Design History, CIDA Standards, and NCIDQ Examination: Rethinking Educational Priorities Amidst Global Destruction of Cultural Heritage

Presented by: Diane Viegut, Al Shihabi

In the late 1990s, the elimination of the history component of the National Council of Interior Design Qualification exam reflected the reorientation of interior design education and accreditation standards away from an academic model with a liberal arts emphasis towards a more practical model of technical training. In 2015, in an era of technology and globalization, growing themes in design pedagogy and research include not only technological needs, but also social and cultural objectives, expanding upon earlier work of Clive Dilnot, Victor Papenek, and others. Contemporary research and events support a need for change. Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz found that technical skills, developed through college education, led demand in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century (1980-1905), but that wage premiums went to persons with top problem- solving skills. Fortune editor Geoff Colvin argues that as the twenty-first century develops, it will be the human abilities to collaboratively create, culturally empathize, build relationships, express thoughts, and convey social sensitivity – qualities generated through history and humanities - that will generate value and distinction. Recent destruction of cultural heritage properties in Non-Western and Western countries, including Iraq, Syria, Turkey, France, and the United States, and UNESCO’s call for change through education, further suggest that design history’s central educational objectives, including those of the interiors specialization, need re-evaluation. Hence, this study asks 1) What social and cultural roles interior design history can contribute to twenty-first century design education that will generate public value, through human abilities (creativity, empathy, building relationships, self-expression, social sensitivity and so forth), and 2) What changes in accreditation standards and examination qualifications are needed to rebalance the interior design profession’s technological and Liberal Arts emphases, to rouse and propel design history’s role in ameliorating contemporary social and cultural concerns. The study’s methodology identifies potential social and cultural roles that design history can play in the sustainability of global cultural identities and the preservation of global cultural heritages. Next, it examines the application of design historical precedents to solve contemporary problems through experiential projects, stakeholder collaboration, and globally focused assignments. It then analyzes Student Learning Expectations in CIDA’s 2017 Professional Standards in terms of social and cultural applications of design history, and proposes how the Standard can be reoriented. Lastly, it considers the significance of reintroducing the history section of the NCIDQ exam to reframe the minimal qualifications required to practice at an entry level today. Findings show that design history increases relevancy and meaning to students, when it is utilized to address contemporary problems related to cultural identity and cultural heritage. It finds that Standard 10 – History of the CIDA’s 2017 Professional Standards Standard (final draft) falls short of recognizing and encouraging contemporary social and cultural applications in design history and recommends restructuring. Finally, reintroducing the history section of the NCIDQ exam would communicate the importance of design history, and its social and cultural applications, to students and practitioners. Significantly, it would realign design history’s educational objectives with current global concerns and desired skills.


  • Colvin, Jeff. Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will. Penguin, 2015.
  • Dilnot, Clive. “Design as a Socially Significant Activity: an Introduction.” Design Studies 3 (1982):139-146.
  • Goldin, Claudia and Katz, Lawrence. “The Race between Education and Technology: The Evolution of U.S. Educational Wage Differentials, 1890-1905.” Cambridge: Harvard University and National Bureau of Economic Research, 2009.
  • Papenek, Victor. Design for Human Scale, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983 and Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change 2nd ed London: Thames & Hudson, 1985.
  • UNESCO, “Culture and Heritage in Danger: Education as a force for resistance.” Round table presented at the showing of the documentary On the Trail of Timbuktu’s Manuscript, Paris, France, September 15, 2015.