Leadership+Social Impact: The New Value Equation

The artisanal design trend imbues our profession with growth and hope.

03/03/2016 By Sandy Gordon

Social entrepreneurs are leaders and pragmatic visionaries (Schwab Foundation) … Individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems (Ashoka) … Mad scientists in the lab (Oxford University). No matter how you describe the field, and the individuals who are making an impact within it, social entrepreneurship is redefining the world’s interpretation of return on investment.

Most economists and academics would agree that such innovative leadership is becoming a critical factor in the development and well-being of the environments in which we live and work, and societies as a whole. Realigning business outcomes not only to reflect efficiency and financial results, but also to lower unemployment rates, incorporate sustainable innovation, and accelerate change, is transforming the business world and our industry.

For interior designers, part of a commitment to social economics can be a renewed interest in the artisan sector, a topic being discussed at length in this issue. Last month, in fact, The Huffington Post boldly labeled the movement “The Next Big Interior Design Trend: The Artisan Way.” As furniture designer Camilla Pistilli wrote, “Artisanal crafts infuse the space with a true sense of artistry. The work of a creative mind, and the materialization of its vision into functional art, complements the space with unmistakable authenticity and originality. Such elements of decor are timeless, undefined and unconstrained by the boundaries of different interior design styles and eras.”

According to the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, artisan production has created the second largest employer base in the developing world, surpassed only by agriculture. Globally, the sector is significant and growing. In fact, international trade in artisan goods more than doubled over the last 10 years, now totaling more than $32 billion annually.

As designers and their clients are discovering, incorporating artisan products into living and working environments has the potential to create jobs, increase incomes, and foster sustainable community development both domestically and abroad. Beyond economic impact, utilizing such materials can also deliver deeper meaning—one that is rooted in uniqueness and authenticity. Recognizing this, and fundamentally grounding social economics within practice, does take vision and leadership. Interior designers are uniquely capable of providing both.

Successful, impactful work within the evolving creative world requires high-level problem solving, strategic focus and a commitment to continuous learning. Every day, we analyze our clients’ needs and synthesize solutions to their complex problems. Yet, unless we have the ability to lead effectively, true innovation and change are marginalized.

At ASID, maintaining a breadth of professional development and leadership programming has been essential to ensure that designers—from students to senior practitioners—are best positioned to succeed. It’s truly exciting to watch careers develop and lives change through events such as Design to Lead that takes place April 25 in Washington, D.C., where the next generation of design leaders will embrace the skills necessary to take on next step management roles. It’s also gratifying to see online learning grow throughout our industry, most particularly evidenced by the rapid engagement in our learning portal, ASID Academy. From communication and negotiation skills to strategic thinking, expanding our professional horizons is now just a click away.

As we all know, success in this industry requires an artful blend of technical skill, purposeful collaboration, and an innovative thought process. By continuing to grow our leadership capacity, we are learning new ways to provide even deeper and more long-lasting impact. Call it social entrepreneurship or a desire to improve the lives of others, the opportunities have never been greater to make a difference.   

Sandy Gordon, FASID, LEED AP, is the chair of the board of directors for ASID and principal of SGI Interiors in Madison, Wisc. Learn more about ASID at ASID.org.

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