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Small World, Big Needs

Technology and globalization may be shrinking the world, but opportunities for designers to impact the human experience continue to multiply.

By Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC

Technology and globalization may be shrinking the world, but opportunities for designers to impact the human experience continue to multiply.

In our lifetimes, the effects of technology and innovation have been unprecedented. The race to the moon in the 1960s left the entire world scrambling to be part of space exploration, which in turn resulted in more competition for the development of new products—many of which remain familiar parts of our lives. From Velcro to heart monitors, to microwave ovens to helmet padding, the dividends of the space race continue to serve us today.

The innovations that came out of that period also had the effect of introducing us to the greater world of design. Within a generation, demand for products such as automobiles, computers and other tech devices designed with quality, aesthetics and efficiency took hold, and innovators far and wide responded rapidly. But even as Time magazine named the personal computer “Machine of the Year” in 1982, innovative and technological processes from abroad were challenging U.S. businesses (with a few rare exceptions). As other countries quickly embraced, adopted and developed new technologies, the competitive edge shifted overseas, resulting in an advantage and a view that differentiated and created new markets.

We may live in different times now, but technological advancements continue to shift our thinking about the world. Markets are no longer based solely on where one lives or the type of work one does, but on a larger, more global view. The result of expanding markets is evidenced in a world population that has grown dramatically into crowded urban areas. Literacy and health issues have become major concerns for governments and businesses everywhere, and quality of life issues have bubbled to the top.

Furthermore, our increasing drain on the earth’s resources has created a new paradigm for the design and construction of buildings, and provided opportunities for designers to contribute on a meaningful level toward the issues facing the world today. With increased opportunity comes a realization that the design of the built environment has a significant global impact; that realization signals the need for us to collaborate on issues that unite the design professions.

Designers have the potential to be part of a human-centered, global conversation. Working to improve the quality of the environment is a social imperative to which designers can contribute on many levels. The issues that concern designers on a single project in North America are not unlike those facing designers on the other side of the world. Whether it is the design of an energy-efficient building or the use of sustainable materials within a space, creating safe and healthy environments is a paradigm that is intuitively understood by designers, regardless of their location.

PageBreak The increased global focus on the socioeconomic impact of design solutions and the need to address critical environmental concerns is now part of the broad conversation of design. Sustainability—in terms of community development, rehabilitation of urban areas and participating in global policy—is important in positioning designers as knowledgeable and responsible contributors to problem-solving. Environmental concerns are among the most important, particularly in highly populated areas, and are a growing area of governmental interest in terms of policy-making. This represents an area in which designers have an opportunity to contribute expertise while advancing initiatives through demonstrated high-performance buildings and spaces.

The reality is that human-centric concerns, at least in terms of interior space, share a common language, despite our cultural differences and geographic locations. Understanding human needs from a multifaceted approach is essential in the global language of design, so that the needs of all people are met fairly and equitably. Considering products that are sustainable, supporting manufacturing processes that meet environmental standards, and having a familiarity and concern for worker conditions are all part of improving global standards and maintaining respect for others.

The notion that the conversation on design can have a larger, more interdisciplinary perspective might serve to better communicate design’s overarching value. At the recent China Design Awards, graphic design, interior furnishings, industrial design, architectural finishes, media and firm awards were included in a three-day event that recognized exceptional design across disciplines. Design was celebrated and lauded with great enthusiasm and ceremony, highlighting the country’s notable shift toward sustainability and interest in innovative products.

In short, the world may indeed be shrinking, but the world of design is growing. There are more opportunities than ever to contribute to, participate in and understand the impact of design on the human experience. Interdisciplinary work, technology, sustainability and social awareness are but a few of the areas poised for growth. Pro bono work continues to expand, in terms of volunteerism and interest, and the need to bring the design disciplines together toward a shared goal is becoming increasingly important. It’s time for all of us to become involved in the world in which we live on a higher level, so that the impact of design is felt and communicated clearly, and the benefits of well-designed spaces are realized by all.


Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC is the national president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and owner/principal of Marini Interiors, Inc. a commercial interior design and consulting firm in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the web at