Interior Design Protection Consulting

June 11, 2009

IDPC: “Students should NOT be “forced” to support licensing!”

Coercion at a CIDA College

A recent development at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (AIP), a CIDA-accredited institution, has opened a new crack in the ever-eroding façade of interior design regulation.

Lauren Musulin, an interior design instructor at AIP, recently gave her Revit (AutoDesk) class an extra credit assignment that could potentially count for as much as 20% of their final grade.  That assignment: lobby your legislator in support of passage of the licensing bill. (Read assignment here: Musulin sits on the board of IDLCPA (Interior Design Legislation Coalition of Pennsylvania), the group behind repeated attempts to enact practice regulation in Pennsylvania.  When approached by a student who had researched the licensing issue and concluded that licensing is detrimental to the profession, Ms. Musulin responded that no extra credit would be given for any other point of view.

Sadly, intimidating impressionable students to march in lock-step with the instructor’s political, pro-regulation agenda is all too common, not to mention unethical.  In the 30-year push for licensing spearheaded by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), in conjunction with the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) and the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) – commonly called “the Cartel” – students across the country have been indoctrinated to believe that licensing will benefit them.

Upon graduation, however, many students are finding exactly the opposite to be true.  The criteria that they must serve a 2 to 4 year internship (a.k.a. “indentured servitude”) under another NCIDQ certified designer before they can even sit for the certification exam, has effectively kept the number of new “certified” interior designers low.  In a difficult economy, few designers are financially able to hire even a lowly-paid graduate.  And even in a thriving economy, many practicing designers are simply unwilling to train their would-be competitors.  So after spending sometimes upwards of $100,000 on their education, students in states that have enacted practice laws, are proclaiming that they’ve been thrown under the proverbial bus, and that they are unable to practice in their chosen profession.

Any institution worth the paper they print their diplomas on should allow their students unfettered access to information critical to their future, in this case, whether or not they will support or oppose the restrictive, single-entry method into the field. Institutions would be well-advised to dismiss the paternalistic assumption that students will not be able to weigh the evidence and the credibility of the various messengers and come to their own conclusions.  With such censoring, how can a student make an intelligent, informed decision without having equal access to all the facts?  Yet, groups like the Interior Design Protection Council (IDPC), a nonprofit organization holding the view that regulation is unnecessary and anti-competitive, are rarely invited or allowed to address interior design students.  “Students should NOT be coerced into supporting legislation or a political agenda that is ultimately not in their best interest,” said Patti Morrow, executive director of IDPC.

Johnny Matia, an AIP student, brought Musulin’s extra credit assignment to the attention of Kelly Spewock, the Interior Design Department Director who told him she would look into the issue and provide parity, and also agreed that IDPC would be invited to speak at their town hall meeting next semester.  Matia has vowed to open a student chapter of IDPC at AIP.  “If they have ASID, they should also have IDPC,” said Matia.  “Students need to hear both sides.”

Perhaps this is the beginning of a whole new era allowing students access to a fair and open exchange of information about the free market system this country was founded upon.

Or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking.



  1. All organizations should be allowed to voice their opinions to the students. If not allowed, then this is an infringement upon the students rights.

    Comment by Suzanne Grable — June 11, 2009 @ 4:22 am |Reply

  2. I find this article an embarrassment to the design field. I’m getting my bachelors in Interior Design. What I don’t understand is why we can’t study for our licensing in school so we can take the NCIDQ Exam write after we graduate? When I graduated from Cosmetology School we were able to take our Exam and if we passed were Licensed in the field. And for those who think that Cosmetology is an easy field to pass well it’s not. Our field actually transfers into Nursing.

    It just makes more sense to be able to take the Exam right out of school and then that would limit anyone complaining about whether or not someone can call themselves an Interior Designer.

    For those who have been practicing Interior Decorating just keep doing what you are doing. There is nothing to be ashamed about. I did it for a long time before I decided to get my degree in Interior Design. It takes lots of talent to be in this field. And you either have it or you don’t. And if you don’t nobody is going to hire you anyway.

