Sascha Wagner on the Influence of Design, Leadership During Crisis, and the IIDA Community

2020-2021 International Board President Sascha Wagner discusses the roles of community and design in the process of evolving through crisis, and the need for adaptability in our environments.

Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, begins his term as the 2020-2021 IIDA International Board of Directors President during a time that is uniquely impacting our lives. As President and CEO of Huntsman Architectural Group, which has offices in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, Wagner oversees a firm with expertise in workplace, residential, and building repositioning design. Born and raised in Germany, Wagner holds degrees from the University of Toronto and Ringling College of Art and Design. He has previously served as IIDA Northern California chapter president, and more recently as vice president and president-elect on the IIDA International Board of Directors. While we are unable to gather in person to celebrate the beginning of his term and to listen to his inaugural remarks, Wagner shares his thoughts on the profession, design at this critical juncture, and on the next generation.

John Czarnecki: You begin your term as the 2020-2021 IIDA International Board President in an extremely challenging time. What are your thoughts and expectations for IIDA as a member organization?

Sascha Wagner: While acknowledging that this is a difficult time for the world at large and the design profession, this can also be a critical opportunity for commercial designers to help shape the future. IIDA has always been a great connector for our professional, student, and industry members, as well as design firms, product manufacturers, and our clients who benefit from good design. Strengthening these links is even more critical now, as we are all likely to work and collaborate from a distance for quite a while. People inherently have a need for belonging and a sense of place, and the role of IIDA as a member organization is more important than ever. I look forward to serving as IIDA International Board President in the coming year, as IIDA continues to provide relevant content and resources, connects members in meaningful interactions, and amplifies our members’ collective voice about the power of design to impact the human experience.

Going forward, human health in the built environment must be our priority. Our profession’s mandate to advocate and design for health, sustainability, equity, and social impact is only heightened. Spaces tell a story of values. Today’s acute focus on disease prevention adds a new dimension, and, as an industry, we are learning how built spaces can positively impact human wellbeing even more effectively. Looking further ahead, we can be hopeful that a post-pandemic future with an added emphasis on the importance of place will help to transcend the economic impact of 2020.

Photo courtesy of Sascha Wagner

JC: So much is being written about what a return to the office will look like and the ways it may vary based on city and region. While the coming months will be challenging, and the impact may be lasting, what is your expectation for the future of the workplace a few years from now?

SW: We are currently operating in triage mode, retrofitting existing workspaces and adjusting how we use them for the next year or more. How much of this initial response will influence long-term post-pandemic decisions on real estate footprints and workplace design remains a critical question. Designers and clients are being forced to rethink the very nature of interactions between people in the built environment. Making people feel safe as well as be safe will be the key. Organizations will likely become more resilient and agile, and think of their workforce more supportively, I hope. The purpose and function of the office will evolve, and designers will continue to work with our forward-thinking clients to design places for culture and connection.

JC: As President and CEO of Huntsman Architectural Group, overseeing a firm with multiple offices, are there lessons that you are taking from this experience in terms of firm leadership and management?

SW: Every design firm is faced with challenges today, including ours. A crisis only amplifies an organization’s DNA. Our management team has always sought to be as transparent as possible in decision making and in conveying our situation, priorities, and plans to the employee-owners. At a time in which everything is uncertain, sharing information candidly helps to provide needed clarity and trust. As leaders, it is also okay to admit when we do not have all the answers, provided that we listen to others. Maintaining a social fabric is also important: While working from home, we have been focusing on staying connected with all-staff meetings, studio calls, happy hours, and sharing recipes and even childhood photos. We are going through this together, and in some ways, teams across our offices feel closer than before.

Design is by nature an optimistic endeavor.”

Sascha Wagner

JC: Our design profession is being called upon now for expertise in all commercial interiors, including workplaces, healthcare settings, schools, hospitality, and retail. What is your hope for the design profession overall as our knowledge and skills are in demand in increasingly urgent ways?

