What Lies Ahead?
FIDER takes great care to ensure today's accreditation standards help prepare tomorrow's interior designers.
By Katie Sosnowchik
As the world turns, so too must those professions charged with protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people who inhabit it. Certainly, the interior design
profession provides an excellent example—the nature of a design practitioner's work has evolved dramatically during the past decade. Because the practice of interior design—and the corresponding value it provides—does not exist in a vacuum, design practitioners must keep up with what's happening in areas such as politics and government, the economy, social behaviors, medicine and technology and identify those
developments that will have long-lasting impact. It is a task most any professional will tell you is nearly impossible to do.
Imagine then how difficult this assignment must be for FIDER as it keeps careful watch over these critical shifts to ensure that future interior designers are ready for what lies ahead. Not only must it have a firm grasp on current issues, but FIDER must also forecast to the future to ensure that today's accreditation standards accurately prepare graduates for practice tomorrow. As a result, setting FIDER standards is a continuous cycle of monitoring, examining the important triggers for needed change, information gathering, validation, consensus building, adoption and, finally, implementation.
"With FIDER's mission to advance education," explains Suzanne C. Scott, chair of the Standards Council, "we strive to help lead education by raising the bar with standards that reflect future directions and needs of the field for skills, abilities and knowledge, rather than to simply provide quality measures that reflect the current status
FIDER revises standards as needed to stay current with changes in the profession and higher education. Major revisions are conducted on a five- to 10-year cycle and encompass all the standards for interior design education. Limited revisions are those focused on select criteria—usually revolving around one particular content issue—and take place on an ongoing and as-needed basis. An example of a limited revision would be the recent addition of the requirement for programs to culminate in a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in order to seek FIDER accreditation.
A Case In Point
To illustrate the process by which FIDER considers its limited standards revision, a look at its current efforts to explore the issue of sustainability underscores the manner by which it helps ensure quality education. For more than a year now, FIDER has been closely monitoring the increasing implementation of green design practices, and
so decided to gain a deeper understanding by conducting a "Sustainability Day" for members of its Board of Directors, as well as the volunteers who head up FIDER committees for standards development, research and accreditation.
Currently, FIDER standards now require students studying interior design at the college level to understand the concept of sustainable resources. In the FIDER evaluation system,
sustainability is a desirable, not mandatory, characteristic of student learning outcomes. Understanding is defined as a "thorough comprehension of concepts and their interrelationships." Kayem Dunn, FIDER executive director, reported that accredited programs meet that expectation with research projects, lectures, field trips and design projects. The current requirement is not stringent, but the evidence from program evaluations suggests that students do understand sustainable resources.
The question then for participants at the recent sustainability workshop was, "Is this enough?"
After two days of intensive presentations and site visits that drove home the long-term impact sustainable design principles and practices seem destined to have on the profession, the FIDER Board agreed that future designers will need greater knowledge. And so it set the wheels in motion to verify that sustainability is an important element of undergraduate education. The next step is to engage the FIDER research and standards development committees in focused research to determine whether the communities of interest agree with a proposed change.
For example, at its upcoming meeting in September, the Standards Council will determine what, if any, further validation is required to appropriately align expectations regarding
sustainability for undergraduate education. "Validation is typically accomplished through
surveying interior designers, employers, educators and others with an immediate interest in interior design education," notes Scott. "Proposed criteria resulting from the validation effort will be sent to the communities of interest for review and
comment and, if satisfied that there is sufficient support for the change, criteria will be presented to the FIDER Board for adoption.
"The Standards Council takes a very inclusive view of the communities of interest when identifying and setting FIDER standards," Scott continues. "We always consider educators, practitioners and industry representatives, plus various key associations when determining validity of standards and indicators. When assessing wording of recommended standards and indicators, we take specific interest in input from the schools that must respond to the standards and indicators, and the Accreditation Commission and the site visitors that must apply them when assessing
compliance by a school."
The process, Scott emphasizes, is consensus-driven and so involves a series of checks and rechecks to assure that proposed standards and changes to standards are valid and are set at appropriate levels of expected performance.
The Time Frame
Since the Sustainability Day was held this past spring, the Standards Council has been gathering information for review at its September meeting. Further validation that may be required could take another six to eight weeks, and would then be followed by a review and comment for final confirmation of consensus support in the community. This step would take another two months to complete, including council review and forwarding final recommendations to the board for approval.
If it is agreed that sustainable design knowledge needs to be incorporated into FIDER Standards, adoption of new criteria can be accomplished rather quickly during a Board of Directors meeting in person or by conference call, she says.
"The implementation timeline for revised criteria requires adequate notice to programs and varies depending on the degree of change," comments Scott. "We are not far enough along in the process to assess the degree of change, but I would estimate a six- to 12-month period between dissemination of finalized criteria and effective date for implementation." Great care is taken to craft the wording of standards, she says, and to train both the schools and the accreditation site visitors in understanding the standards to assure best reliability in their application.
It is crucial to note, Scott says, that the decision to initiate and propose a change is
inherently intertwined with FIDER's mission of advancing education and assuring quality. "We recognize that quality design education does not merely 'train' design students to perform the tasks and duties required in entry-level positions, but rather prepares individuals to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers who will be able to lead the field and handle new issues and problems as they continue on in their careers," she notes. "As such, education and educational standards cannot merely address conditions as they exist in the field today, but must reflect where the field and the demand for design knowledge, skills and abilities is headed. Thus, instead of thinking in terms of what is currently common or standard industry-wide practice, we must think of what will become common or industry-wide standard in the near future when determining standards."
Standards That Assure Quality Education
Setting FIDER Standards is a continuous cycle of monitoring triggers for needed change, information gathering, validation, consensus building, adoption and implementation.
Recent FIDER Standards revision activity:
* The last major revision of standards was effective in fall 2000.
* An updated version of standards with minor clarifications to strengthen consistent interpretation was issued in 2002.
* An audit of current standards was conducted in 2004. The audit, along with review of the most recent NCIDQ Analysis of the Profession, revealed that current standards remain valid measures of preparation for interior design practice.
* A requirement that programs must culminate in a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in order to seek accreditation was added in 2004 following thorough information gathering and consensus building in the communities of interest.
Upcoming revision activity:
* Another clarification of standards will be issued in 2004, to be effective in 2005.
* Standards Council is currently investigating the issue of sustainable design to determine the appropriate level of expectation for graduates of interior design programs.