    Interior Design is so much more than Interior Decorating. I feel we need both. There is also different areas that Designers decide to go in. Everyone practices it differently. For those who are scared to let someone practice under them is a coward. No one can steal your clients. Clients decide who they want to work with bottom line. And if your client feels more comfortable working with one Designer than the other, then that is a good thing. At least you didn’t loose that client to another firm.

    So bottom line why don’t we all lobby to let students take the exam when they graduate with a Bachelors Degree? Then at least the firms know that they are hiring a qualified licensed Interior Designer. And for those who want to take the Exam let them take it. I mean it’s their money and their time. I thought we were living in a free country? So Ponder on this one!

    Comment by Jacqueline — June 11, 2009 @ 5:17 am |Reply

    • I would be in full support of what you are a proposing, I have an Associates Degree in Interior Design and am now working toward my Bachelor Degree, I too feel students should be able to take the test when they complete a Bachelor Degree program in Interior Design, very similar to the Bar exam which law students take when their education is complete. I live in a state in which there is no licensing requirement, so how do I work for a “licensed designer” in that case to even qualify to take the test? Does NCIDQ have an answer for that???? Education is a must to be an Interior Designer, I do agree with that. I think a movement should be started in support of testing when one completes their Bachelors Degree in Interior Design,not two years later!

      Comment by Diana — June 14, 2009 @ 4:09 pm |Reply

      • Why does everyone here want take the test immediately upon graduation? The two years following graduation were by far more beneficial to me that all of my college years. As a student you think you are prepared for the real world, but you aren’t. You have to experience the everyday grind of life as a designer to fully understand the responsibilities and issues that arise as such. For instance, are you at graduation familiar with the variations in specifications and when each is appropriate? Have you written a contract, addendum, purchase order, or change order? Have you messed any of them up and learned your lesson from it? Probably not.

        A CIDA degree is earned through hardwork and so should be the next step in your education – your lisence. The first two years out are a huge adjustment, a crash course and they should be. Just like first semester of school weeds out the ones who can’t make the cut. Same concept. A license is not something that should be dumbed down or handed to every schmuck upon graduating. Each graduating class has those who deserve to graduate and those who pass because of neccessary quota. The NCIDQ is one more way for you to seperate yourself from those who can’t do everything you can do and when the public realizes that and NCIDQ certified designer can do what any other “designer” can do, plus more you will be prepared. Call me an elitist, but only if you are too scared or too lazy to prove that you are a qualified interior designer shouldn’t have the priveledge of calling yourself an interior designer. Accept that you are something else and go be the best at it.

        Comment by blkidsusan — August 13, 2009 @ 3:26 pm |Reply

        • Blkidsusan, I agree that not everyone, at this point, should be able to sit for the NCIDQ right out of college because, as you stated, they have not had the experience to write a contract, or change order. To tell you the truth, I had no idea what these things were until I held a job at an architecture firm right out of college. The problem lies in the EDUCATION. Students are not taught the processes and formalities of the profession. My boss was outraged when he learned I had no idea what a change order or addendum was. And to tell you the truth, I was embarrassed and felt my education had let me down.

          This field is something else, what I was taught in school is not how the career field turns out to be and I do believe that if the EDUCATION was taught in line with the CAREER, then yes a student should be able to sit for the NCIDQ. I mean, they are giving out licenses to those who pass the bar with no experience….why not Interior Design?

          I do believe there is a huge difference between designers and decorators, and it really does depend on the type of work you do, but up until this point in my career, I have not found an architect willing to let me do any sort of “space planning” in terms of placing walls, which is how I learned in school. “Space planning” consists of placing furniture. I really don’t think you need an education to do that.

          Comment by Annie — February 11, 2010 @ 2:53 pm |Reply

          • My dear Annie, You don’t need a college degree or the NCIDQ test to know what a change order (written change from an original order) or an addendum (written item/service added to original agreement)is. A formal degree in design sets you apart from someone who has no formal education in design but comes with no guarantee of employment, success or talent in the field. Interior Design is one of those professions that some people have excelled, conquered and become famous with no education required. Somewhere along the journey, ASID (a trade group) decided to make up a test they thought could measure aptitude in this field. It has no quantifiable value in the general public or your potential client’s eyes. ASID controls the test and it was intended to diminish competition in a free market, by creating fear in designers that they could lose their business. ASID is losing control of the laws because they are unconstitutional and they never represented their membership’s needs. Consider yourself fortunate to be employed by an architectural firm. You will benefit from this experience far more than sitting for some test.