SW: The initial response from our design profession, including firms 3D-printing PPE and IIDA members volunteering in their communities, has been incredible. Many designers have openly published ideas and planning strategies for adapting our public settings—offices, stores, restaurants, and schools—to keep people safe. While designers are not healthcare providers, we have a deep knowledge of human behavior in the built environment and we solve complex problems in a multi-disciplinary and iterative design process. Collectively, we will keep learning, sharing, and improving solutions. In the long term, I hope buildings and interior spaces will become more resilient and human health-centric, which is a positive development out of a tragic premise. Design is by nature an optimistic endeavor.

JC: Designers are also strategists and can be at the forefront of multi-disciplinary teams designing healthy interiors with wellness in mind. How do you foresee the role of “designer as strategist” evolving?

SW: I see an opportunity for design professionals to further develop expertise in organizational development, human behavior, and the psychology of design to add greater value when defining future strategies for wellness in the built environment. Design strategy addresses the questions of how people interact with the physical environment as well as why. Physical health, emotional wellbeing, and connection to culture and brand are all important aspects of this relationship between people and place. Organizations are now faced with re-mapping some of these connections. But we are not going to live in isolation forever. The personal experiences one has working in an office, shopping in a store, or eating in a restaurant are valuable beyond the convenience of online equivalents. How we return to more meaningful interactions is a complex challenge to undertake. Designers are well-positioned to help lead this effort, with the input of health experts and others.

JC: Savvy designers incorporate sustainable design practices regularly in their projects. How are issues of sustainable design amplified by this moment?

SW: The concept of a triple bottom line—ensuring human wellbeing, protecting the planet, and economic benefit—remains highly relevant. Ultimately, we cannot let our reaction to this pandemic come at the expense of the environment. As we are now evaluating building systems, products, finishes, behaviors, and even sanitizing protocols from an antiviral perspective, we also have to continue to mitigate any negative impacts on the planet. At a larger scale, looking at work scenarios that reduce commuting and travel—not just remote working from home, but perhaps regional hubs or hybrid solutions—can help to reduce our environmental footprint in a significant way and have a positive impact.  

“Being involved in IIDA certainly helped me feel fully immersed and connected in the profession early on, and that continues today.”

-Sascha Wagner

JC: Do you have any advice for those graduating from design programs entering the profession today?

SW: Speaking with a group of graduating students recently, I was amazed at their positivity and resilience as they are finishing the school year from home. I would ask students to remember that their chosen profession is an important one because, as designers, they can make a unique contribution to our future world. Even with a potentially delayed start, now is the time for graduates to begin building a network with design professionals and peers in preparation for entering the workforce. IIDA is the perfect platform to connect students and emerging professionals. Being involved in IIDA certainly helped me feel fully immersed and connected in the profession early on, and that continues today. We need that sense of connection, especially during challenging times like these, and that is what IIDA provides.

Watch Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, moderate the webinar Design Responds: Community Support and Innovation, episode 9 in the IIDA Collective (D)esign webinar series. This series, in response to our rapidly changing world, features conversations from design leaders, industry members, and educators focused on the effects of a global crisis.

COLLECTIVE (D)ESIGN: Design Responds: Community Support and Innovation

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the ninth webinar in the series today.

Designers are amazing at responding to change, and their ability to unpack what is essential in any issue, including those critical to design, lends itself to an adaptability that is of utmost importance right now. We are seeing designers rush in to lend humanitarian support redesigning and printing face shields, making masks, creating and gathering resources, and even shifting manufacturing processes to meet the needs of those on the frontlines of this crisis. IIDA invited a panel of designers to come together for an important discussion on giving back and coming together.

This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn how to earn your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.

Watch all the webinars in the series here.

Moderated by:

Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, AIA, President and CEO, Huntsman Architectural Group

Panelists:

  • Kathleen Carey, Firmwide Community Impact Leader, Gensler
  • Jan Johnson, FIIDA, VP, Workplace Strategy, Allsteel | Gunlocke
  • Neil Schneider, Assoc. IIDA, Design Director/Principal, IA Interior Architects

The next webinar in the series, The Global State of Design will take place on Thursday, June 4. Register today.

