The Definition of Interior Design: Is it Time for a Change?

Presented by: Melissa Santana

The definition of the interior design profession can vary from person to person and from one field to another. Merriam-Webster, the Bureau of Labor Statistic, and the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) define it differently. Some categorize it as an art or craft, others a trade, and some as a profession.  With such differing opinions, as well as different legislation, it is understandable why the public might be confused about the work conducted by a designer. The definition that is commonly accepted and promoted by the profession is that of NCIDQ where they state a professional design practitioner is someone who is “qualified by means of education, experience and examination, to protect and enhance the health, life safety and welfare of the public". However, the underlying question of this presentation is whether or not that definition fully encompasses the practice of interior design, relates to common industry terms, and is understandable to the public. 

Although there is no denying that health, life safety and welfare are important to interior designers, additional terminology would help clarify the tasks conducted by a designer (Moody & Petty, 2014). Anderson, Honey, and Dudek (2007) explored the ideas of the social compact for the interior design profession. They state that the primary social value of the interior design profession is to design physiological and sociological supportive interiors that enhance quality of life. Similarly, Berman (2009) asserts that designers have an essential social responsibility because design is at the core of the world’s largest challenges and solutions. Many organizations like ASID, IIDA, and NCIDQ support the enhancement of quality of life and believe, in part, that it can be achieved through environmental responsibility. While the profession of interior design continues to grow more emphasis is placed on the responsibility designers have in providing spaces that create a positive impact on people, the environment, and the economy (Ford, Bateman, Chandler, & Duncan, 2014), which in accordance to the Brundtland Commission, are the three pillars of sustainable development. In a study conducted by Othman (2009) he demonstrated how numerous firms are adapting a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) model for their business, which includes social, economic, and environmental sustainability/responsibility, in order to achieve sustainable development. Since the Brundtland Commission has coined the term, making it more understandable internationally and if more design firms are following this model, then it makes sense to investigate whether or not the interior design profession truly follows suit.  

This presentation proposes that the phrase “through sustainable development methods” should be added to the end of the NCIDQ definition, thus encompassing the social, economic and environmental responsibilities and methods associated with the practice of design and consequently denoting the current cultural climate of the industry. An extensive review of the literature was conducted to bring context to each facet of sustainability (social, environmental, and economic) within the framework of interior design. Once redefined definitions were achieved, a methodology of cross-referencing those definitions with their relationship to the design profession demonstrated that the majority of tasks conducted by designers relate to the three elements of sustainability, therefore should be included in the definition of the profession.


  • Anderson, B. G., Honey, P. L., & Dudek, M. T. (2007). Interior design's social compact: Key to the quest for professional status. Journal of Interior Design, 33(2), 5-13.
  • Berman, D. B. (2009). Do good: How designers can change the world. Berkeley, California: AIGA
  • Ford, C., Bateman M., Chandler, K., & Duncan, R. (2014) The attitudes of interior design educators toward concepts, principles, and theories of sustainable design. The International Journal of Design Education. 7(3), 11-25
  • Moody, D., and Petty, G. (2014) Building industry perceptions toward interior designers' impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the built environment: A factor analysis. The international Journal of Design in Society. 7(3), 15-28.
  • Othman, A. (2009). Corporate social responsibility of architectural design firms towards a sustainable built environment in South Africa. Architectural Engineering and Design Management, 5, 36-45.
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