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Following in the Footsteps of Greatness

Steve Jobs and Ray Anderson empowered us to demand more from design, and opened a door for a new generation of innovators in the process.

By Peter Conant

Steve Jobs and Ray Anderson empowered us to demand more from design, and opened a door for a new generation of innovators in the process.

Steve Jobs + Ray Anderson

As designers, we are constantly challenged to create innovative solutions by our clients, colleagues and the status quo. Invigorating at times, wearisome at others, the challenges we succeed at help propel forward an understanding of our industry and the extraordinary difference we can make in the lives of the public.

Throughout our history, there have been incredible talents that paved the way for inspiring ideas, placing a broader focus on design and the different ways of approaching a challenge. From the early innovation of Charles and Ray Eames to the skilled workmanship of Jean-Michel Frank to the legendary buildings of Frank Gehry, our industry celebrates a number of influential talents who have elevated and changed the process of design time and time again. The International Interior Design Association (IIDA) is known for providing a platform to foster creativity and growth, so with the beginning of the new year, we want to take a moment to inspire design professionals by remembering two legends who empowered all of us to reach higher: Steve Jobs and Ray Anderson.

Steve Jobs was a visionary of our time and left a design legacy that strongly illustrated his belief that good design matters, economically, socially and emotionally. He changed how design and its influence on the products of our lives is perceived, interpreted and appreciated.

His use of design drove a new paradigm of work and life; in particular, technology and its resulting information-rich environment have revolutionized the work of interior design. We are closing geographical distances with social media, effortlessly navigating the brave new world of materials and products that we design with, and deploying software tools that enable us to manage projects at a speed and complexity unfathomable just a few years ago.

As CEO, Jobs ran Apple as a company that considered design first and foremost. He cared deeply about design, integrity, relevance and the consumer experience when it came to Apple’s products. In these wearisome times of design challenges, it’s helpful to recall Job’s own words about design and decoration:

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

Though we mourn the loss of Steve Jobs, we were buoyed by his ability to slice through conventional thinking and upgrade the status quo.

We also mourn Ray Anderson, who was similar in impact to our industry and who worked tirelessly to redirect our expectations of design. As the founder and chairman of Interface Inc., Anderson made green more than a color, and used his charismatic charm to awaken us to the environmental impact of the decisions made by ourselves and our clients. Back in 1994, he shifted our thinking from design for design’s sake to understanding the impact that business and industry are having on the destruction of our natural environment.

He set a standard of excellence, and showed countless companies that they could become responsible for their environmental footprint and still be profitable in business endeavors. His sustainable strategy included adopting the best business practices, advancing and sharing them, developing sustainable technologies and investing in them, and challenging suppliers to follow his lead.

Anderson was described as having an electrifying personality and believed that businesses with the right leadership and ethics had the power to move society in a sustainable direction—something he achieved in his lifetime. It is part of the reason that IIDA partners with Interface to present the annual Student Sustainable Design Competition, as well as incorporating white papers and content in the IIDA Knowledge Center. And it’s available to anyone.

For the young and not-so-young design professionals out there, it’s an exciting time; the world’s needs have never been greater. The economy, the environment and the future of our communities depend on thoughtful, engaged and empowered focus. That’s what designers do every day. Whether recognized publicly, as Jobs or Anderson were, or recognized by a smaller community, making a difference has never been more important or more powerful. Here’s to the next generation of legends. The possibilities are limitless, the opportunities ever-growing and the chance to forge a lasting impact is great. Let us know what you’re doing at


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.