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A Call to Action

As the world grows more complex, leadership is needed. Programs like the ASID Leadership Academy promise to give designers the tools they require to lead successfully.

By Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC

As the world grows more complex, leadership is needed. Programs like the ASID Leadership Academy promise to give designers the tools they require to lead successfully.

What inspires a leader to action? For 9-year-old Joshua Smith of Detroit, it was a need to step up to help an ailing community. Joshua had witnessed first-hand the deteriorating buildings, vacant storefronts and general decline of the residential neighborhoods in his city. What he saw prompted him to do something about it.

And so Joshua literally made lemonade out of lemons, setting up a roadside lemonade stand and raising $3,600 for the city. When hailed for his efforts, Joshua said that he just wanted to do something to help. In another interview, he said it was a good thing in business to always save a little, spend a little and share a little! This lesson about making a difference, learned at an early age, is an inspiring portrait of an emerging leader with an entrepreneurial spirit and a worldliness about social responsibility that sets a good example for us all.

The challenges that we face today are complex and require a broad view to understand; as a result, businesses, organizations and the academic community are focusing on the larger issues that connect us as human beings on a shrinking planet. Because of their understanding of people and relationships, environmental impacts and the power of well-designed spaces, interior designers are well-positioned to contribute to the conversations that address the needs of people from all walks of life and from all over the globe.

We have seen positive outcomes as the world shifts toward “design thinking” as a means to discover new solutions to our problems. Indeed, strategic discussions surrounding many of the major issues facing society today—particularly those in the education, healthcare and business fields—have been framed in the context of design processes and solutions.

The traditional methods (and accompanying partisan politics) of resolving economic, housing, wellness and environmental issues are being replaced by creativity, innovation and collaborative efforts that reframe our dilemmas as manageable problems that can be addressed by teams of design thinkers. We as designers have much to contribute to this discussion and should consider this time an opportunity to not only make a difference in our world, but a chance to redefine what it means to be in the design profession. Very specifically, we can communicate and demonstrate the impact of interior design on all levels of the human experience.

This is where leadership is imperative. In order to demonstrate the impact of design, we need a leadership mentality paired with a deeper understanding of how humans interact—not only with each other, but with their environments and experiences. This runs the gamut from the individual residences, communities and businesses with which we are familiar, to the large unknown of global situations that may not seem to impact us on a day-to-day basis but have outsized implications. Our knowledge of human behavior provides a framework for understanding these issues and for resolution. It is the leadership potential then, on which greater emphasis and focus should be placed, in order to develop the next generation of design thinkers who will make a difference in the world.PageBreak

It was with that in mind that we developed and introduced the ASID Leadership Academy. This new program has been designed to provide the experiences, education and training designers need to become well-versed in the attributes of leadership. Participants in the academy will learn the language of leadership through focused sessions dedicated to developing skills, enhancing communication tools, and establishing collaboration and design-thinking strategies for effective leadership.

Moreover, the ASID Leadership Academy aims to help leaders understand their own strengths and how to leverage them for a broader impact. We believe that designers are uniquely suited for this training, thanks to our critical-thinking skills and propensity for creativity; these traits build a foundation for the development of strong professional leaders.

Indeed, if designers are to become change agents and make a difference in the world, it is incumbent upon all of us to learn to speak up on behalf of those who are less fortunate and take on some of the social responsibility needed to make the world a better place. Part of that comes from developing our skills; the ASID Leadership Academy is intended to be part of this growth. We must continue to maintain a broad view of the practice from a creative perspective, understand the implications of a global economy, and embrace an open view of our evolving practice.

We know that we are in a volatile world that demands quick responses, innovative thinking and a “change” mindset. Globalization, interdisciplinary education and high-level collaboration are but a few of the trends that will continue to impact business and the world of design. Education and training provides us with the ability to deal with these realities.

As part of a broader team, designers have the ability to realize our potential as active participants in this conversation. Stepping up through recognized leadership roles is but one way in which to make a difference. In the words of noted author Richard Farson, “Design is the rubric of the future, not just in management but in every field, because it is the powerful determinant of human behavior and experience.” Let us use this time, this opportunity and this moment to commit to leading change from our design perspective, as it empowers us with the passion to be the leaders of the future! Lemonade, anyone?


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