Everybody is Included

The following is an excerpt from IIDA’s annual Industry Roundtable report, Industry Roundtable 23: The Future of Place, Experience, and Worklife. The roundtable took place at BMW Designworks in California. Read the full report here.

My prediction for 2050? That women leaders in the design world will triple.

Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, Perkins and Will

While the design industry still struggles with diversity, progress has been made in recent years, and leading practitioners and manufacturers are deeply committed to the goal of inclusivity—both within their own organizations and with respect to the end-user for whom they are designing. Current efforts to diversify the talent pipeline ensure a more equitable future.

The profession will look very different in the coming decades, more reflective of the world at large. The design ecosystem will encompass a greater diversity of practitioners, collaborators, and partners and a wider range of ages and gender identities, as well as a broader cultural and racial makeup. (This will make for an intriguing Industry Roundtable: “In 2050, the age range around this table will span 80 years; some will attend via hologram; everyone will speak in their native language and the audience will hear it in theirs, whether attending remotely or in-person,” Ryan Menke, Ind. IIDA, senior vice president of sales and marketing at OFS presages.) The industry will become more inclusive by default, but also by intention, as designers advocate and agitate for systemic shifts. “For instance, space and local/international codes can work together to support a growing community of gender nonbinary individuals,” explains Mavis Wiggins, Assoc. IIDA, managing executive of TPG Architecture.

Multidisciplinary design professionals and firms with expertise and backgrounds in other fields are likely to disrupt our industry, which will be even better equipped to solve the complex, multimodal problems of tomorrow. “In thirty years,” James Kerrigan, FIIDA, design principal of interiors at Jacobs predicts, “BMW will be here speaking about how they got into the design space by applying their production and supply chain know-how to overturn traditional construction approaches, delivering high-tech, sustainable, and beautiful design solutions for interior and exterior applications.”

For now, inclusivity looks different at every firm, and so do the specific impediments to achieving it. As an example, Landscape Forms is currently endeavoring to make two very different populaces feel equally included under one roof. “Our production staff and our office teams are antitheses of each other, and here we are asking them to work together,” Kirt Martin, vice president of Capitol One says.

Design, particularly of office amenities, has played a role in bridging that gap, he explains. So has giving employees as much choice as possible about when, how, and where they work. For Netflix, an impetus for addressing inclusion is the network’s penetration into previously unexplored external markets—“countries that haven’t yet experienced content the way we do, and from whom we’re learning a lot,” says Elizabeth Christopher, design manager at Netflix.

Design leaders are seizing opportunities to better narrate the stories of those who are oft-overlooked or excluded in our spaces and our culture. “In order to design a better world, we need to unpack the missing data: the missing stories of the people we purportedly design for,” says Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, partner and design director of interiors at FXCollaborative. Being inclusive also means considering vulnerable and under-resourced populaces, and being proactive about designing solutions for them, whether or not we’re hired by clients to do so. “What matters now is designing for social equity and affordable living,” says Martin. The industry will be challenged and emboldened to address pressing issues like urban density, overpopulation, and the housing crisis, and to help climate refugees. “Equality and justice for women and minorities will positively change our built environment,” concludes Diana Farmer-Gonzalez, IIDA, Assoc. AIA, principal and co-managing director of Gensler’s Miami office.

Omnipresent, Invisible, On-Demand Technology

The following is an excerpt from IIDA’s annual Industry Roundtable report, Industry Roundtable 23: The Future of Place, Experience, and Worklife. The roundtable took place at BMW Designworks in California. Read the full report here.

The modern workplace runs on technology: Wi-Fi, video conferencing, biometric security systems, motion-activated lighting, app-controlled climate zones, Slack, AutoCAD, etc. Technology is essential. Yet the cumbersome wires, cables, power cords, switches, sensors, and gadgets that enable it can make technology feel like a burden. As a result, the seamless integration of technology into the work environment—both physically and psychologically—is one of the greatest challenges designers and manufacturers face.

