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Design Resolutions

As a new year approaches, it’s time to think about ways to better position yourself and your design firm for success.

By Peter Conant

As a new year approaches, it’s time to think about ways to better position yourself and your design firm for success.

It’s that time where many people start making lists of resolutions, goals and more. With the beginning of a new year around the corner, the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) wants to use this opportunity to remind designers everywhere to forge ahead in businesses, to sharpen their management methods and develop leadership techniques that can inspire a new generation. It’s time to take our innovative leadership in design and diligent execution and apply it to all aspects of our businesses.

As a business owner of an architecture and interior design firm for 11 years, I’ve learned many lessons, but there have been some key strategies that have helped shape my business approach. Early in my career, a friend suggested Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It influenced my business demeanor and impacted how I approach leading IIDA now. It’s worth sharing.

work from a position of strength
I’ve learned to receive positive recommendations from each of our clients to gain new business, to create design that is strong and lasting, and to have clear and complete construction documents and correspondence. But you can’t implement these tactics successfully without a welcoming and motivated staff that is energized and focused on what needs to be done.

With the economy in recovery and a constantly changing landscape in the interior design field, it’s critical to maintain a company structure that is geared for success. I’ve outsourced everything except the billable hours and services which our clients are happy to pay for, and have gone entirely paperless, which not only reduces cost, but is more efficient with my firm’s time. It’s also essential to have great photography for our projects and an easy-to-navigate website that is updated and connected with social media channels.

And finally, I believe it’s important to encourage work-life balance, without too much overtime.

share your experience
There are many ways for designers to stay up-to-date on industry trends and IIDA works to bring those diverse channels of opportunity to them. IIDA recently hosted a Principals’ Roundtable at NeoCon East for senior management that focused on design leadership and planning for the future. Moderated by Mark Strauss, Hon. IIDA, and Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, executive vice president and CEO of IIDA, the interactive session centered on ways to elevate the position of design in today’s marketplace.

The IIDA Leaders Breakfast series is another great way for industry members to network and hear from executives and motivational speakers outside of the interiors industry, as a way to enhance thought processes and problem solving. The event not only features a keynote speaker, but also honors a member of the local design community; it has provided ongoing inspiration for attendees at every level of their careers.

In addition to employing comprehensive business strategies in my practice, giving back is also something I’m passionate about. It’s easy to forget the struggling non-profits and organizations working for the greater good. There are many projects that are in need of assistance and it’s our responsibility to help those less fortunate. For example, our firm has worked with a children’s library in providing pro bono design, project management and budgeting services. When the project went ahead, we only charged our client for the building department documents and signing the drawings. It doesn’t matter the size of the company or what they do—there is always time to give back.

As leaders in design, it’s also our responsibility to help guide the next generation to the best possible individual experiences that will shape and build their careers. That is why mentoring is more important now than ever. Students are looking to explore where they will fit into the industry and how they can be effective. We need the most value from our young associates that we can get—and this requires equipping them with knowledge and experience. They need to know that it is their responsibility to go after their career opportunities and to become an expert by carving out a niche in a specialty.

IIDA offers two beneficial programs that connect students with people who were once in their shoes. The IIDA Career Bootcamp gives students the chance to get insider advice on the job hunt from a panel of recent grads, while Student Mentoring Week (Feb. 20-24, 2012) pairs students and designers together. Both of these programs give students the chance to learn directly from designers, who can provide valuable insights into the industry and profession.

room for improvement
One of my goals for the upcoming year is to expand the design study abroad programs for our students. By establishing campus centers internationally and forming connections with U.S. campus centers, we can offer students the chance to broaden their horizons and expectations. Traveling has enabled me to make connections with global partners I would not have otherwise met while providing a fresh perspective on foreign design—that’s an experience I don’t want our students to miss out on.

Interior design is a passionate industry filled with amazing opportunities to develop and manage our best business practices. It’s our job to not only implement these practices, but show the next generation how they can too. Let’s all make it a resolution to make a difference in our own careers and with our industry’s emerging professionals.


IIDA President Peter Conant, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP is the founder of Conant Architects in New York. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at iidahq@org.