30 Years and Counting

We invite some of the most notable designers we’ve profiled through the years to reflect on where their personal journeys have led them since we last spoke, and how they feel about design's future.

by Robert Nieminen

 gary lee 
Gary Lee Partners

When we last featured Gary Lee on the cover of I&S, the self-described advisor/interpreter had been running his namesake firm for more than a decade and was already at a comfortable cruising altitude.

With the firm’s 20th anniversary officially in its rearview mirror, the momentum continues to build as the accolades and press keep piling up. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Lee isn’t content resting on his laurels; his passion for design continues to push him to remain focused on what matters most.

To what do you attribute your success, and in what ways have your experiences changed the way you look at design?
As our firm celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, I am grateful for the extraordinary skill and resourcefulness that our staff possesses, our uncompromising passion for all aspects of design, and the philosophy that our success is based on the relationships we form with our clients. With all of the challenges presented to us by our clients, our pursuit of the best solutions to each design problem has become increasing more difficult and more rewarding.

In 2006, you told us that “it’s important for us to manage technology so that it supports us, and that we’re not being driven by it.” Do you still feel that technology needs to play a supporting rather than a leading role in the design process?
Our firm utilizes technology as a tool to create our work, and I am happy to say that it has integrated into our thinking and processes quite “naturally.” We enjoy being able to “see” more clearly.

How has the industry changed, in your opinion, since we last spoke?
Our industry has managed to survive the economic roller coaster of recent years. Many of the things we’ve learned are good and have dealt with the “new normal.” However, there are also a number of needs and trends that have evolved that challenge good design.

What excites you most about design today?
The economic and cultural challenges today require an ever-heightened level of inspired solutions.

What worries or concerns you?
The impact of those solutions.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career, what would it be?
I would have consciously explored more aspects of design.

Why is that?
I believe that all aspects of design are related; a stronger foundational knowledge of creative expression, regardless of the discipline, improves the clarity of our visions.

 viveca bissonnette, fiida, cid, leed ap 
Vice President and Design Principal
Hollander Design Group

Eight years ago, Viveca Bissonnette, along with nine of her peers, graced the front cover of Interiors & Sources as part of our first ever profile on emerging designers (see “Young Professionals: The Future of Design,” May 2006). In less than a decade, she has catapulted herself from an emergent practitioner to the very top of her field, having served as the national president of IIDA and inducted into its prestigious College of Fellows. Here’s what Bissonnette had to tell us recently about her path to success:

What perspective(s) have you gained from your experiences at IIDA on a national level?
I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with some of the most talented individuals in the design industry. My success as a designer and business person can be directly attributed to my experience with IIDA, serving in multiple capacities over the years, including President and currently the Chair of the College of Fellows.

What topics or ideas interest you most these days?
The changing landscape of work. In a world where companies are fighting to stay relevant in the age of disruptive technology, driving innovation and creativity, there has been a huge shift over the past several years to more open and collaborative workspace, but this does not address the specific needs of each individual or automatically support the overall culture of an organization. While spontaneous collaboration is being supported, heads down and focused work is suffering. Quickly evolving technology, multiple generations in the workforce, various personality types and increasingly matrixed organizational structures are all pieces of the puzzle that companies are faced with incorporating in to their workplace culture. One size does not fit all.

As a cultural anthropologist as well as an interior designer, I together with the rest of our firm focus on workplace culture and how organizations function, work, and socialize together. We use ethnography—one of the basic tools of cultural anthropologists—to observe and interview, resulting in an in-depth understating of our client’s requirements. Individual needs are as important as the overall organizations'. More and more companies are using tests like the Predictive Index to inform their hiring and placement decisions. We are also using this type of information to understand how individuals work most effectively so that the environments we design, whether open or enclosed, ultimately support increased productivity and satisfaction.

What excites you most about design today? What worries or concerns you?
The speed at which we are all working … and the speed at which we are all working. Technology such as Sketch-up, BIM, Dropbox, Skype, Facetime, Roomscan is allowing design concepts and documentation to be produced and communicated more quickly, effectively and accurately than ever. We are able to complete more work in less time and photorealistic 3D depictions of our designs are the norm, but the art of hand sketching is being lost along with the actual time needed to grow and nurture new concepts and ideas.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career over again, what would it be? Why is that?
I have no regrets. The path I have taken, as circuitous as it was, is what has shaped me to be the designer, strategist and business owner I am today.

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Relationships are everything, whether it be with clients, vendors or colleagues. The ultimate work/life balance is when it’s all mixed up together. My partner Jeff Hollander, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP and I, along with the rest of the firm, have been able to focus on the personal relationships we have with our clients, staff and vendors. Building lasting friendships has resulted in more satisfying working relationships. 

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
Keep your eyes and ears open. Take advantage of every opportunity you are presented no matter how challenging, and never forget why you became a designer in the first place. Keep pushing and growing yourself and your clients.

What do you see as the future of design?
We need to think beyond our current assumptions. At a recent conference futurist Edie Weiner called it “educated incapacity,” the inability to conceive of new ideas because we are confined by the knowledge we already have.

With new technologies emerging daily, the ease of communication and sharing of information has changed how we work and interact. We live in a global economy, connecting and collaborating with individuals from around the world who are able to work out of their pocket with tools that have been designed to be intuitive. Those tools, like the iPhone, were developed not by repeating what had been done before, but by challenging the status quo. As designers, we need to always look beyond our best practices to provide real value to our clients. Organizations are looking for design intelligence and innovation—not just an aesthetically pleasing space that incorporates their brand colors.

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