Women Lead Design: Angie Lee, Linda C. Mysliwiec, Meghan Webster

In this ongoing series, IIDA features women leading the design industry in a time of unprecedented change. Hear what they have to say on the importance of diversity in design, mentorship, inspiration, and the future of the profession. 

The significance of design in this challenging current global moment cannot be overstated; it endows us with much-needed clarity, beauty, accessibility, and problem-solving that are necessary for a rapidly changing world. The women who are making design happen, at all stages in their careers, are the leaders of a better tomorrow.

IIDA (virtually) connected with women making strides in design to discuss the urgency of this current moment, what’s next for design, and how a diversity of design thought is more crucial than ever. 

Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, Partner and Design Director of Interiors, FXCollaborative, New York

IIDA: How do you see the role of women in today’s crisis?

Angie Lee:
Women have a unique set of strengths that we’ve cultivated long before this current crisis. As we identify the countries best managing the pandemic, I am paying close attention to the women leading those governments and can say with even more confidence that we should lean into our innate tendencies to find compassionate and intuitive resolutions. Women are long overdue to step away from the traditional leadership templates that are offered to us, but rarely fit our instincts. Instead of faking it until we make it, we should lean into the fact that we are more likely to be prepared and qualified for the positions we’re currently in, and those we will eventually fill. Our role now, more than ever, is to step into the light and stop casting our assets as drawbacks, continue banding together to amplify our voices, and design for a wider and inclusive expanse of humanity.

IIDA: Who or what inspires you in your life and work?

AL:
New generations coming into their own now are breathtaking in their clarity of purpose. They often illustrate the stark contrast between contentment and complacency. I am inspired by these young people branching off to blaze new trails started by groundbreaking women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, Rebecca Solnit, or Tarana Burke. I find that because of the new and old guard of fabulous female game changers, I am embracing a kind of critical thinking that focuses on accountability and activism. On top of that, I am awe inspired by the movements that have swept the country and the planet in many cases. The ferocious courage of very young climate activists, the tenacity and preparedness of junior congress members, and the constant, quiet expansion of dialogue and diversity of organizations like IIDA that create new pathways toward an interconnected world of good design remind me that we will be okay again.

Linda C. Mysliwiec, AIA, Senior Associate, Studio Director, Gensler, Chicago

IIDA: Who have you considered to be your mentor and how have they influenced you?

Linda C. Mysliwiec:
I’ve had so many incredible mentors over the years, and each of them were the thing I needed in my career at that particular time. Earlier on, I had mentors who encouraged me to answer my own questions and find solutions to challenges that came up; that helped me build confidence in my skills, knowledge, and design point of view. And today, now that I’m more experienced, the best mentors challenge my way of thinking, opening my mind to a broader range of possibilities.

IIDA: Have you been a mentor and was this rewarding for you?

LM: Mentorship is a major part of my day-to-day, and I find it incredibly rewarding. Being open, being someone who speaks my mind, and bringing humanity to work every day – those are the things that allow people to feel they can approach you. Rather than simply telling someone what they should do, I try to advise on a few different scenarios or options and let them decide what to do next. The way they take that advice and make it work for their own particular situation, personality, and set of opinions is what makes the relationship so rewarding. I don’t desire to go at it alone; in architecture and design, we’re better together, and it makes the journey so enjoyable when you have a team around you to support and be supported by.

IIDA: What do you see as the role of women in design in light of our current crisis?

LM: In all facets of life, we talk a lot about how women are socialized to be more empathetic, to multitask, to take care of others. While those may be traditionally feminized characteristics that we’d like to extend to everyone regardless of how they identify, those classically gendered traits can absolutely work in our collective favor right now. When we can find ways to leverage our ability to balance life and work and our affinity for connecting, women can be a powerful guiding light through this crisis for our families, colleagues, and communities.

IIDA: What or who inspires you?

