IIDA Illinois Chapter: How Can Designers Make a Lasting Impression on Legislators?

Sitting down with a legislator to talk interior design for 10 minutes can be effective, but showing them firsthand what we do often leaves a lasting impression. Site visits—such as bringing a state representative to a design firm, to tour a recent interiors project, or as a guest at an industry event—allow designers to demonstrate the impact of their work in real-life situations. That’s exactly what the IIDA Illinois Chapter did when members engaged a lobbyist to bring state representatives to both NeoCon, the largest commercial interiors show in North America, and the Red Awards, the Illinois Chapter’s annual event recognizing outstanding local design projects. Here, Tom Spanier, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, talks about the value of site visits, how the Illinois Chapter planned these opportunities, and what was learned from the experience.

What was the goal of bringing legislators to NeoCon and the Red Awards?

We wanted to show the legislators that there is more to the interior design field than what is portrayed on television. Interior designers play a crucial role in designing commercial spaces and high profile public spaces. A project relies on team leaders to coordinate the entire design team, including architects, engineers, furniture dealers, and other consultants to successfully complete any given project.

Can you give us a rundown of what you did at the Red Awards and NeoCon to engage with the legislators?

At the Red Awards, the legislators sat in the front row of the auditorium and were acknowledged individually. They like being recognized, so we capitalized on that. Our lobbyist and advocacy committee attended and made sure the legislators were engaged and introduced to various people within the design community. We found the attendees would approach the legislators and have candid conversations about our industry. By the end of the event, there was a line of people looking for a chance to chat with them.

At NeoCon, our lobbyist managed the legislators and ensured they stayed engaged. For this event, it was very busy, so the spectacle and organized chaos kept the legislators interested and intrigued. We set up two tours with furniture showrooms prior to the event. The tour guides for each showroom were high-level executives who offered insights on the Interior Design industry and explained how interior designers work with manufacturers on a daily basis.

What do you think had the biggest impact on the government officials that you brought to NeoCon?

NeoCon is the premiere interior design showcase in the country; it was important to show the legislators the enormity of interior design from a global perspective as well as the economic impact it has on Chicago and the state of Illinois. The Merchandise Mart is also an impressive venue—people from all over the world participate in the show.

What did you learn from these two events?

Legislators truly had fun attending these events! They got a better sense of what we do as a profession and the types of projects we work on. We found it was much easier to talk to the legislators during the events versus going into their offices. We also learned that the legislators may have a limited amount of time to dedicate to any given event, so we needed to be as thoughtful and impactful as possible with what we presented to them. At Neocon, two hours was the maximum amount of time they committed to us as they had other engagements.


Learn how to be an advocate at advocacy.iida.org.

Melissa Destree Takes Advocacy Efforts to the Next Level

Earlier this year, IIDA recognized Melissa Destree, IIDA, AIA, principal architect, interior designer, Destree Architecture and Design, as the 2017 Advocate of the Year for her dedication and commitment to interior design advocacy. Melissa serves as vice president of advocacy of the IIDA Wisconsin Chapter. After filling a multiyear-long vacancy, Melissa began the process of restructuring and reforming the chapter’s advocacy committee. Here she talks about how the perception of interior design has changed, why advocacy continues to evolve, and the importance of working with lobbyists.

IIDA: Why is advocacy important to you personally?

Melissa: During the 2008 recession, I was dismayed that so many interior designers were let go and architects were going to just ‘do their job.’  As an architect and interior designer, I had a unique perspective and appreciation for both specialties. A few years later, I heard confessions from architects that interior design is complex, fast paced, and demands organizational skills. They had no idea. Having gone through that experience, many architects now appreciate what the commercial interior designer brings to the team. This is what inspired me to get more involved. We all have the power to make change and advocacy is the tool to make our profession stronger.

Why should chapters invest time and money into advocacy?

Advocacy is the conduit to affect change and reinforce legislation to support our profession. We need the enthusiasm of our fellow interior designers to push us forward. Unfortunately, we cannot expect to do this effectively on our own. We need funds to engage lobbyists to assist with advocacy. This past year, our Wisconsin lobbyists have opened so many doors and provided so many opportunities for interior designers in Wisconsin to tell our stories. They helped us quench a threat from the anti-licensure policy wonks and are helping us build momentum to pursue opportunities for the practice of interior design.

