Distance Learning

Travel has the ability to expose designers to the commonalities and differences in design cultures around the globe.

by Viveca Bissonnette

I don't sit still very often. As the current president of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), I have the honor of traveling across the country and around the world representing IIDA and our members. Likewise, my work as an interior designer has always kept me busy and necessarily mobile, what with global projects and teams.

As designers in a world that increasingly relies on the latest technology to speed up progress and increase efficiency, it's a simple matter to interact with clients, peers and associates from home base, or wherever you're currently calling "home." For instance, I could write this article at a café while waiting for a team meeting to start on Skype; an hour later I could take a virtual tour of a project in Dubai through the use of BIM software. My office is now global.

Because of this distance—which is either technology-imposed or facilitated, depending on how you look at it—it's been nice to work with IIDA to disseminate the brand and culture, and actually meet face-to-face with our members who are spotted across the globe. My engagements have sent me across the country to judge competitions for headquarters and chapters. I've spoken to students about the future of our profession and I've represented IIDA internationally at trade shows and conferences. In my travels, I've been to the rainy Northwest, the flat plains of the Midwest, the arid landscapes of the Southwest, the bustling cities of the East Coast and my familiar turf of the sunny West Coast. On occasion I've also made it to such far-flung locales as Paris, Milan and Rome.

IIDA has given me the chance to grow not only professionally, but personally as well. Oftentimes when I travel, I'm lucky enough to get a first-hand glimpse into what designers are struggling with, loving and learning on a daily basis. I can listen in to what designers are consumed with in Paris and compare that to what I overheard in the elevators of Chicago. These travels have enabled me to make connections with global partners I would not have otherwise had the chance to make, but they have also broadened my horizons and expectations. While it has impacted my professional career and my design work, my personal life has also benefited from the surplus of inspiration and motivation I carry with me every time I step back through my front door.

Over the past year, I've realized that there are great commonalities as well as incredible differences in approaching design. For instance, we're all problem solvers. We have to be. If we're not, there's no way to move forward, progress or grow; there's no way to develop a client's vision. But more importantly, in order to solve the problem, we need to identify the problem. We need to tap it at its root. Identifying the problem is what we're valued for, along with our foresight and attention to detail. But we also work to create productive environments that build a company's brand and persona. It's a big job, even on the quietest of days.

While I celebrate the consistency of our experiences, I'm also constantly awed by the differences that we continue to exhibit. I've seen that just as each one of us is to some extent separate and enigmatic, each design comes from a different place of inspiration, economics and perception. We can't help but imbue our designs with our life experiences and growing body of knowledge, and those are different for everyone. That's what makes design such a fluid and diverse profession.

The process of traveling around the world and visiting other designers in their element has truly enabled me to see the meshing of different worlds of design, from interiors and architecture, to branding and graphics, to wayfinding and signage. The world is a work of art and good design is the cornerstone of that art.

I truly believe that at this point in my career and after the work I've done with IIDA, I can better understand and anticipate how clients are redefining their expectations in the current economy. 

The perception of luxury has been adjusted, and personally, I have had to translate that sense of luxury to the business of design. Where previous concepts of luxury have consisted of adornment and indulgence, clients now perceive luxury as flexibility and innovation—and demand these necessities for their spaces. 

Not only has luxury been redefined and re-evaluated at home and in the office, but the overlap is happening around the world and will gradually present a new way of looking at design. What an exciting time to be here.

IIDA President Viveca Bissonnette is vice president and design principal at Hollander Design Group in San Diego, Calif. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or iidahq@iida.org. Learn more on the web at www.iida.org.