LM:
People inspire me. They always have, but it’s particularly magnified during this pandemic. I’m someone who prefers small groups and one-on-one interactions; I get excited learning about someone’s background or hearing stories about their life. Skip the small talk—when I’m able to have a meaningful conversation with another person, I always leave with the opportunity to rethink and expand my own viewpoint.

Meghan Webster, AIA, Principal, Gensler, Chicago

IIDA: Who have you considered to be your mentor and how have they influenced you?

Meghan Webster:
My passion is people, and learning about how they perceive and operate in the world, and this has framed how I’ve learned from mentors. I am drawn to people who I most emulate and deeply respect, and I learn from those qualities that define them. This approach ties philosophically to Gensler and our “constellation” of talent, so in a way, I think of our firm as a place full of a constellation of mentors.

IIDA: Have you been a mentor and was this rewarding for you?

MW: I owe my career to so many mentors, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned from them is to pay it forward. My hope is that the impact of my mentorship on others’ careers enables a similar level of growth that I experienced. I think the most rewarding aspect of mentoring others is watching where they head in their own careers and learning from the new lens and perspective they bring to my own growth. It’s a completely reciprocal process that can’t be manufactured or superficial.

IIDA: What / who inspires you?

MW: One of the women that inspires me most is Christine Lagarde, current President of the European Central Bank and former Managing Director of the IMF. Her grace and intellect in the way that she leads is stunning. As it turns out, she is also a former member of the French National Synchronized Swimming Team, and she credits the sport with teaching her a vital leadership skill, “Smile. And grit your teeth.” As a former synchronized swimmer myself, thinking of that quote adds humor to almost any situation.

A View Towards the Workplace of 2024: IIDA Members Forecast an Office Designed for Enhanced Wellness

The following article was a submission from a team representing IIDA in the May 2020 CoreNet Global Hackathon: COVID-19 Virtual Ideation Experience. The team included commercial interior designers and educators from across the country, as well as staff from IIDA Headquarters. 

The CoreNet Global Hackathon brought together over 1,000 participants from the corporate real estate and design communities to reflect on and develop collective solutions for immediate and future response to the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace. The discussions provide a roadmap for the commercial interior design and real estate industries, to support their clients in returning to a post-COVID-19 workplace.

Authors: Team lead: John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA, Ryan Ben, Student Engagement & Advancement Manager, IIDA, Jane Hallinan, IIDA, Interior Designer, Perkins Eastman, Paul LaBrant, IIDA, Associate Principal, STG Design, Jon Otis, IIDA, Principal, Object Agency; Professor, Pratt Institute, Sandra Tripp, IIDA, Principal, Huntsman Architectural Group, Alissa Wehmueller, IIDA, Principal, Helix Architecture + Design


How will a new workplace be designed for human wellness in 2024, a time (hopefully) well after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic impact and a time (again, hopefully) of U.S. economic recovery? That is the premise that frames this team’s discussion on the future of the workplace. 

As designers—not healthcare or economic experts—we chose to take the long view to a time that may be more settled. In the current moment, in May 2020, responses are largely speculative and based on great uncertainty. This seemingly dystopian time, with COVID-19 remaining and causing economic upheaval, will likely last many months and perhaps well into the next year. As humans, we need to look optimistically ahead towards the more distant future. That is with the understanding that we will have endured, adapted, and learned from a time of both global pandemic and difficult financial conditions for many individuals and businesses. 

One lasting impact of this moment is a heightened consciousness of human wellness in interiors. As designers, we believe that the best design is always sustainable and has wellness in mind—it’s not an additive aspect. With that assumption, how will a new workplace be designed as the innovation hub of an organization, with human wellness at the forefront, in 2024?

Human Behavior and Culture

Before we discuss design and real estate issues within an office, we’ll focus on people. In a post-pandemic world, we believe a heightened awareness of personal responsibility, agency, and necessary mutual trust will drive many decisions in our lives and workplaces. Flexibility will be key, and smart employers will communicate this in action and policy with employees allowed to continue to work remotely when feasible. Employees who do come to the office will have increased personal agency over scheduled work hours. Remote work, flexible hours, and work during non-peak hours are also issues of social equity for all.

