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Playing Nice

A few A/V and tech professionals give us the low-down on what you should expect from them on your next project.

By AnnMarie Martin

A few A/V and tech professionals give us the low-down on what you should expect from them on your next project.

Today, they’re often the most vital elements of a great interior. Unfortunately, they can also be the most difficult to implement.

We’re talking about audio/visual elements (A/V) and other tech-related goodies, all of which grow more sophisticated and complicated by the day. They’re also expected—if not demanded—by most clients, which makes it essential to find the right partners to help integrate those A/V and tech touches into your best laid plans.

We spoke with a few industry-leading consultants to get some insider tips on how to successfully work with tech professionals to create beautifully advanced and user-friendly interior designs. Turns out once we got them talking, we couldn’t get them to stop—a true sign of passion. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say.

involve us early
More often than not, the A/V professional is brought onboard too late. “The general rule is when they start thinking about the MEP people, they need to start thinking about the audio and video people, too,” says Guy Savage, a senior field engineer with The Integration Factory—a systems integration firm with more than 150 years of experience in all aspects of low-voltage systems design and installation with a specialization in audio/visual, access control and surveillance systems.

“Everything’s done and then in walks the A/V or IT guys, and then it’s a problem because everything has to be reinvented. We want to be working with them in the beginning,” not after the walls have been drawn and treatments picked out, Savage explains.

Marc Hochlerin, partner with Cerami & Associates, seconds that. “How does ‘before sooner’ sound? Before there is a project!” he jokes. “We are finding that technology is what drives the project. Projects are built around technology, so now more than ever it’s important to enlist an A/V or IT technology consultant as soon as possible.” The best projects incorporate a flexible infrastructure, he says, and are designed to grow with the company rather than just suit them for the first year.

Cerami provides a range of technical services, ranging from acoustics and vibration consultancy to multimedia and security design. Founder Vito Cerami is considered one of the founding fathers of the acoustic engineering field.

ask for certifications
“I’d want to see that the company has capabilities and certifications,” Hochlerin says when putting himself in the shoes of the interior designer. Look for consultants or companies who are Certified Technology Specialists (CTS), which is a certification issued by the international trade association InfoComm. “It’s an ISO 9001 certification, so it’s the real deal,” he adds.

Also look for IT professionals who have a Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) certification, which comes from an organization called BICSI®.

Jennifer Davis, vice president of marketing for Planar Systems—a manufacturer with 30 years of experience in the flat panel display business—says interior designers should look for consultants who’ve attended factory training on certain products, which Planar offers. “You should be looking for that level of trustworthiness in that partner for sure.”

Planar Systems’ customers are typically the A/V and tech professionals themselves. They offer a full range of display and digital solutions that range from desktop monitors to large-scale video wall deployments, as well as enhancements that can allow for interactivity.PageBreak

ask for benchmark examples
Find professionals that don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk and can show you examples of what they’ve made possible on previous projects. “I’d also expect my consultant to tell me why not just from an aesthetic point of view something makes sense, but why it makes sense to my business. I’d want my consultant to express an interest in understanding what the business drivers are,” says Hochlerin.

When Cerami & Associates began working with IMG Worldwide, the global sports, fashion and media company, it was of a huge advantage for them to introduce their future client to a past client, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “IMG went [to its NYC headquarters] and learned how the BBC was doing their video conferencing, how they were using iPads. Our work was really able to speak for itself and that client-to-client explanation showed we really did our job,” Hochlerin says. It’s important to be able to talk to other clients about the business benefits of a consultant or A/V firm’s work.

stay current
It’s important to stay abreast of what your product and placement options are. For example, “Interior designers should really understand what can be possible with displays, which is so much more than what was even possible a few years ago,” says Davis. Planar and some of the A/V integrators they work with have entire programs in place to keep designers educated, she says. “We offer AIA-accredited courses and have partners that do ‘lunch-and-learn-type’ trainings.”

“Designers are becoming more savvy in using video to reinforce the design that they’re going for,” she adds. Planar’s clients at the Hotel DeLuxe, a hotel featuring an “old Hollywood aesthetic” in Portland, Ore., decided to incorporate a video wall into their lobby space that displays black and white photographs of old Hollywood starlets in a slowly changing cycle. This design move keeps the atmosphere fresh and guests engaged, and more importantly, reinforces the interiors surrounding it.

let’s work together

More Considerations

More considerations for choosing A/V and tech professionals from Cerami & Associates’ Marc Hochlerin.

  • Ask if they can design in both Revit and CAD, and if they are able to offer a combined deliverable. “You want things thought out between the disciplines. You don’t want A/V pathways that don’t take into consideration my IT pathways.”

  • Don’t let anyone push specific brands on you. “Many integrators are being held to what they represent, to what they have on their shelves.”

  • Your consultant should have a good understanding of the integrator market and know which integrators are doing the best work. “Integrators’ qualifications are just as important as the consultant in the beginning of the project. You want to know an integrator has been chosen for their competency, for their resources, their financial capability and what we believe is most overridingly important: their ability to service on day two.”
“Patience, understanding and flexibility,” says Savage. That’s what it takes to maintain a successful working relationship between tech consultant, integrator and interior designer. “They run the project,” he says of interior designers, “and you’ve got to be willing to work with them. Don’t slam your plans down their throat.”

“I had to understand his process and how to work with him,” Savage says of Jeffrey Beers of Jeffrey Beers International when they worked together on Xfinity Live, a sports entertainment destination in Philadelphia. “I had to educate him on sizes and where things would work properly. So after a lot of educating and bringing everyone up to speed, we came up with a very nice product.”

According to Davis, both sides should see the language barriers that arise as complementary points of view they can learn from. “Interior designers don’t necessarily understand or fully appreciate the technical constraints or the costs of implementing their vision. And integrators don’t always appreciate the subtleties of what the designer is asking for—why it’s important that this product is placed exactly where they designed it to be placed, or at the height it’s designed to be placed at, or that it’s cladded in the materials that they want.” But this can be a good thing, as long as both parties learn to communicate, educate and trust each other in order to arrive at the best solution.

“They shouldn’t be just the ‘no department’,” she says of A/V and tech professionals. “They’re helping the designer understand what’s even possible.”

“I would encourage designers to find consultants or integrators that they could bring into a client meeting—actually pitch a client and answer questions that might come up on the client side,” she adds.

Have any advice of your own on working with great (or not so great) A/V or tech professionals? Sound off on our Facebook and Twitter pages. We’ll publish your added tips and suggestions in a future issue.