Collaboration and Communication: Key Takeaways from the 2019 Industry Roundtable

The 2019 IIDA Industry Roundtable, held in January in Chicago, culminated in a lively, facilitated discussion with designers and industry representatives on the topic of communication best practices. Drawing on a few of the hot topics from the broader Industry Roundtable conversation, including learnability, flexibility, and artificial intelligence, the following are key takeaways and excerpts of the discussion.

Of-the-Moment Versus Enduring

With the transference of “fast fashion” consumer expectations into our own industry, clients are questioning why furniture needs to last 20 years. While designers work hard to educate clients about responsible product specification and the advantages of well-made, warrantied furniture designed specifically for the workplace, this wisdom can sometimes fall on deaf ears. Designers are navigating this challenge by specifying a balance of timeless and timely product in interiors—but often feel conflicted in so doing. Here are some key thoughts from designers on the topic:

“The ‘fast-fashion’ product model doesn’t stand up, but there is a market for it, unfortunately. It’s more of a startup mentality: How long is something going to last relative to things needing to change?”

“We are responsible for considering the embodied energy of the products we are huge consumers of. A very finite life span isn’t helping the world. Products that are flexible, reconfigurable, and that offer multiple solutions will become more important.”

“In Scandinavia, companies make furniture with parts that disconnect and can be sent back for reupholstery. In fact, the government mandates buying furniture that can be updated. Will our country one day move in that direction?”

“In the environments we are creating, we treat some furniture elements as more permanent and infrastructural, and specify others that can be changed out in response to needs or trends.”

The 2019 IIDA Industry Roundtable brought together a multi-disciplinary roster of designers, manufacturers, and marketing executives to look at the future of work through the lenses of people, place, and practice.

Teach, Don’t Preach

Look beyond box lunches, 15-minute cookie breaks, and PowerPoint presentations when creating CEUs and education materials targeted at younger designers. Or any-age designer, for that matter:

“Ditch the PowerPoint and create video stories that seduce and inspire emotions—stories that showcase the beauty, simplicity, and sustainability of your design in simple ways.”

“It’s a myth that millennials only want two- to three-minute sound bites. If the information is pertinent and I’m engaged, I can sit rapt for an hour.”

“Consider restructuring how you’re putting together and synthesizing information. Tech rewired out brains: Once I get a point, I don’t want to hear it for 10 more minutes; I got it!

“I read recently that brands are not telling their stories in a linear manner because of their customers’ experience on the internet. The example given outlined that people don’t just watch one video or read one blog post but jump to various channels when exploring a brand or product.”

Feel-good Furniture

As technology automates the design process and frees up time for more conceptual thinking, practitioners are recasting themselves as “creators of emotional experience.” Manufacturers can support this phenomenon by promoting their product’ experiential side:

“Our premise is about elevating the human experience; we lead with that in every presentation and external communication vehicle. A client talk starts with a discussion about the ability of space to elevate the human experience—and to do the opposite if it’s not carefully calibrated and catered to the intended end user. Space is not a resource or a consumable or an overhead expense; it’s a strategic tool that can influence how we feel.”

“The workplace has done a 180-degree turn, customized to the DNA of the company. It doesn’t matter what we as designers think; it’s about how we are crafting an experience for this client specifically. That’s a shift in our critical thinking.”

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Who will populate the world of work in 2030, and what will matter most? We tackled that and more at this year’s Roundtable.

Corporate Culture Trumps Cool Café

Millennials are more interested in a transparent, communicative, and egalitarian office culture than they are in gimmicky furniture or amenities:

“I don’t need beanbag chairs; I want to work at a place with a leadership team that is reflective of the industry and the broader populace.”

“At my firm, we don’t have amenity spaces—but we do have an open door policy. I’d rather have a good office environment and easy access to leadership than a fancy cafeteria.”

Emotions are the New Ergonomics

Yesterday, it was all about height-adjustability; today, designers and their clients want products that promote mindfulness and support emotional well-being. Furniture that’s responsive, context-aware, and environment-adaptive will play a starring role in the future:

“Could our furniture be collecting different kinds of data than just occupancy and movement? For instance, information about a user’s state of mind?”

“The psychology of space and neurological considerations will become more primary to how we design interiors. Systems will be able to ‘read’ who we are—and what our needs are—based on smarter architectural infrastructures.”

“Several emerging technologies in the smart building arena—including smart materials, displays, and surfaces—have the potential to fundamentally alter our approach to the design of workspaces.”

Words to Live and Work By

In what was a very buzzword-heavy conversation, the following terms were mentioned repeatedly in reference to the design of furniture and product; take them to heart:

  • Acoustics
  • Adaptability
  • Choice
  • Comfort
  • Connectivity
  • Control
  • Convenience
  • Community
  • Cozy
  • Distraction
  • Flexibility
  • Focus
  • Head’s down
  • Mindfulness
  • Modularity
  • Privacy
  • Residential blur
  • Transparency
  • User-centrism
  • Variety
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Humans are hard-wired for social connection; community is as essential to our survival as food and shelter, and designers are ultimately “in the business of creating community.” -Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, IIDA Executive Vice President/CEO

2019 IIDA Roundtable Participants included:

INDUSTRY EXPERTS AND SPONSORS

Jennifer Ruckel, 3Form

Mark Shannon, Ind. IIDA, Crossville Inc.

Julia Ryan, ESI

Michelle Boolton, Assoc. IIDA, Gunlocke

Anjell Karibian, Haworth

Alan Almasy, Ind. IIDA, Herman Miller

Meg Bruce Conway, Humanscale

John Newland, Ind. IIDA, ICF

Roby Isaac, Mannington Commercial

Jackie Dettmar, Ind. IIDA, Mohawk Group

John Stephens, Ind. IIDA, Shaw Contract

Catherine Minervini, Ind. IIDA, Sunbrella / Glen Raven

Jennifer Busch, Hon. IIDA, Teknion

Adrian Parra, Ind. IIDA, Vitra

Teresa Humphrey, Ind. IIDA, Wilsonart

FROM IIDA

Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA

John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA

DESIGN EXPERTS AND IIDA INTERNATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS

President

Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA Principal, Perkins+Will

President-Elect

Susana Covarrubias, IIDA, Gensler

Vice Presidents

Edwin Beltran, IIDA, NBBJ

Annie Chu, IIDA, FAIA, Chu + Gooding Architects

Jeff Fenwick, Ind. IIDA, Tarkett

James Kerrigan, IIDA, Jacobs

Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, FXCollaborative

Marlene M. Liriano, FIIDA, IA Interior Architects

Jon Otis, IIDA, O|A Object Agency

Doug Shapiro, Ind. IIDA, OFS

Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, AIA, Huntsman Architectural Group

Members at Large

Christine Dumich, Gensler

Mike Johnson II, IIDA, AIA, Perkins+Will

Kelie Mayfield, IIDA, MaRS

Patricia Rotondo, IIDA, Antunovich Associates

Smita Sahoo, IIDA, bKL Architecture LLC

Neil Schneider, Assoc. IIDA, IA Interior Architects


Learn more about the IIDA Industry Roundtable, an invaluable “brain trust” session for manufacturers and a quality opportunity for designers to exchange dialogue on issues addressing the built environment.

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