            Comment by Elizabeth Bennett — February 11, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

    • I agree, if a student has graduated with a degree in Interior Design, then that student should be able to sit down for the NCIDQ exam. If the the students pass then they pass if not then they have to study harder for the next exam.
      The individuals who have set the policies / criteria for taking the NCIDQ exam did not and STILL do not have the foresight to see that they are hindering the growth of the very profession they are trying to protect.
      Very talented students are not allowed to sit for the exam because the NCIDQ and ASID policies prevent them, then these students who just put all their money towards college are now expected to work 2 to 4 years for a NCIDQ certified Interior Designer which are far and few between for very little to nothing (i.e.internship)!In my state there are less than 100! So think about it, those of you who have the ability to change the criteria, all of these talented students graduating and WANTING to work in this profession and have a DRIVE AND PASSION for design work CANNOT take the exam because there are not enough NCIDQ certified Interior Designers for them to work under! How insane is that… the numbers will only get worse each year as more students graduate and there are still less and less NCIDQ designers to hire these recent grads.

      It is clear that the current system is NOT working so now the question is to all of us who are working as an ASID designer and for those of us who want to be certified because we do care about the profession is “how do we go about making the necessary changes to make the NCIDQ exam available to Interior Design graduate students?”

      Comment by Kae — June 23, 2009 @ 5:49 pm |Reply

  3. As one of the plaintiffs in our victorious Ct. lawsuit AGAINST unfair titling practices in this state and in the equally important pursuit of defending democracy in interior design practice throughout the country, let me go on record indicating my displeasure to hear of AIP’s coercing young students by offering such incentives as extra credit for contacting their legislator to advance the instructor’s personal beliefs. This smacks of prejudice and has no place in a venue of learning regardless of what the instructor believes. The school administration has a responsibility to stop this instructor from continuing such tactics. It would take a very mature and brave young student to go against such pressure. How sad for AIP, for the students and for the instructor who needs to advance her/his own agenda out of fear of healthy competition and democracy. My advice is yes, call your legislator and tell them you DO NOT think regulation/licensing serves any necessary purpose and should NOT exist. Fight for your right to conduct business with ethics and without controls imposed by professional organizations who desire only the monies from your dues to advance their self-protective motives and control. Ask yourself if you should HAVE to be forced/coerced/incentivized to join a movement that will be detrimental to your business freedom….. and ask yourself WHY this instructor is doing this, what is the real motivation behind it and why this should have anything at all to do with your grade. In other words, do your homework before you follow this ill advised request !! For all my years in business as a designer I have NEVER joined a professional organization, they have NEVER gotten one cent of my money and I too was encouraged to join them when I was in design school. Lesson learned????
    Respectfully submitted,
    Susan Roberts, Interior Designer

    Comment by Susan Roberts — June 11, 2009 @ 12:50 pm |Reply

    • NCIDQ is a flawed test. Specific interior design colleges are administering the prep courses for the test with their own students. Experienced designers trying to follow what they think is the “law” are taking the prep courses along with the colleges students. Who do you think is getting the real playbook for the NCIDQ game?

      This issue with interior design schools pushing the lobbying for title act agenda is real and so very wrong.

      Last night, I attended the annual IIDA Illinois Chapter (International Interior Design Association). I am a dues-paying member and I paid an additional $30 to attend this meeting. Our “professional trade group” announced it’s new president, who just happens to be the president of Harrington Interior Design College. Instead of the meeting being focused on how a designer can make a profit, grow our businesses and network, the slideshow given by the president of the college included “fighting for your right to practice!!!!!” by focusing on lobbying the law for 2012. The group cheering him were employees of the college, representatives from other interior design colleges, student group leaders from the colleges (poor little lambs), a handful of vendors and some designers. There were some very nice slides on the fundraising efforts the group has made for people in need but the one that caught my attention was the one that listed members: students, educators, everyone else! So glad I am paying dues to be “everyone else!”

