessary. In reality, there are huge risks an owner takes when employing a designer who hasn't taken these paths
Claim: "No one has died as a result of bad interior design"
A big part of what interior designers are trained to do is read, understand, and apply building code. Yeah, you know that annoying thing that makes permitting such a nuisance? These annoying technicalities are what make your home, work, and visited interior spaces safe, regardless of how frustrating they can be. Flammability is a major part of the required knowledge for certification. According to the National Fire Protection Association, seven people die each day in house fires. What if the products we used not only prevented the spread of fire and smoke but also took longer to catch fire? Could some of those people be saved?
Some of the newer requirements include eliminating blinds with hanging cords because children can be strangled by the loose cords. We have all heard about people slipping and falling, particularly the elderly. What if we worked to provide non-slip floors with safety precautions, like grab bars (which absolutely can be gorgeous!) Of course, we all know the dangers of asbestos and lead paint, but there are many more contributors to sick building syndrome, a condition that results in dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches and more due to interior air pollution.
A little story about this: The client I had that cared most about sustainable design was so passionate about creating their spaces, interior and exterior with faux finishes. One such faux finish was an exterior vinyl for the deck, that was stamped to look like ferns, etc. I ordered a box of samples so that I could view this finish myself and the moment I opened the box, my office was overtaken by a plastic chemical smell. While there are new vinyl products on the market that claim sustainability because they are recycled, recyclable, and have low VOC's, the fact remains that these products are made of plastic. Plastic that in order to recycle means the offgassing of chemicals. Plastic that will never, ever decompose. In fact, Green Building Supply simply won't carry Luxury Vinyl Tiles, the new "hit" flooring that markets it's low VOC and "sustainable" qualities.
I could tell many, many more stories of how interior design prevents illness and death when the designer is properly trained, and yes- this education may be sought independently, but how many designers know to seek this education, especially when so many new interior designers are hobbyists who are looking for a creative outlet and decide to build a career from this?
Claim: "Training and Certification does not make a good designer"
Of course, these are not the only components of good design. There has to be some natural talent and the ability to apply the methods learned. That's where our portfolio kicks in- review the portfolio before hiring a designer and ask the designer what role they played on each project. What deliverables were provided to get that finished result? It's easy to do a color consultation, take fabulous photos of the space and post it as "design"... yeah, well technically those color selections were a design choice. I'm not sure I'd call it a design. Consulting on a few selections and having the project turn out looking great is not a full service design project.
So, while it is true that a designer who is formally trained and certified may produce atrocious designs, we also know that those designs have been reviewed thoroughly to meet code and provide a safe environment.
Claim: "Designers have absolutely no liability" and "This is the job of [general contractor, engineer, architect, etc.]
First off, way to pass the buck and not accept responsibility for your actions. This is a lesson I'm working hard to teach my children and it amazes me that so many adults cannot accept this. Guess what, the contractor says it's our responsibility, designers say it's theirs, and honestly- it's both. But, it starts with us. We are a safety measure for the general contractor, and while they may be the one getting sued in the end, we are the ones that have the training (or should) to prevent this. General contractors, do you really want to work with a designer who does not have this training?
Now, as for the engineers, architects, etc... Engineers are responsible for the structure. Architects have a big responsibility focused on the envelope of the building and safety in that regard. Neither of these professionals has specific training and expertise on interior finishes and safety elements in that regard. When working with a residential interior designer, an architect is often not required. So, who (if we're passing the buck) is going to ensure that the space meets egress and the fire department can access occupants in a home in case of fire, or that the occupants can get out?
Another consideration that interior designers specialize in (when formally trained and/or certified) is anthropometrics and ergonomics. Our job includes looking at the human elemant (height, weight, ability, reach, etc) and ensure that the space is usable by occupants of all abilities.
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), “You or a member of your organization can make a mistake that injures someone or damages property. Your mistake could harm the reputation or interfere with the privacy of a customer, client, competitor or member of the general public. When such injuries occur, you may be legally liable to pay damages to someone who suffers a loss due to your actions or inaction.”
Claim: "Contractors Don't Do What We Specify"
True and False!
They have to. No, they don't always follow the drawings and specifications. But, those documents are legally binding. So, if the contractor does not follow the documents, they are breaking a contract, plain and simple. This is important information for the contractors, designers, and the owners because it holds everyone accountable.
The training in anthropometrics and ergonomics is 100% unique to the interior design profession, and something that most designers who do not have formal training or at least a strong professional background have entirely no clue about, and aren't even aware that it is taught to those who do receive formal training and certification.
We are trained in process and communication methods to best portray the ideas and development of these ideas. Ask any design graduate how fun it was to "show the work"... pages upon pages of trace paper, notes, sketches, and reasoning had to be presented in order to get that passing grade. My own schooling was at an Interdisciplinary Institute. I took architecture courses and studio courses with architecture students, landscape architects, and construction management. One of my senior projects included designing a new construction home, starting with a site visit and analysis, then a framing plan, the building envelope, and the interiors. Why were we required to do this? We weren't training to be site surveyors, engineers, or architects. But, we were being trained to work with them and understand their roles. What better way than to do a project that included their role as well. Of course, I would always default to an engineer and could never claim that this ONE project in college gave me the know-how to do this work independently. It did, however, give me insight as to the professionals I will be working with and it taught me how important it is to understand this. Today, I ask contractors to invite me to their continuing education courses, including me on the job site so that I can watch and learn from what they do, and this is important so that I may do my job better.
Yes, many people who are not formally trained will do these things, but what assurance does a client have that their designer is qualified? I would start with a formal education for my own comfort, for the safety of my children, and for the knowledge that a process with due diligence is being applied. That said, there are many AMAZINGLY talented designers out there who have no formal training, so do we miss out on the opportunity of working with them? NO! Consider working with the designer whose design aesthetic you love, and if they are uncredentialed, ask them to team up with a credentialed designer for verification that safety standards are met.
Good reads: I found this article in my research (yes, I research each and every blog post!) and found it to be very relevant and informative.
This professional texts was used in my own design program and just graze the surface of the liabilities designers face: