ASID Update: A Perfect (Brain) Storm

By Robert Wright, FASID
Industry leaders identify key trends that will influence the future of the design profession.


Among all the benefits that ASID has to offer, one is having the opportunity to spend time with some of the best and brightest interior designers our profession has to offer. This summer I spent three days with 500 of those interior designers at our Society's leadership conference in Vancouver, BC. Since they truly are unique creative talents, you would assume it would be difficult for them to agree on anything. Yet there was considerable consensus among our ASID leaders who took part in a visioning session on the future of the interior design profession. Facilitated by Gensler business strategist Jim Oswald, the threehour brain storm involved designers from all areas of practice and firms of different sizes, representing all 50 states and Canada. Working in small groups, we were asked to identify trends and issues we felt were most likely to exert the greatest change on how design is practiced. These were then shared with the whole group and "mind mapped" for everyone to see and comment. Although many particular observations were offered, for the most part the issues raised tended to fall within the following topic areas. Compare your list to ours and see if you, too, agree.

Sustainability. Sustainable and "green" designs are not yet the norm, but they are gaining momentum. Clients are asking for them in both commercial and residential projects. Design schools are incorporating them into their curriculum. In the not too distant future, sustainability will no longer be a sub-specialty within interior design but an integral part of how all interiors are designed. Those designers who have not already done so need to educate themselves about sustainable design and, where appropriate, consider getting LEED certified. By the same token, designers need to be educating clients about the benefits of green design and reductions in life cycle costs. Sustainable or green products and practices will go down in cost as specification becomes more widespread.

Population Changes and Diversity. The aging of the baby boom generation and growth in minority populations will have a tremendous impact on interior design later this century. On the practice side, accommodating the needs of baby boomers as they age will require modifications in homes, offices and public buildings. Similarly, as some minority populations reach "majority" levels in some states, their cultural values and preferences will influence the design of public and institutional environments, as well as their homes and the places where they shop, eat and play. On the business side, designers will need to educate themselves about the traditions and tastes of various cultures. Firms and design schools will compete for talented designers from diverse backgrounds. Design schools will become more sensitive to cultural nuances and ethnic design differences. The challenge will be accepting design and style differences, and how to incorporate multi-culturalism into school curricula. Many of today's principals and owners in design firms will be approaching retirement age, and the presence of multiple generations in the workforce will require firms to manage different sets of generational expectations regarding work, rewards and life outside work.

Technology and Globalization. Communications technology has exploded. You can communicate with just about anyone anywhere in the world at any time. Messages can be broadcast through computers, cell phones, PDAs and iPods with minimal technology and at very little cost. In a digitized world, information and images can be sent almost instantaneously. These advances have huge implications for cooperation and competition within the design industry. They make it possible for firms to assemble "virtual" design teams comprised of members from different parts of the world. These teams can literally work around the clock and draw on talented individuals in distant countries to fill out their skill sets. Although some may see this as a threat as well as an opportunity, it can help make the smaller firm more competitive in the global market. It will also be necessary for interior designers to have an understanding of international manufacturing and product importation. The distribution chain and availability of merchandise to the consumer, our client, will inevitably change.

Experience Economy. Once the purview of hospitality, retail and entertainment environments, the experience economy has spilled over into all areas of design. Creating environments as experience often requires enlisting the help of specialists in lighting design, graphic design, branding, audiovisual technologies and other fields. Projects require a high degree of collaboration and understanding of how all the various disciplines contribute to the final result. On the business side, we should develop an experience map of the design process to better manage client expectations and interactions. We also should use storytelling as a way to discuss and promote projects.

Wellness. An increase in the number of individuals with allergies and asthma, especially young children, along with concerns about "sick" buildings, has focused attention on the healthiness of interior environments. Interior designers need to do a better job of educating the public about the ways in which a designer can help remedy unhealthy interiors. They should also partner with healthcare and public health professionals to further address these issues.

Perception of Design. Socalled design "reality" television shows have given consumers a very unrealistic view of interior design, creating the impression that any project can be completed in short order with very little expense of time and materials. While the exposure for interior design has been great, the fallout for the profession has not. Interior designers need to develop compelling ways to show the public what a professional designer really does and how the client will benefit from working with a professional.

Changing Nature of Design Practice. Along with correcting misinformation about what they do, interior designers also need to continue to evolve their role as professionals. Designers need to be able to demonstrate to clients the value of the design knowledge they bring to a project and how they can help clients improve their business or quality of life. They need to change their "brand" in the marketplace by actively marketing themselves and their services in different ways. Although not all of us concurred with every observation, these were the areas where most foresaw the greatest opportunities and challenges. There was one point, though, on which everyone could agree: The market for design services is changing, and designers will need to change, too, if we want to stay competitive.

  • Robert Wright, FASID, principal of Bast/Wright Interiors, Inc., in San Diego, CA, is an award-winning interior designer specializing in residential and office design. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480; fax: (202) 546-3240; or