In Florida, it used to be illegal to practice the somewhat dangerous trade of Interior Design without a license. (As it now is in Alabama, Louisiana, and Nevada. Nineteen other states have restrictions on interior design.) This law was in place, obviously, to protect the public from designers who might attempt to ply their trade without a degree, or the proper safety measures, like never combining polka dots with paisley. The people of Florida were thus protected for decades, with not one interior design related fatality in all that time.
Riding the wave of pseudo-populist Tea Baggery, Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott has been cleaning house in the state’s capital. I think it’s fair in general to call him pro-business, and anti-everyone else. While I have not been a fan of much of Scott’s agenda, one sort of funny thing he decided to do was to take on “Big Design”, head on, by way of eliminating the more-or-less absurd licensing requirement. Amusingly, it was not easy.
Licensed designers are fightin’ mad about losing their “protected status” here in Florida. They hired lobbyists, and waged a PR campaign on their own behalf. They gathered up design students from campuses all over the state and sent them to the legislature to plead their case. The students discussed the effect color choices had on the human nervous system, how a degree, apprenticeship and exam protected the good people of Florida from wicked and incompetent “faux” designers, the fact that 88,000 deaths were prevented annually here in Florida due to proper fabric selection, and finally how their own degrees would become completely worthless should “just anybody” be allowed to practice interior design in the state — as, I presume, are the degrees of designers in the other forty-seven states of the Union. Actually, it was this final reason that caught my attention, as implicit within it is the admission that the licensing was the one and only thing keeping a design degree from actually being worthless, as well as an acknowledgment that anyone can do the job. (For the record I don’t really think that’s true, you do need an eye for it and a familiarity with the tools of the trade, but it’s interesting from a rhetorical standpoint.)
Now Alabama, for instance, has recently gone the other way. There they have passed a law making it illegal to rearrange furniture without a license, with penalties up to and including a year in the pokey. State Representative Blaine Galliher says the law is essential “to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the consumer in the state of Alabama.” It is also essential to continued campaign contributions from the American Society of Interior Designers, though he is less garrulous on this point. (ASID… Big Design)
ASID points to the fact that qualified designers are absolutely necessary to handle the tough decision making, such as placing brighter colors and kid-sized furniture in a kids’ library, or putting down a mat on a slippery floor. Things that you or I would never in a million years have considered possible. The ASID maintains that “every decision a designer makes saves lives”, (like which end of the sofa needs a throw pillow) and that 11,000 deaths are caused annually in America by bad design — like confusing tile patterns and a lack of pink. (Sadly, those are their examples, not mine.) To date they haven’t revealed how they arrived at that number, or made available the names of any design-related fatalities. During legislative argument in Florida, (home of the 88,000 annually prevented deaths) the Florida Attorney General’s office stated they could find no evidence that the licensing of interior designers was of any benefit to the public in any way.
Personally I am astounded by the lack of me having killed myself by decorating my own home. I feel I should be terrified by my lack of qualification for picking out sheets, towels, and wall colors, and I wonder how worried about my fish (whose tank I decorated) I should be. Still, and I feel it’s important that I should admit this, I think the ol’ Tea Bagger got this one right… as long as I can manage to put down the new jute rug I got for the living room without blowing up my house.