Professional Roles: Interior Designers

Elizabeth Tomlinson  |  8/26/2008 6:56:14 PM

While an architect is concerned with what is called the “building shell” or “building envelope,” an interior designer works on the interior and is specially trained in this area. Interior designers follow much of the same design steps and procedures as architects do, only the work of interior designers is specific to the interior. An interior designer must be knowledgeable not only in aesthetic design but also in building structure; building function; finance/budgeting; life safety issues; local, state, and federal codes; accessibility; environmental issues; project management; construction; building materials; the bidding and permitting processes and more. In addition, an interior designer must have a working knowledge of electrical and mechanical layout and function in order to coordinate design plans with the plans of architects and other allied professionals. Just as architects, interior designers may be hired for complete design, for just one part or anywhere in between.

For what specific tasks would you seek the services of someone in this profession?

Sometimes an interior designer is hired alone or in conjunction with an architect, depending on the project needs. If you are hiring an interior designer and using an architect, it is important to bring the designer in at the beginning of the project and have him or her work closely with the architect. Sometimes the roles of interior designers and architect overlap, such as in space planning, and either can perform this service. An interior designer must produce designs that protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. An interior designer’s designs are made with consideration for safety, function, aesthetics and fit, or rather, what design is right for you.

Just as architects, interior designers also prepare detailed construction documents that tell the builder exactly how to execute the plan. These documents can include detailed drawings of any custom-designed furnishings. In addition to space planning, an interior designer can select colors, materials and finishes with regard to safety, function, maintenance, environmental sensitivity, and psychological and social needs of the client. An interior designer also specifies furniture, fixtures, equipment (called FF&E) and millwork, and can oversee the installation. All interior designers are trained in lighting; however, this aspect of design is more complex than the average consumer realizes, and it is not uncommon to see interior designers and architects specialize strictly in lighting. (Advanced degrees and further certifications can be obtained if the individual wishes to become a lighting designer.)

An interior designer also must have a working knowledge of ergonomics, conservation and “green” design, historic restoration, acoustics and sound transmission, and audiovisual and communication technology.

What licenses and certifications are available in this profession, and what requirements are needed to obtain these?

Interior design is a professional degree, and the designation of “interior designer” can only be used by those individuals who have satisfactorily completed the rigorous requirements of education, experience and examination. Upon completion of these requirements, an individual receives an NCIDQ certificate number and applies to receive a certificate of registration in his/her state. This assures the consumer that this professional regularly undergoes continuing education and follows a code of ethics and professional conduct set forth by the state licensing laws. Registered interior designers are required to obtain 5 hours of continuing education units per year.

In order to obtain a registration, interior designers must first pass all three parts that test six performance areas of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification or NCIDQ exam (the examination component of the requirements listed above). This exam is developed by the NCIDQ and tests an applicant's competence in the protection of public health, safety and welfare to provide the interior design services of programming, schematic design, design development, contract documents, construction administration and professional practice.

Before an individual applies to take this exam, he or she must first meet certain requirements set forth by each state. In Louisiana, the requirements are: residency in the state of Louisiana; graduation from a program accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation or CIDA or a combination of education and experience equal to six years, with a minimum of two years' education; and successful completion of two years of experience under a registered interior designer or architect. At this point, a prospective interior designer may apply to take the NCIDQ.

How can the consumer verify the professional has the license he or she purports to have?

The consumer can ask an interior designer to see his or her certificate of registration, and he or she should be able to provide it. In addition, consumers can go to www.lsbid.org for a list of registered designers in Louisiana or www.asid.org for an ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) designer. (Full members of ASID must be registered interior designers.)

What license is required in Louisiana to do what type of work?

Decorators and designers can practice design, but they may not call themselves interior designers or use any designation that uses the words “interior” and “designer” together or use the term “interior design” to describe his business or practice. By law, they are not allowed to do anything in the performance of their work that affects the health, safety and welfare of the public. An interior designer must possess a current Louisiana certificate of registration to practice interior design. The interior designer designs for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the public and his or her  registration assures this. An individual with an NCIDQ certification number and card, but who is not registered, is by Louisiana state law not able to practice commercial work but can practice residential design.

What is the typical pay basis for this profession, and what is the typical cost?

Rates will vary according to your project and the specific services you need from your interior designer. A retainer may be required upon contract signing and is applied to any balance due at the end of the job. Interior designers are usually reimbursed for their expenses.

Fees are usually based on one of the following options:

  • An hourly rate
  • A flat fee
  • Cost plus
  • Unit pricing based on the area of the home ($/square foot)

Or it may be any combination of the above.

“Cost plus” is used when interior designers must purchase materials, furnishings or services for the project. The designer will charge the customer his cost plus an agreed upon percentage for the designer’s time and effort.

Visit http://www.asid.org for more information. Note: Always insist on a written contract when hiring an interior designer. This helps protect both you and the designer.

How does one become an interior designer?

The industry is moving toward requiring that all interior design applicants graduate from a CIDA-accredited interior design or interior architecture program. Accredited programs can be found at www.accredit-id.org/ and www.asid.org.

This is followed by the successful completion two years of approved experience in the field supervised by a registered interior designer or architect. At this point, the prospective interior designer may apply to take the NCIDQ. The applicant must successfully complete all the sections of the NCIDQ exam and then apply to the state to be registered.

How does an interior designer who is licensed or certified for providing service in another state get authorization to provide services in Louisiana?

Interior designers from other jurisdictions from outside the state may not practice in Louisiana unless they obtain a Louisiana certificate of registration. For more information, visit the Louisiana State Board of Interior Designers at http://www.lsbid.org/.

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