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Feb 02, 2021 By IIDA HQ
For Now, For Next: 12 Essential Ideas For 2021
IIDA Industry Roundtable members convened to discuss what the past year revealed about life, work, and what the future might hold for the design industry, for our clients, and for ourselves.
By IIDA HQ Feb 02, 2021
Published in Industry Roundtable

In January 2021, members of the IIDA Industry Roundtable convened for a bit of a reunion and conversation about what the past year revealed about life and work—and what the future might hold for the design industry, our clients, and ourselves. What emerged was relevant, meaningful, and personal. Overwhelmingly, we found that we've collectively been focused on empathy, kindness, connection, and community; all, as it turns out, essential foundations of good design. Big ideas (and a few big laughs) were welcomed as we gathered around our virtual table and shared exactly where our heads, our hearts, and our fitness routines were at. Here’s what we came away with.

12 Essential Things We Learned During IR Dialogues: For Now, For Next

1. Bring your "real self" to work day...lasted all year.

We couldn’t avoid showing up—to meetings, conferences, drinks with friends—with our entire lives (family, dogs, messy desks) in tow. As leaders, we found that we had to get comfortable letting our humanity and sometimes our yoga pants show, too. In the end, those visual doses of real-life opened the door to tolerance and a new expectation of authenticity going forward.


2. There’s a new mentorship in town.


We’re finding that, right now, leadership means taking care of your team’s emotional well-being. We’re asking staff members if they’re ok often, and responding with humanity and wise counsel. We also had to learn quickly to model calm and confidence, and offer context to younger staff who may never have weathered a rocky economic cycle.


3. Bookending is the new buzzword.


The other surprising modeling we’re doing? Showing our team members that it’s ok to “turn it off and put it away” even though work and home have become so blended. Losing the daily buffer that a commute offers between work and home, we had to learn to mark the beginning and end of our days intentionally—whether that was with a healthy walk, or a healthy cocktail.


4. Connection is craveable—and possibly uncomfortable.


We have a lot to say about hugging. And whether we’re huggers or not, we can’t wait for the day when we can mix, mingle, and get up close and personal again. As design professionals however, we recognize that it might be difficult to be comfortable at first—that we’ll have to relearn how to be around other people, and that we will need to carefully assess expectations for distance as we create new spaces for people to gather.


5. Transparency has taken on fresh meaning.


It’s a word that came up a lot, and we’re going out on a limb and predicting it’s a permanent shift, starting now. After an era when truth became subjective, the notions of clarity and transparency in business and in life-at-large feel revolutionary, necessary, and now. Though we in the design community have talked about transparency before, it’s no longer a concept, it’s a requirement.


6. Speaking up is the new default.


We’ve seen 2020 as a call to action—and we are determined to never be silent on issues of equality and social justice again. Though once we may have hesitated to raise issues and talk about them openly, sitting back and shutting up are not on the agenda anymore. Many are seeking to assert their voices and opinions, both individually and on behalf of their communities.


7. Check your PTO guilt—and resign from #TeamTooMuch.


After a year of perseverance, we’ve slowly learned to give ourselves permission to take that PTO and not feel guilty (this felt radical!) while we’re on personal time. We’ve had enough of the kind of “heroism” that prizes relentless hours and neglected self-care, thanks.


8. Challenging accepted wisdom points the way to the future.


Designers ask questions. It’s in our nature. But in the wake of so much change, we’ve become inspired to more closely examine things that have become accepted as part of the landscape (hello, open office)—and wonder why we didn’t question them sooner. What will the new workplace look like? We’re not sure yet—it’s an ongoing discussion—but we know leaning into our curiosity and asking those questions will reveal the answers.


9. Embracing a slow moment was 2020’s trickiest dance move.


Honestly, those slow moments made us nervous at first. Gradually, we’ve learned not to fight life’s readjusted rhythm, finding room to breathe, decompress, and think deep thoughts in this new groove.


10. Networking: It’s not just for clients anymore.


Making time to talk to people in quest of your next deal or your next project used to seem like the most important kind of networking—until we heard about those enviable Friday night Zoom craft circles. Using our newly sharpened tech capabilities to intentionally connect with friends and make new friends is a new-world-order priority.


11. Wanderlust will seduce us back to roaming the world—or at least our neighborhoods.


The pent-up yearning to travel is real, and whether we’re headed across the country or just downtown, we’ll be looking to scratch that itch. Look for experiences, even everyday ones, to tap into a sense of adventure.


12. Freedom, flexibility, and the pursuit of happiness proved their worth.


Strangely, profoundly, it took a time of confinement to set us free in so many ways. We learned to make more allowances for others and ourselves. We finally found the patience we thought we just didn’t possess. We shook off unrealistic expectations and the rules that told us work had to be done in an office, five days a week (Note: we’re never going back!). We explored family roots, cookbooks, and the electric guitar. And, in small but decidedly significant ways, we discovered joy—and a new sense of perspective as we move forward.

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