Return to site home page


The Tech Effect

Technology is a constant presence for many of us, but how is that changing how we interact with and design the next generation of interiors?

By James Williamson, IIDA, LEED AP

Technology is a constant presence for many of us, but how is that changing how we interact with and design the next generation of interiors?

We rely on technology on a daily basis. If you were asked, right now, to unload all of the electronic devices from your bag, purse or pockets, how many would there be? My guess is that you probably have more than you need (or expect).

As the interior design community continues to deepen its embrace of technology, it’s apparent that our firms’ practices are changing as well. Emerging technologies now have a direct impact on how we design spaces for clients, as innovative ideas must create a seamless user experience, manage sizeable amounts of data or simply help navigate a space. These factors change the way people interact with and experience interiors. When you create a strong brand for yourself and a human connection with the customer or product in a strategically designed space, you are utilizing the advantages of emerging technology.

Take, for example, the Apple store. I cannot remember the last time I waited in line. The retail environment is specifically designed so that there are more customer service representatives than there are cash registers. You can seek out a one-on-one consultation or you can self-checkout with the Apple store app on your smartphone. All of the company’s products are available to test drive and Genius Bar appointments can be scheduled in advance. The Apple store offers a unique and positive experience in a strategically designed space, which allows for interaction with the product and an enjoyable customer experience while clearly harnessing technology to their advantage. PageBreak

We expect Apple to use technology creatively, but what about designers? We’re certainly getting there—interior designers are rapidly gaining competence with design and management software, along with other digital tools that aid in the design process—but the practice on the whole could be leveraging technology so much more. What does this mean for the spaces and products we design, and the processes in which we now work? It means that we must adapt within these spatial advances and work with advancing technology in order to meet the needs of our clients.

One way we can harness advancing technology is by expanding our ability to simulate virtual spaces. By interacting with smartphone and tablet technologies, we adapt to an entirely new way of working. Take, for example, retail and healthcare environments; we are starting to see these facilities act as extensions to not only one’s smartphone and online lifestyle, but as a cumulative and personal experience.

An illustration of this can be found at the Gensler-designed HyundaiCard Air Lounge at Incheon International Airport, near Seoul, South Korea. The space is an antidote to the airport outside. With only 2,700 square feet to work with and no natural light, the designers focused on the organization and ways to make the space feel bigger. The lounge contains, among other things, a concierge, printed materials, travel accessories, food and refreshment stations, video installations, a robotic vending machine and a business center with computers. To help with the lack of natural light, LED panel skylights provide sky-simulating illumination; to keep travelers on track, flight status flip-screens have been integrated into the walls. Thanks to the use of innovative technology, passengers can establish a unique experience with the interior space without any extra effort on their part.

With all of these technological advances, it can be difficult to stay current, which is one of the reasons IIDA offers its Industry Roundtables. Last year’s roundtable was committed to exploring the intersection of culture, the workplace and social media. We have pared down the information online at and shared this invaluable information with our members. Members can also learn more about innovative projects, such as Gensler’s work with the HyundaiCard Air Lounge through our magazine, Perspective, which highlights forward-thinking design.

Perhaps our newest challenge as interior designers is to do more with regards to technological advancements. The increasing influence of computer-generated technologies both reinforces our need for designed places and forever changes our experience of them. These days, we need to be proactive and deliberate in our work. We need to be accurate with time and strategy. Technology is the enabler for success; when used to enhance efficiency and encourage collaboration, we can help provide outstanding quality service globally.


IIDA International President James 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