The wave of the future is to create spaces in which technology is omnipresent but invisible until the very moment it’s needed—out of sight, yet right at arm’s reach. BMW realizes this fantasy with its Interaction Ease technology for iNext, a fully electric autonomous vehicle that will be introduced to the market in 2021. In rethinking the SUV interior for the self-driving era, Holger Hampf and team sought to emulate the feeling and experience consumers have in their happy places, whether that happens to be a remote mountaintop or a buzzy bar/ lounge hanging out with friends. In short, they envisioned iNext as a destination in its own right.

Accordingly, the iNext interior features residentially styled chairs and surfaces that have the appearance of freestanding furniture, a palette that takes cues from boutique hotels, and a seating arrangement that encourages conviviality. Glass on all sides switches from transparent to opaque at the wave of a hand. The vehicle has an eclectic, cocooning, unexpected quality. These attributes abet a driving experience that’s “ultimately human,” says Hampf, and that allows for “natural, multimodal, and social interaction” between passengers.

A key to creating such a space was an approach to technology dubbed “shy tech,” whereby elements like GPS navigation and audio controls are hidden from view but reveal themselves where and when the driver or occupant needs them. Adjustment mechanisms for the zero- gravity chairs are hidden beneath the seat upholstery; the door handle appears, as a glowing icon, only when you reach out for it. “In iNext, the tech is all around you: alive, reactive, and abstract,” Hampf explains.

Shy Tech at the Office

Shy tech is an apt model for the next-gen workspace. “We have to make sure the right technology is there to enable human experience, and yet design it away since it creates a lot of visual noise,” says Hampf. One way to reduce said noise is to embed technological capabilities into finishes and materials. For instance, iNext features high-tech textiles embedded with haptic controls, and the windshield glass transforms into a flat- screen on demand. “We have to ask what experiences we want to create in a space, and then drive them under the surface of that space,” Hampf explains.

This vision aligns with where corporate interiors are heading. “By 2050, no one will have a computer, because everything will be computerized,” Jennifer Ruckel, Ind. IIDA, predicted. “Computers will be small and cheap, embedded in everything, and rituals like swiping to get into an office will not require a card.” Unobtrusive sensors have already rendered offices technologically capable of providing real-time feedback on end-user productivity, wellness, happiness, and other success metrics. The next frontier is for the space to somehow self-adjust immediately to that feedback.

In the interest of sustainability, designers and manufacturers will need to figure out ways to incorporate technology into materials and furniture in a manner that allows for continuous upgrades. “Furniture with embedded technology becomes obsolete more quickly since the technology often becomes outdated before the furniture itself does,” says Elizabeth Christopher. Companies are already designing or retooling their products to address this consideration. For instance, “our pieces are designed to accommodate rather than integrate technology,” Kirt Martin notes.

The real world is about 10 years behind everyone in this room, and that’s a challenge.

– Kirt Martin, Landscape Forms

Good Design is Sticky, Behavior-Enabled, and Hi-Res.

The following is an excerpt from IIDA’s annual Industry Roundtable report, Industry Roundtable 23: The Future of Place, Experience, and Worklife. Read the full report here.

There is no mathematical formula for creating products and spaces that are engaging and compelling—that end-users want to spend time with and in. That said, Holger Hampf of BMW Designworks relies on a set of “power tools” to create designs that have “stickiness”—an attribute that’s getting harder to achieve in our consumerist age of disposability and endless trade-ins and upgrades. “We’re in a dangerous moment where we are able to build excitement for—but not attachment to—objects,” he says with some urgency. “We need to find ways of retaining excitement and building attachment to our designs over time.”

Layering emotive, tonal qualities atop the physical, “object” qualities can enhance the sense of discovery and surprise. It’s an approach that correlates to the workplace, for which we design space around specific behaviors and to foster new types of behaviors. It’s the reverse of starting from an aesthetic style or visual cues. Notions like shape and style come only after first considering the behavior we wish to support, as well as defining the attributes we expect and want the design to deliver. 

Another intriguing, if concerning, aspect of our cultural moment is a lowered standard regarding what we consume. “Everything we experience these days is compressed and pixelated”—meaning the music and images that stream through our smartphones and Internet cables. “We have started to accept the low res, which to me, as a designer, is a disaster.” It’s also a design challenge to be solved. “How can we extrapolate and create experiences that don’t feel compressed?” Hampf proposes. There’s the opportunity to create more relevant, authentic, “hi-res” experiences for our clients.

