2020 Advocacy Symposium Keynote Speaker Bill Grant

Bill Grant, mayor of Canton, Georgia, and president and chief creative officer of the award-winning Grant Design Collaborative, shares insight into how the skills that designers possess can drive advocacy.

Bill Grant, the 2020 IIDA Advocacy Symposium keynote speaker, has a career that is a testament of his commitment to exemplary design, as well as his dedication to service, both in the design and public sector. He is the founder, president, and chief creative officer of the award-winning Grant Design Collaborative, as well as halfway through the first of his four-year term of Canton, Georgia. 


Grant is a leader and influential designer whose firm’s cross-discipline work includes communication design, brand strategy, advertising, product development, branded interiors, and experience design; and he has recently been named One of the 50 Most Influential Designers Working Today by Graphic Design Magazine.

His work earned him the honor of being named AIGA Fellow in 2005 and AIGA National President from 2005-2007, and his expertise saw him assist in curriculum development for the Harvard Business School’s program “Business Perspectives for Design Leaders.” Bill is also an advocate for public service—he was elected to Canton City Council in 2013 and 2017, served as Mayor Pro Tempore from 2014-2019, and was elected to a four-year term as the City of Canton Mayor from 2020-2024.

IIDA: Why did you pursue a career in design and what has kept you in design?

Bill Grant: I began my career at Shaw Industries as a copywriter in 1984 after graduating from Berry College, a liberal arts school, with a BA in both English and Psychology. Within a year, Shaw started their contract division, and I was promoted to marketing manager for the commercial division where I built an in-house design team. I left Shaw in 1989 and started my own multi-disciplinary design firm—over the years, a lot of my clients have been in the commercial furnishings sector including Interface, Mohawk Group, Herman Miller, Steelcase, CF Stinson, Association for Contract Textiles (ACT), Contract Magazine, Decca, and others.

My design education has been a work in progress, developing with the needs of my clients—everything from brand strategy, marketing, and identity, to showroom design and product development. I have had my own design firm for over 30 years because I keep learning and growing as a designer and individual. There is no other profession that offers such a creative outlet for personal growth.

IIDA: How did serving in leadership positions at a professional organization change your career and perspective?

Bill Grant: When I attended my first AIGA Design Conference over 30 years ago, my recently departed mentor, Milton Glaser, closed the event by saying, “Never underestimate the power of design to change the world.” From that moment on, I knew clearly that design was the profession for me, and I wanted to surround myself with the brightest minds in the industry. Without a formal design education, I took the opportunity to learn and grow as much as possible while also striving to maintain my unique perspective. I was asked to join the AIGA Atlanta Chapter Board in 1994 and was elected president in 1997. Through various national leadership events and programs, I was asked to join the AIGA National Board in 2001. While serving as a board member, I co-authored and launched the first Design and Business Ethics Guide, chaired the 2002 GAIN Business Design Conference, and assisted in the curriculum development for the inaugural AIGA Harvard Business School program, “Business Perspectives for Design Professionals.”

After my board term ended in 2004, I received a call from Michael Bierut at Pentagram asking me if I would serve as the AIGA National President. I was extremely honored to be trusted by the designers I admired most to lead and advance our profession. My tenure as national president gave me new confidence that my atypical career path was justified and respected. While serving, I visited and spoke at over 38 chapters across the country, and gave lectures internationally in China and Taiwan, as well as other countries. I also championed for change within the industry and organization with AIGA’s first diversity initiative, something I am very proud of. My experience changed me in dramatic ways, allowing me again to grow, gain added confidence as a designer and leader and, most of all taught me the value of not only serving to advance your career but to give back and serve to increase the value of the entire profession.

IIDA: What’s your town of Canton like? Why did you run?

Bill Grant: Canton is a suburb in the rapidly growing North Metro Atlanta region. When I moved Grant Design Collaborative here in 1976, the population was 7,500, and today it is around 35,000 and growing. I have described the city in the past as “Mayberry meets Twin Peaks!” It has a small-town character but is warm and welcoming. Like most southern towns, our downtown district became abandoned when the interstate came through the region, but our historic buildings were left intact. I purchased one of those buildings for my studio in 1996 but noticed there were no restaurants or shops downtown. I worked with the mayor at that time to start the Main Street program which helped to revitalize downtown Canton. We now have great restaurants, shops, and beautiful parks—it was basically a redesign project. In 1997, I purchased a home a few blocks away in the historic residential district that was zoned for single-family residential only. After meeting with the current mayor to confirm the zoning was permanent, I completely renovated the 100-year-old home in 2004.