For a time, the future workplace will be reflective of the trauma of the pandemic and the economic conditions it has created. To combat this lasting impact, savvy companies will design their offices to reflect stability, safety, and confidence, emphasizing teams and encouraging all forms of collaboration, both digital and in person.

For the employee in such a company, this will engender a higher level of mutual trust and commitment. Individuals will be more mindful of their personal space and cleanliness and the impact that they have on others. Like a thoughtful gym member, employees will be tasked with leaving their desks, meeting rooms, and communal spaces as clean as they found them, wiping down surfaces as they wrap up their time in a space. Rather than relying solely on an evening cleaning service, all office occupants will have shared responsibility for cleanliness and sanitation throughout the day.

Density 

Overall square footage per employee decreased in recent decades, driven largely by economic and regional commercial real estate conditions as well as a company’s functional need. While a return-to-work-during-pandemic time in 2020 may require workplaces to limit capacity for a while, we look ahead to a post-pandemic future: Economic pressures for tighter density will likely continue, especially in dense urban cities like New York. With tighter budgets, companies will largely not have the luxury to expend more square footage per employee. The question is: how flexible is the space?

While we do not envision that the amount of square footage per employee will change drastically between now and a post-pandemic time, how designers program and plan a workplace interior will continue to evolve. The impact of forced remote working in 2020—and the resulting regularization of flexibility to work remotely—will encourage organizations to re-evaluate how they allocate real estate, increasing the shift from square footage for individual use to increased square footage for collaborative, shared spaces. Coming to the office to actively collaborate will be a more purposeful decision that will require a different tool kit of policies for a number of companies.

New spaces and adjacencies in a future post-pandemic workplace.

Enhanced Entry Sequence

For new or renovated workplaces where square footage allows, we anticipate the design of an enhanced transitional entry sequence. Analogies: a mudroom in one’s own home where shoes and coats are taken off, or a gym where one changes clothes in a locker room prior to entering the active gym floor area. In an office, an enhanced entry might have ample closets or even lockers for coats, bags, and a change of shoes so that staff can enter the work area without bringing those items far beyond the office entrance. This can also be a place to check temperatures of employees and visitors and, ideally, a well-designed hand-washing station is incorporated here.

Open Collaboration Area

In the past decade, the amount of casual seating has increased as a percentage of both an interior’s square footage and of a project’s budget. That will likely continue. As the workforce will be increasingly accustomed to working anywhere with portable technology, soft seating will remain appealing as both a change of pace from a desk as well as for comfort, aesthetics, and casual small meetings. How does the design of this area, with communal tables, soft seating, and shared spaces, change? 

An open collaboration area will have extended benefit as a strategic buffer zone—seemingly breathing space—designed to be more integrated between desking areas. Touchdown areas for employees needing places to briefly work between meetings, flexible furniture that can be moved and reconfigured to meet changing needs, and stand-up conference areas for quick gatherings will all become regular features. Furniture with easily cleanable finishes/upholsteries will be key. The communal, standing table, which has risen to prominence in the workplace, will be restricted in the immediate near future. But, in a post-pandemic era, human nature will bring us to again gather at communal tables.

Workplace Desking

The open office is not dead. But what changes? While we may see some impulsive overcorrection reactions in the 2020 time of pandemic to build partitions and regress to cubicle-like workstations, these are not long-term solutions for quality workplaces. Cheap, quick fixes are just that, and will not endure. Evidence-based savvy design principles will lead to systematic changes through research that can affect both short-term needs and long-term functionality, without sacrificing good design aesthetics.

The design of furniture components will likely adapt into revised configurations that respect distancing where square footage allows for it and supports various workplace activities. Open workstations and benching will, very likely, continue in the long-term future, and the amount of space between individuals may be increased, again, where square footage allows. Modularity and flexibility will more regularly inform design and engineering of any systematic modifications. The process must include concerted research and development investigating material suitability, resiliency, and maintenance. 

