It’s an ever-challenging life to be a design principal. But one of the benefits of being in the position for any length of time is taking on designers when they’re young and watching them blossom into fully matured professionals, capable of making the decisions required to produce work that’s rife with innovation and still reflective of best practices. It’s one of the greatest rewards of being a principal; it’s also a constant reminder to me of where I’ve come from, and how each of us never stops being a student. There’s always something more to learn.
Continuing education is a part of that personal growth. As we diligently strive to do the best work we can within a field that’s forever in flux, we have to caution against the feeling that our considerable experience and knowledge—and even our design instincts—are necessarily the summit of the resources on which we can draw. By keeping our minds open and our senses alert, we stand the chance of being impressed upon by outside forces, any of which could inform and inspire us beyond our existing limitations.
CEUs can be a wonderful opportunity. The topic might not always appeal to the “sexy” side of our work as designers, but that’s in part what I find so stimulating about them. Almost more than the individual CEUs themselves, I appreciate the broad scope of topics they serve, from the big picture to the intensely focused detail. One day I may attend a program on specifying the right resilient flooring for healthcare; on another, a color forecasting event by color expert Kaye Gosline. I could find myself talking with others about the future of design or exploring wellness in the workplace. There’s always another facet of design that has something to teach us, no matter what our experience level is.
“The Movement Toward Wellness in the Workplace,” presented by Anita Diliberto of Steelcase, was one CEU that stands out in my experience. Diliberto thoughtfully reviewed innovative ways in which motion and mobility could be introduced to the workplace in an effort to stimulate workers to increased health and wellness. The ideas she presented were bold, full of imagination and had many of us wondering why no one had proposed workplace wellness solutions like this before. (I also think that more than a few of us secretly wished we could have our own treadmill workstations.)
Another particularly memorable CEU was presented by Phyllis Goetz, also of Steelcase, called “The Case for Evidence-Based Design.” In it, Goetz gave an inspiring overview of the principles of evidence-based design (EBD), as well as examples of successful outcomes. As EBD has come to influence the vocabulary of design, and is increasingly a part of discussions outside of the healthcare industry, it was illuminating to see how far-reaching the benefits and effects of preliminary research could be within the context of a project. It’s not surprising that EBD has become a valuable tool in establishing accountability with clients.
Often, as in the above examples, it’s the most unexpected CEUs—the ones that might not be immediately regarded as rife with “glamour appeal”—that end up being the most intriguing and enlightening. Take, for instance, our New England Chapter’s CEU on the Boston Fire Code.
Some might think it a rather dry topic, or at least relatively devoid of the aesthetic spark that tends to ignite our imaginations (pardon the puns). But in fact, this exceedingly thoughtful program, led by Boston fire chiefs, tends to attract a lot of senior designers with its opportunity for a highly interactive discussion, featuring designers and officials openly communicating with local fire authorities.
It’s relatively rare that designers get that kind of attention and cooperation from the outside world. The wealth of information available at such a CEU is invaluable, particularly when it’s being issued by a primary source on a topic that’s so unexpectedly mysterious, and presented in an interactive, easy-to-understand way.
It’s possible to look at any given CEU, of course, as something arduous that needs to be done—a requirement or a turnstile to pass through on your way to the next level of your career. But I would encourage any designer, no matter how young or experienced, to look at every CEU as the opportunity that it is. It’s hard to avoid the clichés about them being stepping stones or rungs on the ladder of success, because that’s precisely what they are. (And in this context, by success I mean being a better designer, and, if possible, a better human being.)
At their best, CEUs inspire, inform and provoke. They stir the cauldron of our creativity, introduce new ideas and elements that we can incorporate into our work, and help to raise the bar of what interior design means to the community at large.
Continuing education is more than a theme for designers and other professionals—it’s a way of life driven by boundless curiosity. My life, and probably yours, too, happens to be about design. It’s the variety of unexpected subjects and information available through CEUs that energizes me and motivates me to attend them whenever I can. Even as a design principal and newly elected IIDA president, I still find that I’m as driven by curiosity to learn more about design as I was when I was new to the industry—much like the younger designers I mentor these days. I hope that, like mine, their will to learn and better themselves—whether through CEUs or other means—never ebbs.
IIDA President Felice L. Silverman, IIDA, is president and a principal at Silverman Trykowski Associates, Inc. in Boston. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at email@example.com.