      There is a dangerously high amount of collusion between interior design colleges, paid lobbyists, “trade” associations such as ASID and IIDA and employers and vendors seeking free labor. They have a captive and innocent audience – – the interior design students and their tuition-paying parents. Creative people, eager to get into the interior design field are being fooled into thinking employers will be looking only for NCIDQ certified candidates. It’s getting to be a weird little insular circle.

      Thank you Patti for continuing to lead a website that allows healthy debate on this issue.

      Comment by Elizabeth Bennett — July 1, 2009 @ 1:45 am |Reply

  4. I think this whole ordeal is ridiculous. ASID also has a feud going on with IDS, which I am a member of. They have a test for certification as a professional residential, which is 9 hours in total and covers the areas of which most designers work within. I have been a designer for over 30 years. I too was asked attending designer school to join an organization, one of which was ASID, upon graduating. I chose not to. Why should I pay an organization a yearly fee when I keep up with the design world on my own. Several years ago I was teaching at a design school(distance education) and many students ask about these organizations. ASID would not allow these students to take the test because it was more for decorating an home the doing design work. I opted at that point to join IDS, to see what this test entailed. This should be the decorator or designer’s choice to join, not the law! There are way too many talented people out there that might not have the qualifications to even sit for the test. I have an architectural drawing and design education and I would not sit for the test, although I know that I am grandfathered in this law. ASID just wants to monopolize the market and it is not fair!

    Comment by Ann W Cohen — June 11, 2009 @ 3:03 pm |Reply

  5. As someone who has only been out of college two years, I am appalled to hear what AIP is doing to their students. I can only imagine what a struggling student would go through if they knew this assignment could boost their grade and GPA, but go against what they believe. While I was in school, I was a student member of ASID and the legislation bandwagon came many times to tell us why we should be able to stamp our drawings and keep the decorators and architects from stealing our work. In the two years I have been practicing, I have not had one person ask me if I am licensed or a member of an interior design organization. They are more interested in my years of experience, my college education and what ideas I can bring to their project.

    My personal feelings are the only people who want this licensing to pass work mostly in commericial design and want to have the same rights as architects. If you want to stamp your drawings, become an architect! I went to school to become an interior designer. I know that differnce between a designer and an architect. That’s why my degree is not in architecture!! As a designer, I am capable of drawing floor plans, picking surface materials, selecting furniture and accessorizing. If I want to completely design a house, I have the skills to do so, but I would still want an architect to approve the plan and make any neccessary changes. My feeling is the “designers” who are pushing this legislation need to take all of their energies and go get their architecture degrees and leave the majority of the design population alone so we can earn a living. Let the government focus on much more important issues!!

    Comment by Nicole Mitchell — June 11, 2009 @ 3:13 pm |Reply

  6. What the previous commentator is overlooking is the use of a class and a grade to bribe students to do something that is political and not part of normal curriculum. Yes, institutions should be able to express themselves – they can take out ads and lobby legislators on their own behalf. But to put a gun to the head of students and say “you’ll get a better grade if you do me this favor” is absolutely appalling. Shame on AIP and ASID and all the rest. Bill

    Comment by Bill Barrett — June 11, 2009 @ 3:47 pm |Reply

  7. I couldn’t agree more with all of the above! I’m a middle-aged career changer who is starting a fledgling design practice while also enhancing my skills through a certificate program at UC Berkeley Extension in San Francisco. I can definitely see the school being manipulated through the accreditation process, and through the activities of the ASID chapter.

    I’m a member of IDPC and have refused to join ASID because I see their work as undermining my right to practice or ever be able to change careers. Having to spend 2-4 years in indentured servitude, at my age, practically doubles the cost of my starting a practice. It amounts to economic discrimination and cartel protectionism, and I frankly think it’s unethical market manipulation.

    Thanks for writing this blog, Patty, and thanks for your work.