Hoteling and Shared Desking

Hoteling and shared desking—agile workplace seating—will not go away, and may become more prevalent due to a more flexible workforce splitting time between the office and home, and overall real estate density issues. Shared desking will continue in the long-term, coupled with the lasting pandemic impact of heightened personal responsibility for cleanliness after leaving a desk or table. 

Phone/Huddle Rooms

The need for privacy does not go away, but the quick turnaround of people using this small space will adjust. These areas will be outfitted to host small/individual video conferencing, connecting via one’s laptop, tablet, or phone.

Conference Rooms

Although conference room size will not largely change, capacity may be somewhat reduced compared to the current norm. Meetings will more regularly be a blend of in-person attendees with others conferenced-in remotely. In the room, comfortable distancing will potentially remain as conference etiquette, with chairs spaced between three and four feet apart. With the camera becoming more important, additional seating will be to one side of the room opposite the main presentation/monitor/camera wall. Furniture will be flexible to be configured for the needs of the meeting. Rooms will more regularly have integrated sound and video with touchless voice-activated features. The norm of back-to-back meetings in conference room scheduling will be staggered with 15-to-30-minute intervals to allow for cleaning and increased air circulation.

Technology

Technology in the workplace continues to advance, of course. The future office will see continued advances, with integrated video technology becoming more regularized. The reasons are many: Because the workforce will include a greater blend of those within an office and those working remotely, and because we have become far more accustomed to video-conferenced meetings. With cues from healthcare interiors, workplaces may also include more touchless door openings as well.

Kitchens and Break Areas

In recent years, the employee kitchen and break area has increased in square footage and has become more open and connected to the workplace as a social hub for both casual conversations as well as nourishment. This space has become an important workplace amenity, signaling to employees that wellness is important to the company. In the short-term, while the pandemic is still with us, companies may restrict the use of these office kitchen areas. But, as we look long-term to a post-pandemic future, we foresee that the desire to have the kitchen as a place for food, drink, and conversation will absolutely continue. Great scrutiny will be placed on the kitchen’s footprint and placement adjacent to the workspaces, though, and attention will be placed on easily cleanable surfaces, pressure-latch opening drawers and cabinets that can be opened without considerable touch, and perhaps two sinks—one designated solely for hand washing. To enhance wellness, healthy choices in foods and beverages will be conscientiously selected. Overall, while potentially dormant or restricted in the immediate future, the kitchen will be an increasingly important amenity and social aspect of the office.

Indoor Air Quality and the Outdoor Workplace

In a building’s design, the quality of air ventilation and filtration systems will be scrutinized more commonly. Premium indoor air quality will be paramount in all new construction, with an increasing desire to provide for individual control of airflow. Building owners will also be pressured to improve existing building systems when possible. Air quality will be viewed increasingly as a human right and equity issue, not solely a checkmark for certification achievements. Designers will also maximize daylight and views, and create connections to nature through materials, plants, and select artwork. With that in mind, our desire to spend time outdoors will drive an investment in functional, comfortable, and accessible outdoor spaces wherever climate and real estate allow. 

Lead photo by: Garrett Rowland. All images courtesy of Huntsman Architectural Group.

For more discourse on the future of design and workplace design, watch IIDA’s Collective D(esign): Episode 6 | The Changing Landscape of Workplace Design, and register for Episode 9 | Design Responds: Community Support and Innovation.

COLLECTIVE (D)ESIGN: Sustainability, Design and Adaptive Change

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the seventh webinar in the series today. 

How are approaches to sustainability in design shifting? IIDA and a panel of industry experts address important issues around energy savings, waste reduction, and climate change. Explore the impact of this challenging moment and our responsibility to design for the health of people and the planet.

This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn how to earn your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.

Watch all the webinars in the series here.