Why do you think it’s important to build relationships with your local and state government officials?

This year, at our Capitol Day event, when we met with legislators at the State Capitol, they were overwhelmingly pleased. We introduced ourselves, discussed recent projects, and reinforced that we have a voluntary registration in Wisconsin. We shared how our profession impacts the state economy. We were not there demanding something from our legislators. We were there to build relationships and educate. From that relationship building, we have democrat and republican supporters of the interior design profession. This momentum has encouraged us to propose revised legislation with a seal provision for commercial interior designers.

How do you think being an advocate has changed over the last five or ten years?

Ten years ago, our chapter did not have a VP of Advocacy. I was recruited after my chapter presidency to fill this position, develop an advocacy strategy, and work with our interior design collation in Wisconsin. But even five years ago, it was not on our chapter’s radar to hire a lobbyist. In 2015, IIDA and ASID members determined that the best advocacy approach for our state was to dissolve our coalition and partner together with the support of IIDA HQ and National ASID advocacy experts. Then in 2016, conservative and libertarian policy groups, with their anti-licensure stance, were spreading false information about the Interior Design profession throughout Wisconsin. We needed to get on the field and defend our profession. We hired a lobbyist in January 2017. We were prepared!

What have you learned as an advocate and VP of Advocacy that other advocates should know?

The toughest part of advocacy is to take the first step to get involved. Once you meet your first legislator or do your first volunteer activity, you you see the benefit to both yourself and the profession.


Get involved with interior design advocacy at advocacy.iida.org.

IIDA Members Testify in Ohio to Defeat Proposed Sales Tax on Interior Design Services

A proposed sales tax in Ohio, introduced in the state budget bill in January 2017, sought to tax interior design and decoration services. The tax provision would have put Ohio’s interior designers at a disadvantage in relation to interior designers in neighboring states, as well as other design professionals whose services are not taxed. IIDA, together with the American Society for Interior Designers (ASID), mobilized a grassroots advocacy campaign and successfully defeated the proposed tax.

Here, Tamra Fuscaldo, IIDA, NCIDQ, an interior designer for healthcare, higher education, and corporate facilities, and the past president of the IIDA Ohio Kentucky Chapter, shares her experience testifying before the Ohio Legislature about the negative effects the proposed sales tax would have had on the Interior Design industry in Ohio.

IIDA: Why was it important for you to get involved and testify in front of the Ohio Legislature?

Tamra Fuscaldo: I have been in the Interior Design industry for over 25 years. I feel that it is my responsibility to stand up for our profession. We are continually misunderstood and mislabeled, and I will do whatever I can to change that narrative.

IIDA: What key points were used in Ohio that made a big impact?

TF: For the legislation involving taxing of luxury services in Ohio, the bill was written with too broad of a definition. The intent was to tax the consumers, those who might have discretionary funds, when hiring a residential interior designer or decorator, referred to as business to consumer (B2C). I wanted to make it clear that the definition included commercial interior designers, those who worked in the business to business (B2B) sector. Commercial interior designers typically have at least a four-year degree, pass the NCIDQ, and have years of specialized experience in interiors. Moreover, with this tax, project costs would rise, impacting budgets and causing small firms to lower their fees in order to compete. Essentially, this was a tax on professional services not luxury services.

IIDA: What were the keys to success in Ohio?

TF: The profession of interior design has a long way to go in terms of advocacy. The public, including our legislative representatives, do not have a clear understanding of the complexity of our industry. During our hearings, we represented the Interior Design industry well, and I hope we were able to change the perspectives of legislators who were present. Ultimately, we have to show value in our profession in a way that puts us on par with architects and engineers. The key to success in Ohio was being able to define interior design to legislators as a professional and technical industry that benefits the public.


Want to learn more about advocating for the Interior Design profession? Join us at the next IIDA Advocacy Symposium.

Iowa Interior Designers Defeat Deregulation: Here’s What Happened

Iowa’s Interior Design Title Act passed the Iowa legislature in 2005, after a five-year effort to create the title “registered interior designer” for individuals with the appropriate education, experience, and examination. Beginning in 2013, the importance of professional regulation in Iowa, including “registered interior designer,” was questioned in multiple editorials in the Des Moines Register. One editorial emphasized the importance of licensing boards relative to the profession of public health and safety as being unrelated to interiors—we strongly disagree.