    Comment by Nicolette Toussaint — June 11, 2009 @ 4:35 pm |Reply

  8. I am frustrated with the requirements to sit for the NCIDQ.My plans were to fufill the requirements to sit for this exam but after graduating and working for an unlicensed designer who was very successfull I decidesd to go out on my own. First, with the economy, there were no job openings with someone who would give me the chance to qualify for 2 years to sit. Second, I witnessed for myself that licencing was not necessary to succeed. Now, I am getting criticized for not taking the test. How is one supposed to do this when there is no one to support and hire you to sit? If you know your business, I believe that since we were formally trained with degrees, we should be allowed to sit for the exam. If these rules don’t change, the NCIDQ will have no one sitting for there exams for no one can qualify to take them.

    Comment by Andrea Bryson, ASID — June 11, 2009 @ 6:25 pm |Reply

    • You’re 100% right – there are not enough experienced designers out there who are giving the newbies a chance to “sit” and those that do give this opportunity, are usually cruel and unjust, not to mention they rarely follow the apprenticeship guidelines. (uuhhh, like give us the chance to get our feet wet by letting us do the tough stuff).

      As for the NCIDQ exam – talk about raping someone of money! OMG. I think I’ve spent a total of $2,000 at this point. The questions they ask require so much analysis it’s no wonder 50% fail it multiple times. I keep running out of time analyzing them. Because the reality is – Not every interior design firm operates EXACTLY how the NCIDQ council “claims” is the “official” way of the entire industry. For instance, I “sat” under Architects, and their system was fairly different than the NCIDQ’s. So I had to buy all kinds of books and reprogram myself, but when I would read a question on the test, there were moments when I would have to recall my real life experience and compare it to the NCIDQ books. WHOOPS. Times up! You fail! Example: What’s considered a part of the “Schematic Design” phase is often times very subjective.

      And what’s up with the NCIDQ judges who judge Part 3? They probably have to fail half the people b/c this is how they make their money. Designing what normally would take at least a week, in three hours? SO lame. Even more lame was how they threw in a huge ADA factor – my client was in a wheelchair and he wanted a classroom designed for photography students which had to include a darkroom and this was directly adjacent to the office space we had to design. What the heck? Honestly, most of my studying for the test was on what system to use so that I could finish it on time. I hate the NCIDQ council AND their ridiculous exam. It needs to die! I spent over $60,000 to get a BFA in ID, spent over two years working 60 hours a week for $30,000 a year for architects who lorded over me b/c they didn’t take interior designers seriously, had to move back to my parents to pay my school loans, then got laid off b/c of the sucky economy right before taking the exam, only to fail it. Ironic that I failed too considering I gave the Architects I worked for a run for their money. I know I’m skilled. I LOVE interior design with a heartfelt passion. Yet honestly, I have no choice but to give up at this point. There are no jobs and if there are jobs, it’s almost impossible to find them. And if one does find one, the job probably requires the 3d software they DIDN’T learn in college not the one they DID learn. Speaking of which, there is always a new version of the software coming out and I can’t afford it and I’m not into stealing copies. So, I think the decade I’ve invested into the field of interior design has been enough. Sadly my college, although one of the best, operated much like the NCIDQ council and they have been no help to me. Really, really sucks. Goodbye Interior Design. Hello – reception job? Oh it gets better. Now people won’t hire me b/c they think all I can do is interior design and they don’t really understand what the field is about. Even after I explain all the transferable skills there are between project management and office administration. It’s just SO sad. All of it.

      This includes you Harrington College of Design. What a bunch of liars. Money hungry thieves who get 22 year old kids to the point where they are so broke (b/c they have no time by jr./sr. year to even think about a job but are most likely slaving away at their full time internship for free) that they have to take out personal loans with 15+% interest rates! Little do they know that when they graduate, they are screwed. Not exactly easy to pay off and get ahead when it’s hard to even get paid $25,000 a year as an entry level designer.

      Sorry, but someone had to say it.

