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Hitting the Ground Running

This year's NeoCon show was the usual mix of craziness and excitement. New International President Jim Williamson discusses some of IIDA's most exciting advancements from the biggest week in the contract industry.

By James Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP

This year's NeoCon show was the usual mix of craziness and excitement. New International President Jim Williamson discusses some of IIDA's most exciting advancements from the biggest week in the contract industry.

I’ve literally just hit the ground running. Since being inducted as the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) international president a few weeks ago at the IIDA Annual Meeting during NeoCon, it’s been an intense, gratifying, optimistic whirlwind. And according to my predecessors, the next 11 ½ months will fly by, so I need to make every minute count.

I’m not alone in this feeling. Visiting with designers, editors, manufacturers and reps during NeoCon, it’s all about the swirl of the evolving economy, the nature of the business and the addition of transparent communication with social media. It’s exciting and engaging and oh, just a little more juggling than I’m used to.

I know part of the reason it feels like my feet aren’t always touching the ground in my new role is because IIDA has built some great momentum and is moving forward, fast. With 18 years under our belt, we’re focused on learning from the past while innovating for the future. During NeoCon, I got to meet with many IIDA members and even more non-members, and I certainly appreciate all the feedback. It’s all part of what we take and process and turn around into new initiatives to benefit the profession.

At NeoCon this year, IIDA launched its first publication, What Clients Want. A year in the making, this amazing little book could just as easily result in additional tomes called What Designers Want, What Association Members Want or What A&D Reps Want, and eventually, maybe we can bring these topics to reality in the series we will publish. But this insight-loaded book began as a single and seemingly simple question, intended to evolve into a lecture series that captured and showcased the dialogue between designers and their c-suite clients. That simple question, it turns out, was really quite elusive. What do clients want? And so the book concept was born.

Ultimately, the publication allows you to eavesdrop on the private conversations between designers and their clients about how 14 specific projects came to exist, and how they have literally defined corporate culture, demonstrated process and shifted business models. Spanning the globe from Copenhagen to Las Vegas, and including tech icons who turned the word “friend” into a verb (friending) and the re-imagination of a 150-year old French department store, the book presents and explores one of the most consistent conundrums of our industry’s existence; so often design is intended to solve one problem, and results in addressing—or creating—other problems.PageBreak

The book exists because IIDA supports the belief that design is what happens on the receiving end. As designers, we learn lessons each day that change our approach, and this book offers months’ worth of lessons, all in less than 100 pages. What Clients Want is not only about real and strategic initiatives, but also the unintentional, unplanned results—the serendipity that occurs between designers and a client. And in the end, I think that’s the result we’re all seeking. It’s not a how-to book. It’s a cerebral dive into the minds and concerns of men and women who are passionate about business and design, and believe they must integrate to be successful.

As Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, IIDA executive vice president and CEO stated during the Annual Meeting, “Design is common sense, exquisitely applied by an expert.” Doesn’t that make you wonder how there can be mediocre design in the world? This same sentence can be applied to professional membership associations.

As we continue to identify exactly what our clients want, as well as what our members want, we’ll be drawing on our experience to date. I often remind myself that the first I of IIDA, International, has become a stronger focus for us and a point of differentiation. The world values American design, for all the reasons concluded from What Clients Want, and there is more cross-cultural design than ever before. We have members making a difference in the global arena, and have been pursued by international trade shows to support their education, roundtable and competition needs with our content expertise. From the Middle East to Milan to Germany to Paris, we’re visible to organizations outside the United States and making a difference.

This year, we created more initiatives to draw attention to the unsung heroes of the industry and the association. Amie Keener, IIDA of the TXOK Chapter was heralded as the first IIDA Member of the Year, and her history of volunteerism sets a high bar for future recipients. Similarly, Milliken helped us present the inaugural recipient of the Educator of the Year Award, SCAD Atlanta’s own Liset Robinson, IIDA, who has made a difference in so many students’ and emerging professionals’ lives.

We also celebrated the new talent entering the industry in the near future with a day-long Student Design Charette at NeoCon, resulting in teams comprised of students from different areas of the country and different schools coming together to create a solution and work as a team to present. Sort of like the real world, right?

No wonder I feel like I’ve hit the ground running—I have! And I’ll keep up the pace as long as we can work together to move the profession forward, because I know so many in the industry are keeping the same pace. But if your summer plans include a beach weekend, take along a copy of What Clients Want. It will reinvigorate you to do more.


IIDA International President Jim Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP is a practicing interior designer and principal at Gensler in its Washington, D.C. office. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at