One Voice

Interior designers, both young and seasoned, push for a merger between their two trade organizations.

This spring, in interior design schools across the country, students lined up to sign petitions. After their names, some added “ASID and IIDA student member.” Their signatures, more than 1,900 of them, appear on a document titled “One Interior Design Organization, the Time Is Now!” Their protest is aimed at the two separate trade associations that today represent a rapidly evolving profession. The American Society of Interior Designers (which tends to attract small, residential firms) is headquartered in Washington, D.C., while the International Interior Design Association (dominated by high-volume practices) is in Chicago.

But the distance between the two comes down to more than miles. There is a long and contentious history of competition among design professionals for the title of “interior designer.” Through the years, the battle lines were drawn between large firms and single practitioners, corporate-space planners and residential decorators. This dichotomy has always seemed a false one to me. Surely, even the most clueless client wouldn’t consider hiring a decorator to design a massive healthcare facility, just as a home owner wouldn’t call a multinational, multidisciplinary firm to refresh her living room. Both types of practices obviously have roles to play.

Today’s tech-savvy, environmentally and socially conscientious interior design students want no part of the old turf wars. They’re looking to connect. Fortunately, their crusade has been joined by some activist Fellows—accomplished members of both organizations and their equals on the Interior Design Educators Council. This united front signals more conciliatory times, and it’s just in time.

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Few doubt that we have entered a new era, driven by technology and its connectivity, climate change and its consequences, when every profession involved in the built environment needs to build new muscles. There isn’t time or energy left for turf wars.

In visiting with regional design groups, I’m always struck by how collegial these communities are; in most cases there is representation in the room from the usual alphabet soup of associations: ASID, IIDA, AIA, USGBC. Recently, in Florida, the joint effort between ASID and IIDA was credited with saving a law that’s been on the books since 1994, the Interior Design Title Act. Together, the organizations defeated legislation proposed by some conservative fringe groups to wipe the law off the books. Clearly, there is a will and a way—when the stakes are high. And make no mistake, the stakes are high.

The students know this. They framed their petition this way: “As future interior designers, we strongly advocate the merging of ASID and IIDA so the realization of one organization, one voice will happen. We are the profession’s future! Without a strong and unified voice, advancing the profession to stakeholders such as the public, consumers, and legislators will not happen. We urge you to consider this plea to join forces so collectively we can advance the profession of interior design.”

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