Moderated by:

John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA, Chicago

Panelists:

  • Sonja Bochart, IIDA, Principal, Shepley Bulfinc, Phoenix
  • Blaine Brownell, FAIA, Professor, Interim Architecture Department Head, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • Mikhail Davis, Director, Technical Sustainability – Americas, Interface, San Francisco
  • Paula McEvoy, FAIA, Associate Principal, Perkins and Will, Atlanta

The next webinar in the series, Design Responds: Community Support and Innovation will take place on Thursday, May 21, 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. Central. Register today.

Design Competitions Offer Opportunities for Recognition and Connection

Despite the current state of uncertainty in our world, firms and designers should still look to design competitions for creative and professional validation, portfolio building, and community engagement. 

While it may seem like an unusual time to be entering your latest design projects into competitions—with the ongoing global pandemic profoundly changing the ways we conduct business—design competitions can be especially valuable for both you and your firm. Thought moments of celebration are being hampered across the world, firms and designers can and should still look for ways to honor achievement and gain recognition for their accomplishments.

It’s important to promote your interior design innovations in sustainability, health and safety, and accessibility—and provide your design team with a sense of validation. Your newly realized or in-progress interior design projects will be setting the tone for what we continue to build and design in a post-pandemic world.

The process of applying to a competition can be a powerful team-builder.

No matter what kind of award or competition you are applying for, there is a great deal of work to be done by everyone on your team. From organizing project information to sourcing photos and renderings, a competition application is a commitment. If you look at applying as a team exercise with team-building as an additional goal it may inspire collaboration and creativity amongst designers. Like design itself, the application process can result in the sharing of perspectives, new takes on future projects, and defining your value as a firm.

2019 IIDA Best of Asia Pacific Awards Category Winner | Restaurants, Lounges & Bars | Yanlord Health Cafe by CL3 Architects Limited | Photo by: b+m Studio, courtesy of CL3

Awards and competitions may help you achieve a promotional goal, whether you win or not.

Whether your firm is looking to attract new talent, or your team wants to take on larger-scale projects with big-name clients, placing in competitions is a great and straightforward way to show ‘em what you’ve got. Having your project highlighted as a competition winner can be a window into your design process or a way to demonstrate your firm’s strengths to an international design audience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every competition will be what Bilboa was for Frank Gehry, but they can certainly help put you on the map in ways that internal promotion may not.

Competitions can be morale boosters and team motivators.

When you submit a design project to be considered for an award, it sends the message to your design team that their work is valued and deserves to be celebrated. At a time when workflow may be paused or future projects uncertain, the competition can reinstill excitement for the hard work and creativity within your firm. No matter what kind of work you do or what your professional end goals may be, receiving an award or accolade simply feels good and can provide a renewed sense of inspiration or affirmation.

2020 ALA/IIDA Library Interior Design Award Category Winner | Public Libraries – 30,000 sq. ft. and under | (Re)imagining The Community Library by RATIO w/ Nicole Snyder Interiors | Photo by: Gabe Border and Gibeon Photography

Winning or placing in a competition enhances your firm’s portfolio, which can potentially attract more clients.

Awards offer credibility that may be attractive to clients—especially clients who are new to the process of selecting a design firm. Placing in a competition communicates with current and future clients that your design team is organized, has excellent follow-through, communicates well, takes pride in their work, and understands their strengths. If a competition publishes winning projects in major design publications, such as when Will Ching Design Competition winner OpenUU was featured in Interior Design, this can also increase the traffic to your firm’s website and result in more interest.

Competitions connect you with the wider design community.

Many competitions and awards have both regional and international audiences and applicants, meaning that when you apply to a design competition, you become a part of a robust network of professionals and designers. Competitions allow you to indirectly become involved in associations, organizations, design publications, and other firms. At a time when social distancing is the norm, anything that meaningfully connects you with your external community is more valuable than ever.

Sign up for Designed for Excellence, the bi-weekly newsletter dedicated to IIDA competitions and awards updates, plus news on events, celebrations, and award-winning design projects. Email Clare Socker at csocker@iida.org to be added to the subscriber list.

Lead image: 47th Annual Interior Design Competition Winner | ICS kindergarten by Fun connection design | Photo by: Yue Wu, courtesy of Fun connection design