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Earlier this year, the Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) released a revised definition of “interior design.” The abbreviated version reads:

“Interior design encompasses the analysis, planning, design, documentation, and management of interior non-structural/non-seismic construction and alteration projects in compliance with applicable building design and construction, fire, life-safety, and energy codes, standards, regulations, and guidelines for the purpose of obtaining a building permit, as allowed by law. Qualified by means of education, experience, and examination, interior designers have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect consumers and occupants through the design of code-compliant, accessible, and inclusive interior environments that address well-being, while considering the complex physical, mental, and emotional needs of people.”

To many outside the profession, this new definition may seem surprisingly technical. Replace the words “interior design” with “architecture,” and the paragraph may read, with a few exceptions, like you’d expect. As our profession has continued to evolve over the years, so has the scope of the work it encompasses. Like architects, interior designers must consider permits, codes, and regulations, all while balancing aesthetics with the safety and comfort needs of a space’s inhabitants. 

As it stands, architecture and interior design are simply different sides of the same coin. The CIDQ’s new definition does a good job of reflecting that. It also helps challenge an antiquated — yet pervasive — belief among industry outsiders that interior designers simply come in at the end of a project to “pick out the finishes and furnishings.” Not only is this perception factually incorrect, but it can also be detrimental to interior designers’ ability to perform their jobs successfully.

With architecture, there’s the age-old “master builder” concept. Interior design’s status as a profession is much more recent. Traditionally, it has been seen as enhancing architecture after the fact. It became dictated by the architecture instead of being part of the cohesive process from the beginning. That’s why everything starts to feel “applied.” The architecture is done; now you hand it off to the interior designer. 

That approach fails to address some of the most important issues in creating livable spaces: Who is going to come into this space? What are they going to want? What will they need? 

At Cuningham Group, there is no line in the sand separating the architecture camp and the interiors camp (or our landscape design and other services). It’s all-hands-on-deck from Day 1: How that building is going to be positioned on the site and the shape of it is important — even critical — to the interior design. This comes back to the CIDQ’s updated definition and why it was so important.    
It’s a little bit controversial, which is intriguing and exciting to me. Architects may think it’s stepping on their turf. That view has no merit because they don’t look at it the same way we do: An architect often steps outside the building and looks at it; an interior designer stands within it. 
The updated definition is especially pertinent now, considering how technology has become an enabler. It’s gone from enhancing the process of creating design to a tool that’s tailored to searching for it. Pinterest and search engines channel our focus into looking for the solution—to find images we can just print out and say, ‘Here it [the design concept] is.’ That’s plagiarism, not creativity. It’s regurgitation. 

Bringing in interior design at the inception of the process ensures that the design intention is present from the very beginning. So, you start with: What does a space feel like, not necessarily what will it look like. This will capture your design intent and ensure that it will be an integral component in the overall project, not just window dressing tacked on at the end.  
Michele is the leader of Cuningham Group’s Interior Design team, with locations across the U.S. as well as Beijing and Doha.