It rolls off our tongues as easily as "whole nine yards," "knock on wood" or "rise and shine." "Health, safety and welfare" is the oft-repeated phrase of design professionals seeking regulation of their profession. (It is also known, as the current International Building Code identifies the phrase, as "health, life safety and welfare.") Before any profession can be regulated, the case must be made to legislators that the work individuals perform affects the public's health, life safety and welfare. Interior designers (and other design professionals, such as architects and landscape architects) find it fairly easy to prove the impact of design on the public's health and life safety. Knowledge of fire codes, building and life-safety codes, proper specification of materials regarding toxicity, slip resistance, etc. are required skills to protect the public. However, welfare is a more nebulous term—harder to prove and usually glossed over as part of health and life safety. Yet welfare possibly deserves more attention than its two bedmates.
Linda Smith, former NCIDQ president (1997 to 1999) and co-owner of education-works, inc., has recently developed a CEU course for design professionals that focuses on welfare. She shared some of her research, including the legal definition of welfare, which encompasses well-being, prosperity and public welfare: a society's well-being in matters of health, safety, order, economics and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court in Berman V. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954) stated that:
"The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive . . . The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy,
spacious as well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled."
Interior designers, working hard to prove the "seriousness" of their profession, may shy away from terms like spiritual, aesthetic, beautiful, clean and well-balanced. After all, aren't we dispelling myths that interior design is the stuff of HGTV, "Designing Women," and Martha Stewart? Not so fast. Posted to InformeDesign, the clearinghouse for design-related research, are hundreds of titles having to do with welfare. (For those professionals who have not yet discovered www.Informe Design.com, I urge you to log on to the free site immediately. InformeDesign lists thousands of research summaries, or abstracts, from juried journals of medicine and psychology that relate to design.)
A quick search on the Web site uncovered 412 abstracts having to do with Social Needs & Factors, and 677 abstracts focusing on Personal/Individual Needs & Factors. The topic "Quality of Life and Well-being" includes 264 research summaries. Topics include "Children's Psychological Health Is Related to Housing," "Institutionalized Older Adults Are Affected by Lighting," "Music and Patient Comfort" and "Benefits of Restorative Environments."
So what do we mean by welfare in the context of design? According to Smith, design
professionals' responsibility regarding welfare is "to improve society by:
* looking at the greater whole including the use of sustainable resources and concern for the environment;
* educating the professional to apply current best practices in the areas of design, design theory, products, business and ethics;
* and educating the public to demand current best practices."
State and provincial regulatory boards, responsible for ensuring their registrants protect the health, life safety and welfare of the public, have tried to define or incorporate welfare in their guidelines. The Vermont Board of Architects states that welfare means "aspects of design that create pleasing and satisfactory building conditions, and emotional responses, and experience among users." NCIDQ's practice analysis recognized the relevance and importance of welfare issues and as a result the examination includes pertinent welfare questions in all design areas.
Smith's research indicates, and NCIDQ's practice analysis supports, that there are at least 18 knowledge areas needed to provide for welfare. These include: accessibility, acoustics, building design, business practices, codes, laws/regulations, construction administration, construction contract law, construction documents and services, construction functions (e.g., energy and illumination efficiency), environmental and sustainability issues, ethics, building fire loads, fire safety systems, insurance issues to
protect property and injured parties, life safety codes, materials and systems, and
materials and methods. One could argue that these 18 areas are covered by health and safety, rather than welfare. Yet, it is apparent that "accessibility" affects an individual's safety (ability to easily maneuver through a space, such as an art museum) and also affects an individual's welfare (safely moving through the museum without being distracted by obstacles that create a negative user experience.) This thought underscores why "welfare" is often rolled together with "health and life safety" like a tube of Aquafresh toothpaste.
When we consider welfare there are common themes, as well as knowledge areas, that surface, according to Smith. These themes include well-being, aesthetically pleasing, happiness, good fortune, physical and mental health, prosperity, economics, environmentally friendly, harmony and ethics. Until a few years ago I did not embrace nor understand the concept of Feng Shui, the art of Eastern placement, as an influence on harmony and well-being. However, after studying the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and researching Feng Shui, I believe strongly that "good fortune, prosperity and harmony" are clearly influenced by good interior design. Experiencing joy in our own home or pleasure in our work space transcends the amount of money spent on these environments or the ergonomic and functional features of the furniture. Space has the power
to affect our emotions and our psyche and cause us to want to return to pleasing spaces, to share them with others, or to rest, rejuvenate or even heal. Well-designed spaces created by qualified interior design professionals protect the health and life safety of the public and also enhance the human condition, or welfare, of individuals.
Welfare may be hard to grasp, hard to prove and, most importantly, hard to test—but clearly, considering the public's health, life safety and welfare will continue to be the job of design professionals until the cows come home. And that is a thought worth its weight in gold.
Janice Young is a licensed interior design in Florida and Georgia, and a former member of the regulatory Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design and its Probable Cause Panel. She is president-elect of NCIDQ, and a 30-year interior design practitioner, including owning her own design studio in Jacksonville, FL, for the past 20 years, practicing in corporate, hospitality, transportation, institutional and residential design. For information about NCIDQ, visit www.ncidq.org.