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See Something, Say Something

A new report says the interior design profession must become better at quantifying and communicating the improved outcomes of specific design solutions.

By Lisa Henry

A new report says the interior design profession must become better at quantifying and communicating the improved outcomes of specific design solutions.

Does good interior design help people lead healthier, happier lives? Can the right design solutions help give businesses a competitive edge? Is there a relationship between interior design and people’s health, safety and welfare? If you have observed and experienced outcomes driven by interior design you know the answer to these questions is yes!

As a profession we can do a better job of quantifying and communicating the human welfare outcomes of specific design solutions. That is one call to action I gleaned from reading the work of University of Minnesota College of Design Professors Denise A. Guerin, PhD, FASID and Caren S. Martin, PhD, FASID in their comprehensive update of the “The Interior Design Profession’s Body of Knowledge and its Relationship to People’s Health, Safety and Welfare.” This work is the product of the alignment and support of six of the major interior design organizations of North America (ASID, CIDA, IDC, IDEC, IIDA and NCIDQ). Together, these entities represent the U.S. and Canadian profession’s full scope of interests, from education, accreditation and licensing to practice communities, advocacy and outreach.

Guerin and Martin assert that an overarching role and aspiration of interior design is improving human welfare, and that the profession would benefit by increasing its focus on the aspect of welfare, specifically in terms of future research, regulation and practice. The profession needs this focus, and we also need to accompany the focus on welfare with measurement and advocacy of the outcomes which we document.

At ASID, we increasingly articulate the value of design in terms of human welfare. “Welfare” may be expressed in different ways: improved business results, better human and environmental health, enhanced learning outcomes or delight. We recognize that it is incumbent upon interior designers and the profession’s advocates to step into the realm of the “metrics of welfare,” and use the language of measurable outcomes in our communication about interior design and value in all types of spaces. It is a goal at ASID to link design outcomes and value in all of our research and communications, in order to help members, potential clients, legislators, allied professionals and the public better understand the potential of interior design to impact human welfare.

Guerin and Martin also state that we have a fundamental responsibility as design professionals to contribute to our own profession’s body of knowledge. It is a skill to be able to quantitatively and/or qualitatively demonstrate how powerful interior design can be as a strategic business tool for all types of companies. We frequently use anecdotes. In the corporate design world where I work, we often hear that productivity improvements due to interior design can’t be documented, but current research showing productivity improvements is abundant! Surveys, focus groups, video ethnography and predictive modeling studies have shown that specific design strategies can and do improve business results in a variety of areas, including better health and reduced absenteeism; improved recruitment and retention; and better communication and collaboration.

The economic challenges facing interior designers are enormous. For the past two years, design firms have suffered through layoffs and cutbacks, and continue to do so; many firms are simply not in business anymore. It is more important than ever to communicate the benefit of more design to generate better outcomes for clients, rather than less design driven strictly by cost considerations. Framing design solutions in terms of outcomes can help to define the metrics of our work with consumers and decision makers. How else can our profession disrupt the conventional thinking about space unless we actively campaign to elevate the conversation to meaningful client outcomes and performance?

The general public has a perception about interior design which is highly influenced by the entertainment business. Television design shows perpetuate the misunderstanding of the value of the work as purely aesthetic. An evidenced-based approach, which healthcare design professionals have mastered, needs to be practiced in other market sectors. Part of the success in evolving healthcare design into a measurement-based practice may lie in the collaboration with multiple user groups as a way of identifying meaningful and quantifiable outcomes. This approach requires new skillsets and content in design education, but it may also yield business opportunities for designers at a time when new markets and areas of specialty are most welcome. It is a key to demonstrating the value we know we bring to all types of interior spaces.

ASID is committed to design research as a strategic initiative in 2012. We have further committed to communicating the interior designer’s critical contribution to quality of life in specific and measurable terms. We believe in collaborating with additional partners to leverage content and communication, and have targeted organizations to connect to this effort. We also encourage you to get familiar with the work of Drs. Guerin and Martin. You can download a copy of the full report (or an executive summary) at Read it and stay engaged with our field’s evolving body of knowledge. As a unified profession, we can shape a vocabulary, promote the human welfare benefits of interior design and raise expectations of the performance of interior spaces. It can deliver big results!


ASID President Lisa Henry, FASID, LEED AP is the Knoll Denver region architecture and design director. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the web at