Navigating with Knowledge

As the interior design profession continues to change, knowledge and education remain the best tools for survival.

by Michael Thomas

Over the last decade, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has made significant commitments of resources and money to education. In support of that commitment, the Society has created,
produced or sponsored more than 30 research documents, white papers and reports about the interior design profession. These publications have addressed topics ranging from workplace design, acoustics and lighting to building codes, design for aging and the global impact of sustainable design.

Three publications are popular with ASID members and non-members alike. The first is Visual Quality by Design by Jack L. Nasar, Ph.D. and co-sponsored by ASID and Haworth, Inc. It explores the environmental factors that influence people's perception of space. The second is Healing Homes: Design to Promote Recovery and Well Being, a collaboration between five interior designers and an occupational therapist, each sharing their insights on home health care, indoor air quality, lighting for wellness and options for long-term recovery.

The third is the "ASID Annual Environmental Scanning Report," stewarded by Michael Berens, Ph.D., ASID's director of research and knowledge resources. This study examines emerging issues and trends impacting the design profession.

There were no significant surprises in this year's report, yet there were some interesting developments nonetheless. The economy continues to challenge the business of interior design. While there have been sudden, short and seasonal bursts of activity over the last 18 months, unemployment levels, availability of credit and consumer confidence will continue to have implications for interior designers and their business operations. To quote from the report:

By just about any measure, the interior design industry has decidedly declined as a result of the Great Recession of 2008-09. Both the number of interior design firms and the number of practicing interior designers has dwindled. Those firms that do have business are, for the most part, doing fewer, smaller projects, and in most cases for lower compensation.

Commercial and industrial A&D saw little improvement in 2010, yet hospitality recorded some growth. Recovery of the residential market will continue to be difficult since there remains more inventory than demand, despite interest rates at historical lows.

One thing was evident: The global market recovery remains fragile despite the growth and expansion of India and China—one source of business and hope for designers and architects. The scanning report cited mega trends by Australian futurist Richard Watson, including the social trends that will dominate 2011. Volatility, uncertainty and discontent were social themes underscored.

That said, there was some good news for the design profession, particularly around the continuing evolution and acceptance of sustainable and green-designed environments. Developers of commercial property have begun to embrace green design as a benefit to reduce operational costs and energy consumption.

Homebuilders, remodelers, architects and interior designers have seen interest in sustainable homes. Yet before many green-savvy homeowners will "buy" into sustainable homes and condos, they will want proof of a return on their green investment.

The aging of the baby boomers will continue to provide a business opportunity as this 76 million-strong demographic assumes the responsibility of caring for an aging parent, family member or friend in a residence often ill-equipped for such care.

Gazing deeper into the crystal ball, the report indentified three specific issues that will certainly shape our future. The first is that the economic conditions have changed client expectations and demand for design services. Design is no longer in the exclusive hands of designers. And with a widening rift between design as an aesthetic luxury and design as a useful and practicable application, clients will expect concrete and verifiable results from those they hire.

The next is that from all accounts, expertise in one area or element of design will be a critical component of success. "Designers will find it more difficult to remain generalists and will need to supplement their design education with knowledge of other fields in order to better understand their clients' needs," the report clearly points out. Interior designers will need to be skilled in such areas as sustainability, integrated technology, healthy buildings and aging-in-place, or face stiff competition from those with such knowledge and education.

And finally, as we move toward a new economic model, the design profession is positioned to evolve into a much more holistic profession. Larger teams of designers, assembled from various corners of the planet and connected through technology, will collaborate in new ways to address complex projects as well as complex issues such as human behavior, cognition and the ecosphere.

While the immediate future may seem hazy, knowledge remains a powerful tool. For our ASID members and the larger design profession, education will certainly remain the critical difference between those who practice and those who succeed in the practice.

Download a copy of the 2011 "ASID Environmental Scanning Report," or visit the "Download Documents" page of the ASID website.

ASID President Michael A. Thomas, FASID is the president of the Design Collective Group, a multi-faceted business located Phoenix, Ariz. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the web at