Long before I became a designer myself, I believed that ASID membership was an indicator of quality and professionalism, and that one should only hire ASID designers. I grew up on the client side, and also around the professional side of the industry, with a father and uncle who were in the business, and was spoonfed this point of view for decades.
Then I went to design school myself, and joined ASID as a student member, and let’s just say that my opinion of the organization and its value to anyone, consumer or designer alike, took a serious nosedive for a lot of reasons. Continuing on as an allied member at the request of a former employer, I’m afraid to say that I’ve only come to see an even darker side and more reasons why such membership is not of value to either designers or the general public, and have thus let my membership lapse.
In reality, ASID membership is only one way to demonstrate one’s qualifications to practice interior design – and it’s a pretty iffy one at that. Contrary to popular belief, and the hype that ASID aggressively promotes, entry standards for organizational membership are actually quite low, and in absolutely no way say anything about how good the designer actually is.
A very high percentage of current professional ASID members don’t have the educational background themselves that they are now touting as the prerequisite for being considered a “professional” and trying to foist off on everyone else as a minimum standard. Several years ago, when the entry requirements were changed, they grandfathered in everyone who was already a member who wanted to remain a member, pretty much based solely on how long they’d been in practice.
To join ASID at this point, all you have to do is have a couple of years of design education, fill out a form, and send in a large check along with a copy of your transcript to prove you put in some time – and to keep sending them big checks every year. There are no references required, no other validation of skills and qualifications.
To even be a full professional member, all you have to add is passing the NCIDQ, a certification test that has been widely challenged as not even validly testing the material it purports to test for, and which has a very high failure rate, at least in part because it simply does not test for much of relevance to most designers. Most of what the NCIDQ tests for relates to commercial design matters that most residential designers will never need to know – and the reality is that most ASID members are primarily residential designers. Until this year, 2008, there wasn’t even any requirement for supervised work experience to qualify to take this exam, so there have been no controls at all on the nature of the experience one has to have – or the quality of the work produced – in order to be eligible.
As we all know, any other form of certification, licensing, building codes, etc. also represents a lowest common denominator, and the reality is that the very best practitioners in every field have standards that far exceed the minimums set by professional organizations or even state licensing boards. Many of the very best practitioners eschew membership in these organizations for many reasons, including the fact that they fully recognize that membership in them is actually completely meaningless.
Yes, the most that membership in ASID proves is that the member meets a minimum standard – and in many cases, it doesn’t even prove that much! This is hardly any kind of proof of excellence that a consumer ought to rely on!
What’s more, if my experience in two different schools is any indication, the schools don’t even teach most of the material the NCIDQ purports to test for! If you want to learn how to be a good designer, you’ve got to be a real self-starter and do a lot of individual research and investigation, on an ongoing basis, reading voraciously on your own, going to CEU classes whether you’re required to or not for professional designations, asking lots and lots of questions of vendors, contractors, and other professional resources. No degree can possibly prepare a person fully to practice in this profession – it’s sweat equity that builds the qualifications, just being out there in the trenches. Formal education can certainly be a good thing and add a lot, but it also often tends to seriously stifle creativity. Thus, it’s certainly no panacea and should not be a sole prerequisite for selecting a designer – nor should seeking one with professional designations that rely on such backgrounds. No list of initials following a person’s name can possibly indicate their dedication to excellence and ongoing learning, or their taste, creativity, or ability to pull off whatever a client needs to have done – but careful interviewing of the prospective designer will certainly bring all of that out, as will checking their references and looking at their work.
In reality, there are many superb interior designers who you won’t find if you try to look them up through ASID, even if they are actually members, but you will certainly find them published in all the major magazines, creating the best rooms in local showhouses, working for the biggest and wealthiest clients – and through word of mouth when speaking with other clients who know good design and good designers when they see them.
What’s more, even if a designer is a member, you may not find them on the ASID website. While I was a member, they didn’t even bother to list me (or a number of other allied members whom I know) in their “find a designer” sections, so so much for the value of membership to the individual designer as a marketing tool.
Since you won’t even find a lot of these people who do still meet these standards even by looking at their website, whether they are actually members or not, do your own research, and find the best designer for you by other means so that you will have the widest possible selection.
It would be inadvisable to hire any designer you don’t already know something about without fully investigating their portfolio and references, asking what they do to stay up to date, and seeing if you just plain get along with them – the very same investigative process any well-informed consumer would follow when selecting any kind of professional or tradesperson to do work for them.
According to recent estimates, only about 10% of the ASID membership at most holds professional status in the organization – and that represents at most approximately 3% of all interior designers in the country. Design schools are graduating many, many more designers every year, though, and that’s not even counting the thousands who come to the industry through myriad other backgrounds that qualify them just as fully, if not more so, and clearly, most of them are not joining ASID. Even if you do decide to hire an ASID designer, you should still check them out thoroughly, so why limit your options so much?
The truth is that quality will show, with or without membership in organizations like ASID, and a client who decides to limit himself to ASID designers only may well miss out on finding the perfect designer for himself, just by looking at an extremely artificially-narrowed field of choices.