A thin veneer: interior design's social compact

Zakkiya Khan, Raymund Konigk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Interior design’s struggle to develop a sufficient social compact is considered in the context of the discipline’s nascent professionalisation. After interior design developed out of interior decoration it acquired some characteristics of a true profession (mainly a technical knowledge base, associations with higher education, and a public focus). However, its ontological origin as an arts-based practice remains. This practice is reliant on ‘good taste’, in which an essentially amateur activity is used as an instrument of class distinction. This renders the discipline unable to state its greater social contribution which is required to sustain a compact in which the privileges of professionalisation are counterbalanced by an endeavour to act in the public good. Subsequently, an attempt is made by academia to assert the discipline’s social contribution as a precursor to professionalisation. In a diversion from taste-making and decoration, a tacit compact is expressed by the introduction of topics such as human-centred design, well-being, and environmental sustainability. However, the pedagogic underpinnings which support the realities of commercial practice are diminished and the needs of the client and the end-user may be placed in opposition. We suggest that currently the social compact in interior design’s academic focus, although well-intentioned, is incompatible with the commercial realities of practice. The failure to resolve these contradictions results in graduates who are not able to apply the compact in conventional practice. This is counterproductive to professionalisation efforts since the discipline is unable to deliver its claimed expertise. Our aim is to consider the origins of this conflict and its implications on interior design as an academic and professional discipline. This is in order to provide a mediated position in which the discipline may assert a credible social compact which is constructed on the basis of its ontology. In our self-identification as interior designers (who approach the discipline as students, practitioners, and academics) we undertake a heuristic enquiry. We generate novel insights by relating the self to our context. Our insights and opinions are supported and illustrated with empirical data, literature, and pertinent examples. We argue that the constituent elements of interior design, namely taste-making, decoration and consumption, must be embraced and that the social compact be developed and applied in this realm. This would enable the identification of the compatibility between interior design’s ontological origins, its contribution to society, and its commercial value. This would effect an appropriate pedagogy, while contributing to interior design as a profession
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStanding Items
Subtitle of host publicationCritical pedagogies in South African art, design and architecture
EditorsBrenden Gray, Shashi Cullinan Cook, Tariq Toffa, Amie Soudien
Pages46 - 65
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781928440215
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Critical pedagogy
  • Interior design
  • Professionalisation
  • Social compact


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