Design is Ultimately Human

“Automation/AI will change every industry, product, and service, including our profession,” says Diana Farmer-Gonzalez, IIDA, Assoc. AIA. Indeed, it already has. Consider the advent of smart test fits. Verda Alexander, IIDA, had a darker take, cautioning that “AI and genetic modification will pose new problems for jobs—and increasing inequality.”

But where we once used to fear the robots, we now want to partner with them. It’s not about man versus machine, but man and machine. Perhaps in the future, there will be VR interfaces and “prosthetics that fundamentally blur the boundary of human and machine—cyborgs,” Susana Covarrubias, IIDA, predicts. “Interfaces that highlight human interactions are what’s most important.”

But for now, we need to work together better. AI is here to stay and will only become more useful and prevalent. Technology is now often viewed as a positive enabler. This is a shift from the usual party line which supports that technology undermines human connection. Technology can reduce loneliness, for example, a cultural phenomenon that concerns many industry leaders. Julia Feldmeier, journalist and brand anthropologist notes, “Technology gives us a sense of rootedness in a culture defined by the failure of institutions, a culture in which people no longer trust religion or corporations or government.”

Read IIDA’s full Industry Roundtable report, The Future of Place, Experience, and Worklife.

Envisioning the Future of the Interior Design Industry

What were you doing 20 years ago? IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, opened Industry Roundtable 20, held January 6-8, 2017, with that simple question.

“Twenty years ago, commercial interior design was experiencing a transformative shift,” said Durst, who moderated the annual roundtable. “We began asking, ‘How do people work?’ instead of, ‘Where do people sit?’ We started to think beyond the job title and consider how people relate to one another in the workplace. We saw that work and life were overlapping in new ways. And, we recognized that good design is the solution for optimizing work and productivity in this new era.”

It was a fitting question to kick off the event: For two decades, Industry Roundtable has welcomed distinguished design leaders for a two-day, thought-provoking discussion about topics relevant to the Interior Design industry. This year’s topic, “Design Then, Design Now, Design Next: A 20-year Retrospective,” offered participants the rare opportunity to reflect on the history of the profession and assess the emerging economic, cultural, and social trends that are shaping the next generation of commercial interior design.

Eileen Jones, IIDA, SEGD, AIGA, LEED AP, principal and global practice leader, Perkins+Will, opened the event with her keynote presentation, “A 20-year Retrospective of the Commercial Interior Design Industry,” which provided an overview of how technology, sustainability, and the evolving purview of design have shaped the profession.

Her message was forward-looking, setting the tone for the remainder of the event. “Standing here at the end of the Information Age, we are in a unique position to figure out what is next and how we can change the world with design,” said Jones.

The group of 30 interior designers, manufacturer representatives, and thought leaders then participated in sessions focused on the future of people, place, and work, featuring speakers Julie B. Cummings, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, director of human resources, BKD, LLP; Jim Young, co-founder, Realcomm Conference Group; and Jim Ware, Ph.D., founder and executive director, Future of Work….unlimited. Much of the conversation focused on the multi-generational workforce and how to transition design leadership to younger generations.

“When I first started, I never would have imagined that human resources would be sitting at the table with design teams to talk about space,” mused Cummings who presented on The Future of People, “We need designers to guide us, consult with us on how space can meet the needs as the Boomers transition out and Millennials become even more of a force in the workplace. This is something all of my peers are wrestling with.”

Young and Ware, who spoke on the Future of Place and the Future of Work, respectively, echoed this sentiment during their presentations: Designing for the future will mean accommodating five generations, a growing population, and rising life expectancies while reckoning with a decrease in available space, a critical need for sustainable building practices, and ever-evolving technology.

“Design has the unique ability to bring together allied professions, solve problems from multiple points of view, and put society’s well-being at the forefront. This notion of the convergence of people, place, and work, and how we think about design in the context of these things is critical to what’s next for our industry,” said Durst.

An executive report, to be released in March 2017, will provide a summary of key insights from IIDA Industry Roundtable 20.

Read past Industry Roundtable executive reports online at iida.org.