Another editorial by the newspaper’s editorial staff in January 2017 called for comprehensive job licensing review. It specifically says the state “should not house an examining board for interior designers or keep tabs on manicurists.” Due to the specific nature of the article, Caitlin Sheeder, IIDA, IIDA Great Plains Chapter president, and Jennifer Voorhees, Great Plains Chapter vice president of advocacy, responded with a letter to the editor to explain why interior design registration should matter to Iowans. Meanwhile, a bill was introduced that would have limited how the state could regulate professions. The Great Plains Chapter, led by Voorhees, hired the lobbyist firm Carney & Appleby PLC to represent the interior designers in Iowa. The lobbyists worked behind the scenes to ensure that legislators knew the importance of interior design registration for Iowans.

The same day that the rebuttal editorial was published, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann introduced a House Study Bill that would have eliminated interior design registration as well as registration for barbers, hearing aid specialists, and massage therapists. In addition, it would’ve altered the registration and regulation of several other professions. The representative received over 3,600 emails, including from interior designers, and could not escape people wanting to talk to him about the bill. On February 28, Rep. Kaufmann, subcommittee chair of the subcommittee where the bill was being heard, ripped up the cover page for the bill to show his updated opinion on professional regulation reform.

The Great Plains Chapter has had the same epiphany many of us have had this year: We cannot let advocacy be a secondary concern. As such, the chapter participated in AIA Iowa’s Design Professionals Day on the Hill to ensure legislators were educated about the Interior Design profession and its economic impact on the state of Iowa. Furthermore, they’re working to include advocacy in chapter meetings and events. Diligence and education are necessary to ensure that interior design stays a recognized profession.


Learn more about interior design advocacy and how to be an advocate at advocacy.iida.org.

How To Be a Better Mentee

Every year, IIDA pairs two students with an interior designer for a one-day crash course on a day in the life of a designer. Student Mentoring Week, one of IIDA’s most dynamic program offerings, is the catalyst for many IIDA student members who wish to begin a mentoring relationship with a professional interior designer. By the time this column is published, nearly 500 IIDA student members will have made meaningful connections with the best in the interior design industry. The goal is for the students and their mentors to continue buildings connections like these after the
day is over.

There is no doubt that a strong mentoring relationship can play a huge role in a student’s academic and professional success. Numerous studies support the positive effects of mentoring relationships. Many companies like Boeing and Deloitte implement professional mentoring programs to develop and retain younger employees. But if you think mentoring is simply weekly Starbucks dates with a senior-level professional or a quick way to score professional success—including a job—think again.

The reality is that mentoring relationships require a serious investment of time, patience, and effort for both the mentor and mentee. While a mentor’s role is to guide, a mentee’s role holds just as much weight, if not more. Ultimately, you—the mentee—have primary say in your mentoring relationship. You initiate the mentoring relationship, you are responsible for nurturing it, and you can end it. Here are some tips to help you in your quest to find a mentor and be the mentee that mentors want.

Define the Relationship
Mentorship is a word that conjures many notions and expectations.

Some students come into a mentoring relationship expecting their mentor to offer them a job or provide them lifelong coaching without first determining if the partnership is a good one. Have a strong definition of what mentorship means to you and use that when seeking teachers, designers, peers, and work colleagues you admire and pursue. If you’re having trouble identifying what you want from your relationship, ask yourself:

  • Do I want to emulate my mentor’s career or am I looking for someone who will act like a trusted friend?
  • Do I want someone who will help me search for educational and life opportunities in addition to career opportunities?
  • How long do I want my mentor in my life? Do I want someone who knows me enough to write a sufficient letter of reference or do I want someone who will be a guiding figure throughout my entire career?

Be proactive in your search for a mentor, considering goals for the relationship and how long it will last. Understand why you need mentorship and how it can help you succeed professionally.

