Jul 31, 2023 By IIDA HQ
Top of Mind: The Future Starts Now
The big questions we brought to Industry Roundtable, and a few emerging answers
By IIDA HQ Jul 31, 2023
Published in Articles

First things first: A note from Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, Executive Vice President and CEO at IIDA on the history of Industry Roundtable:

“Twenty-five years is a long time—and as we gathered at this year’s Industry Roundtable, I thought about how we have spent it, and where the next 25 years might take this vital community of thinkers and doers in design. We’ve built a strong network of diverse viewpoints—we challenge each other, but we’re allied and united in our strong intention to build a better design industry and profession. We’ve equipped a generation of leaders with actionable plans and strategies—not to mention inspiration that sets the year-long tone and agenda for many of our participants. Undeniably, and importantly, we’ve had a lot of fun.

Looking to the future, I’m impressed with the power of the IIDA community to set in motion a new kind of design industry that will open the door to a more diverse, technology-enabled, humanity-focused next generation of leaders. I’m excited by the vision of a preferred future—and the strategies for how to get there—that we share. I’m heartened by our continuing ability to fearlessly take on the challenges of our industry, and by our life-and-work-enriching connection to each other. The time we spend together has undoubtedly impacted our past, and continues to impact our future. I can’t wait to see where next year, and the years to come, will take us!”

Images courtesy of DesignVox
Images courtesy of DesignVox
Image courtesy of DesignVox
Image courtesy of DesignVox

Time to Connect/Time to Reflect

How the future of networking gets built at Industry Roundtable: Over 25 years, the Industry Roundtable think tank has assembled design leadership to investigate, question, strategize and solve the most important issues facing our industry. But connection is our secret sauce. What makes those connections so strong?

1. We drop the barriers: We come to the IR table with openness and eagerness to share ideas and solve problems for the industry—yes, even if we’re competitors in real life!

2. We cultivate inspiration: We don’t just share deep discussions, we share cultural experiences that inspire and feed creativity.

3. We get personal: We connect over meals and in between keynotes, exchanging viewpoints, dog stories and tales of that design life. (Note: margaritas and queso didn’t hurt, either!)

The big Qs we brought to Industry Roundtable, and a few emerging As

How do we support and shape the next generation of talent?

Attracting and retaining talent is a key topic when design leaders gather, but this year’s IR revealed a new wrinkle: the current class of entry-level designers were in design school during the pandemic, meaning that their ability to gain invaluable experience through hands-on, in person work experience has been limited. “We don’t need to let them fall to the side because of all that,” says Tara Headley, IIDA, senior interior designer at IA Interior Architects. “Maybe you change how your internships work, make it about the social interaction, make them have those experiences they were unable to have in college. They’re going to need our help.”

But it’s not just designers at the entry level who are looking for more from firms; intentional, thoughtful support benefits junior designers across the board, and also is a crucial reinforcement for firms’ EDI efforts. “I don’t think we should just rely on people to come into this industry and figure it out,” says Nicola Casale, senior vice president at Yellow Goat Design. “We all have to ask ourselves, ‘What kind of a mentor are you?’ I feel optimistic about it, because I feel like maybe this is just what we need to start to change that culture.”

That shift is exemplified by the concept of “sponsorship” rather than mentorship: a lead-by-example relationship that educates about the larger organization; encourages younger staff to talk about themselves and share opinions and ideas; and leans into the idea that there is more than one path to good design.

Incorporating in-person experiences into that sponsorship relationship is key, as is showing vulnerability and openness as leaders. Incorporating greater connection, next-level mentorship and in-house education can help to set young designers up for success, paving the way for a strong design industry.

How can we elevate design’s perceived—and paid—value?

Whether influenced by a continuing focus on attracting and retaining talent, or economic conditions beyond the labor market, the conversation around design fees and designer salaries was prevalent at this year’s IR. IIDA’s mission has always included elevation of the design industry and recognition of design’s inherent business value; this year’s IR discussions reiterated the importance of that goal in response to current and future business environments.

“I think we’ve probably operated too long from a place of ‘we do this for the love of design,’” says Erika Moody, FIIDA, president of Helix Architecture+Design. “There should also be some ambition that there is value, and this is a career we want people to go into in the future. We want to have more diversity—let’s make sure we are recruiting young people and setting those hires up for long, successful careers. I find it encouraging that we’re having this conversation now.”

“We’re in the position to reinvent ourselves and rethink what we’re doing,” says Ronnie Belizaire, FIIDA vice president of project and development at Jones Lang Lasalle “and with that comes real responsibility. How do we universally look at our fee structures, have more of that courage and audacity about how we value ourselves and our profession? How do we solve problems not just for clients but consider ourselves a client?”

Can we move past “workplace” and into “placemaking?”

“I’m so over the question: ‘Hybrid or non-hybrid?’” says Verda Alexander, IIDA, principal and co-founder at Studio O+A. At IR, the consensus was that the debate over workplace style has evolved beyond the binary—and that the true challenge for the design industry is to create a place that supersedes a sole function, a place that succeeds on its ability to create experience and human connection. Designers are also looking beyond the classic design brief, to expand design’s influence into the larger ecosystem of brand. “I really think the future of our industry... is the idea of brand and looking at the whole organization,” says Alexander. “We design experiences, and we need to take that out of the idea of space exclusively. We can help them create a story.”

Placemaking as part of brand building can communicate and amplify an organization’s values, as well as communicate ties to the larger community and local ecosystem. Design with human experience in mind can create connections to all of those things, and contribute to human as well as corporate wellbeing. “When we design spaces where people are happier and healthier than when they left home that morning, that is powerful,” says Ana Pinto-Alexander, FIIDA, principal and global sector director at Interiors HKS. “What is more powerful than that? We create emotions.”

What’s the next step in sustainable practice—and how can we make reuse cool?

The IR sustainability conversation took many forms this year, but an overarching theme was longevity. As the design industry continues its push toward a sustainable built environment, designing for longevity of products and projects is a priority, as is exploring new ways to create and renew spaces without creating waste. Designing for adaptability—building in the capacity for change without building in obsolescence—is one strategy that was part of the IR brainstorm. But another idea got attendees talking, too: reuse, and how designers can make it a badge of honor for clients. “I hope we start to see more innovation in the reuse space,” says Katy Mercer, IIDA, principal at Woods Bagot. “How do we take away that ickiness?” One idea (and one designers are good at)—make it cool.

“As people look for authenticity in their lives, that can come into the workplace,” says Manuel Navarro, principal and design director at IA Interior Architects. “Coming in and seeing something that has patina, you’re going to have a different experience in that space.”

This article is an excerpt from the IIDA 25th Industry Roundtable Report. Learn more about the program here, and, for information on IR26 in January 2024, please contact IIDA Director of Strategic Sales, Tracey Thomas.

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