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Time to Redesign

Huge demographic, social and economic shifts are underway that will challenge our current models of doing business, meaning interior designers need to start thinking bigger.

By Lisa Henry

Huge demographic, social and economic shifts are underway that will challenge our current models of doing business, meaning interior designers need to start thinking bigger.

In many ways, the interior design industry in 2012 is likely to look much as it did in 2011. We started the year with some good news: the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) billings indexes both registered positive upticks in the fourth quarter, and even the housing industry started to show some signs of life, with new starts and new mortgage applications up at the beginning of the year.

Elsewhere, however, the picture is not so rosy. Corporate, retail and hospitality construction remain flat, while education, healthcare and institutional sectors have begun to decline as governments look for ways to cut spending. Uncertainty about the economy at home and abroad, along with forecasts for slow growth, suggest that we are in for another year of hunkering down and making the most of the opportunities that come our way.

With no obvious path to recovery, it is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot expect to build ourselves out of our current dilemma—at least not for the foreseeable future. Instead, we must innovate and look for ways to expand our markets and scope of services. Yes, opportunities do exist here and abroad, and the grapevine hums with talk of the many projects “on the boards,” just waiting for the signal that the economy is finally turning around. We want to be ready and raring to go when that day comes, but in the meantime, let us seize this moment to reflect and reconsider what we do. We are living in a time of tremendous change. How are we, as a profession, responding to this change? What new opportunities might this make possible for us? Where might we be playing a larger role in leading change?

These are big questions. They are not easy to answer, but answer them we must if we want our practice and profession to stay relevant and grow. Each year, as part of our ongoing strategic planning, ASID conducts an environmental scan of global and industry trends. This year’s scan included some eye-openers. Huge demographic, social and economic shifts are underway that will challenge our current models of doing business. Consider these shifts:

  • The U.S. population is growing at the slowest rate since the period prior to the baby boom in the 1940s. At the extremes are 76 million boomers who are approaching traditional retirement age and 80 million millennials under the age of 30 who are twice as likely to be unemployed as persons over 30.
  • By mid-decade, less than half of the adult population will be married, compared to nearly three-fourths a generation ago. More and more women are choosing to have children later in life, and to have fewer children. Consequently, the suburbs are getting older and households are getting smaller.
  • Wealth is getting concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The top 1 percent own 42 percent of the nation’s wealth—more than that of the bottom 95 percent combined. The age-based wealth gap of persons 65 and older versus those 35 and younger has ballooned from 10 to 1 in 1984 to 47 to 1 in 2009.

The implications of these trends for interior design are tremendous, from the types of homes people will need to the types of businesses and services they will create, work in or patronize.

In this high-tech era, the constant presence of the virtual world is transforming our concepts of time, space, privacy and community. Think of how mobile technology is changing the work environment, healthcare, hospitality and retail. The day is not far off when we will be designing environments that will interact or respond differently with each individual who enters that space. This will add a whole new dimension to our practice, requiring new knowledge and new skills. Will it give rise to a whole new practice of design-tech?

At a more macro level, we need to enter into the larger conversation concerning the social and economic issues confronting the nation. We all can attest to the power of design to improve people’s lives. Research has shown that design, by creating a positive environment, can encourage desired behaviors, enhance performance and promote a sense of well-being. How, then, can design play a larger role in helping to reduce healthcare costs? What more can we do to enhance learning and provide a better educational experience for our children? Isn’t it time we made universal design a standard in all public buildings?

Everywhere we turn we see opportunities for interior designers. We need to help others see them, too, and to recognize the business, social and health implications of good design. That is where we have set our sights at ASID. To help serve that purpose, ASID recently announced Randy W. Fiser as its new executive vice president and chief executive officer. His experience will help guide the society and connect us to new conversations of value to designers in today’s changing world. We look forward to having the greater design community get to know Randy in the upcoming months.


To download a copy of the ASID Environmental Scanning Report, go to Practice & Business at

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