      Comment by Frustrated — October 26, 2010 @ 12:05 am |Reply

  9. I still haven’t been offered an alternate extra credit assignment from Ms. Muslin, however she is giving me the opportunity to make up a quiz that I had missed last week for up 50% of the points it was worth. I guess there’s always the plumbers union : P


    Comment by Johnny Matia — June 11, 2009 @ 8:52 pm |Reply

  10. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Responds

    As Department Chair of Interior Design at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, I feel it is important to establish the college’s official position on the issue of legislation and our academic practices concerning this topic.

    First, we thank Ms. Morrow for the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions brought forth by this blog post and the dialogue that has ensued.

    The Art Institute of Pittsburgh has no official position regarding Bill HB 1521 and does not wish to influence its students toward a particular “side” of the issue. In support of our mission to endow graduates with critical thinking skills, to present students with a clear understanding of the issue and how it affects the industry is our professional obligation.

    Faculty within the Interior Design department at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh maintain varying opinions on the topic of legislation and the impact of HB 1521 on the profession. All agree on the importance of informing students and teaching them how to research, form an opinion and be involved in the dialogue. We believe that students must be prepared to enter the industry prepared to think about this issue and part of that process is teaching them how to form a meaningful opinion.

    It is our practice to offer a variety of extra-credit options for students. In this case, Ms. Musulin’s students had the opportunity to research and evaluate opposing views to this topic, among other projects that were not made available to you or your readers.

    All extra-credit options are presented with equal consideration with a maximum opportunity for 20 points in a course structured with 390 points. (the post reports, in error, that the assignment represents a 20% impact on a student’s grade).

    We are thankful for the ability to share this information with you and your readers and appreciate being involved in this important dialogue as we prepare the next generation of designers for the issues facing their profession.

    Kelly Spewock, IDEC, Department Chair
    Interior Design, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

    Comment by Kelly Spewock — June 11, 2009 @ 10:35 pm |Reply

  11. Amazing! Students should make up their own minds as to what organizations (voluntary) they would like to be part of. If they don’t agree with their politics, don’t pay to join. I was Allied ASID and quit. I received a letter from the President, I responded with 3 simple questions and there has been no reply to me. Very simple questions as to exactly how this would effect my business. I took the time to read the letter, but no comment has been offered back. I guess if I’m not a card carrying member anymore, I don’t get the time of day. How nice. Are they afraid of the answers? Their statment that anything I am doing today legally will not be illegal tomorrow is totally wrong if a Practice Act were to pass. I would lose business, my fabricator would lose business. And, this should extend to all of those ASID Industry Partners. Why are they supporting reducing their sales force by thousands?
    Why are they paying a membership to help so many lose business? As for a teacher putting this as a class requirement, it’s unbelieveable as well as unethical. The teacher should step down for bringing such a personal agenda to the table solely to manipulate students. Suzanne Hynan

    Comment by Suzanne Hynan — June 12, 2009 @ 4:02 am |Reply

    • I agree that licensing is not necessary to have a good designer. I too belonged to ASID and quit because my dues were paying for the lobbyist to fight against me. NCIDQ is nothing more than a form of making money. I recall how in the step class that the instructor told me how it was designed to make you fail. Anyone can get the books on codes and read it and when the codes change read it again. NCIDQ testing would have to change constantly because government changes laws and codes all the time. As other related industries we can keep up with these changes in other ways. No one needs NCIDQ except to make money as all testing companies do.

      Comment by Suzanne — February 11, 2010 @ 8:28 pm |Reply

  12. […] Patti Morrow: “Students should NOT be “forced” to support licensing!” Coercion at a CIDA College A recent development at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (AIP), a CIDA-accredited […] […]

    Pingback by Top Posts « — June 13, 2009 @ 12:39 am |Reply

  13. […] Licensing for Interior Designers? | Grow Your Design Biz BlogPatti Morrow: “Students should NOT be “forced” to support licensing!&a… […]

    Pingback by Decor Institute Interior Decorating Business Manual. | — June 30, 2009 @ 4:19 pm |Reply

  14. […] the best post we’ve ever received.  It just came in as a reply to an article I posted (…) a couple of years ago, but I can’t take the chance of it getting buried — EVERYONE […]

    Pingback by Student speaks out against NCIDQ, interior design licensing « Interior Design Protection Council — October 26, 2010 @ 10:28 pm |Reply

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