Gain Agreement
Once you have your mentorship goals in mind, communicate them clearly to your potential mentor and ask what expectations the mentor has. Discuss and decide upon the relationship you want to build together in advance. The most successful mentoring relationships are those founded on clear goals and ground rules. Be upfront—your mentor will thank you.

Seek Multiple Mentors
Traditionally, mentoring relationships are characterized by a two-person model with a senior person discussing a student’s goals, needs, weaknesses, and accomplishments. In a perfect world, one person is enough to help you tackle all your concerns. But can you really have just one mentor? You will most likely need multiple mentors of various ages, skills, and traits to guide you with each of your needs.

Research on mentoring relationships and programs shows that mentoring is most effective when the mentee has a diverse constellation of mentors, from a traditional primary mentor to peer and short-term ones as well. Do you aspire to be an interior designer with your own firm? Consider reaching out to both an interior designer and a business owner. Each person brings different perspectives and wisdom. Take your search further—explore outside your boundaries and tap into the networks of your friends and colleagues.

Do Your Homework and Invest
Prepare for each meeting with your mentor as if it’s a task for your job. Dress professionally. Show up on time with a notebook and pen, ready to listen and take notes. Research your mentor’s interests, ask questions, and talk about the why behind the answers. Share your portfolio.

Mentoring is a two-way street. Go beyond “checking in” and give your mentor opportunities to offer insight and advice. As you get to know your mentor, think of ways you can add value to the relationship. Bring up a recent news story or study that you think would be of interest or provide your mentor a new networking connection.

Be Open
Your mentor will challenge you. Giving you honest feedback is his or her job. Come into the relationship appreciating that there is a chance you will reexamine your goals and consider new ideas. While setting clear goals and objectives at the beginning of the relationship is crucial, also realize that these goals and objectives may change as the relationship progresses.

Be Honest
Do you get along with your mentor? If the fit doesn’t feel right, bow out. Mentoring should be established as no-fault relationship where either you or your mentor can end it for good reason at any time without risk of harm to your respective careers.

When done right, mentoring is a powerful tool that can change careers and lives. So be fearless in what you want and humble when someone agrees to be your mentor. You’ll be surprised by how much people want to help you if you just ask for it.


This post was originally published in Interiors & Sources.

IIDA New England: Committed to Interior Design Advocacy Through Action

Over the last 18 months, the IIDA New England Chapter – with help from IIDA HQ – has hired a lobbying firm, actively engaged with ASID legislative leaders, reached out to the Massachusetts design community, met with lawmakers and officials, and introduced an interior design registration bill into the Massachusetts State Legislature. Undertaking an initiative of this size and scope is no small task and requires a team effort as well as strong leadership. Aimee M. Schefano, Vice President of Advocacy for the New England Chapter, has led the charge, working diligently to convey the importance of this initiative both to the Chapter board and local design leaders.

The lesson learned by IIDA New England? IIDA Chapters have power when it comes to advocacy. Board members are leaders in the design community, and as such, have an amplified voice. When those voices are conveying the same message, real change can happen. If an issue is important to the profession, it is too important to sit on the sidelines.

In addition to the amplified voice of board members, IIDA Chapters can reallocate funding to support advocacy initiatives. While there are many priorities in a Chapter’s budget— from professional development initiatives to events—boards can help rearrange how funding is used, create new revenue streams, or prioritize advocacy and legislation above other initiatives. IIDA New England demonstrated this by using their chapter funds to engage with one of the preeminent lobbying firms in New England.

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It has also proven important for the Chapter to work together with other associations in order to build a strong network of professionals working to advance a common goal. Schefano and Past-President Corinne Barthelemy have worked with ASID New England to create the Massachusetts Advocacy Council of ASID and IIDA, operating under the two chapters and facilitating the shared mission to advance the profession of interior design.

“Educating our profession is crucial to progress. Part of that education requires IIDA members to work collaboratively with other industry leaders. We are never stronger than when we all stand together against adversity,” said Schefano. “In Massachusetts, the design community is represented by a multitude of associations. What has helped us evolve our advocacy strategy is acknowledging that ultimately we are all interior designers, and that is what is most important. “

Through unified voices, effective funding, and organizational collaborations, IIDA New England has set a foundation that will surely lead to advocacy successes in Massachusetts.


For more on interior design advocacy, visit advocacy.iida.org