A couple of years later, a local doctor acquired a home two blocks away on Main Street and decided he wanted to relocate his office thereby applying for commercial zoning. This began a yearlong zoning battle, one we were told was futile and “a done deal” due to a zoning map error. I organized our neighborhood, and we fought City Hall, eventually winning the litigation a year later. This made me realize I needed to be more cognizant of the actions our City Council were taking, and how much they impacted my daily life. During the zoning conflict, I was stunned by the lack of respect or responsiveness our elected officials had for their constituents.

As the same Council members continued to be reelected without opposition, I decided to run against an incumbent hometown councilman in 2011— I lost but got 42% of the vote in a three-way race. I didn’t give up and ran again in 2014, winning with 67% of the vote and after that ran for re-election in 2018 and won with 72% of the vote. I stepped down from my council seat in August of 2019 to run for mayor and I won by a landslide with 75% of the vote. For me, serving as mayor is an extension of my design career, and an opportunity to learn even more about the transformational powers of design. I have always advocated the importance of design on the local level, and I lead the effort to create a new strategic master plan for downtown Canton.

It has been very successful, with tangible results— I chaired efforts to create a new brand identity campaign for the City of Canton which our citizen’s love, and I have worked to preserve local historic assets through public and private partnerships finding adaptive reuses for our former schools, cotton mill facilities, and other historic buildings. As mayor, my current efforts are designing a new citywide master plan or road map that will strategically inform our growth and future development. Good design and design strategy are at the core of all of my leadership efforts to help create what we are calling the “Coolest Small Town in America.”

IIDA: Why should designers be involved in local government?

Bill Grant: Because designers need a seat at the table. Local decisions have far more impact on your daily quality of life than anything else. In addition, your participation and advocacy for great design can produce tangible, measurable results in your community. I became extremely frustrated with national politics many years ago, feeling like my contributions did not make any difference. However, on the local level, they are extremely important not only for improving the visual aesthetics of space and place but more so because local ordinances and codes impact every decision from building standards and historic preservation to signage and landscaping. 

And let’s not forget zoning, one of the reasons I got involved on the local level. Good zoning practices are basically great design strategies. Never has it been more critical for designers to serve their local communities as the importance of proper placemaking impacts everything: quality of life, sustainability, economic development, transportation, diversity and so much more. Designers and design thinkers can help lead the way in increasing the value and potential of their communities by engaging with their local governments, or better yet, running and getting elected to office!

Registration for the 2020 Virtual Advocacy Symposium will be opening soon, follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for the official announcement, and sign up to get involved in advocacy work in your region.

Advocacy News: Deregulation Bill Passes in Florida

On June 30, advocacy work done in partnership with IIDA and ASID on behalf of interior designers, saw great success in the state of Florida as Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the Deregulation of Professions & Occupations Bill. This achievement is made possible through the advocacy work from IIDA and ASID, as well as the support and hard work of the Florida design community and colleague organizations such as the Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ).

The deregulation bill ensures the integrity of the interior design profession and public safety through the formation of a voluntary state interior design registry. Interior designers in Florida will benefit from the law maintaining the title “Registered Interior Designer” for qualified designers, the interior design positions on the Board of Architecture & Interior Design, the interior design construction document stamp for plan review, and that “Registered Interior Designers” will fall within the statutory definition of “registered design professional.”


Read more about the bill in our FAQ above, and sign up to get involved in advocacy work in your region.

Spotlight on Oklahoma: New Design Awards Elevate Local Community Work

Kristen Brumley, IIDA, discusses why championing Oklahoma’s local design community with the newly-established Oklahoma Interior Design Awards—created by the Oklahoma Interior Design Coalition (OIDC) and supported by the IIDA Oklahoma City and IIDA Tulsa City Centers—is beneficial to both practitioners and design advocates. 

Why did OIDC and the city centers decide to have these design awards?

Kristen Brumley, IIDA: We were looking for an opportunity to host an event that would both help to fundraise and support our advocacy efforts in the state. What better way to bring the interior design community together than to highlight everyone’s hard work and give us all a reason to celebrate? 

In addition to the revenue that the event generated, we also hosted a wine pull. Manufacturer representatives donated wine bottles that were then given away in exchange for donations to our coalition. Because we had designers from across the state under one roof, we used this unique opportunity to talk about OIDC and IIDA and how we are advocating for our communities. 

Additionally, we created a new award—the Logan Award—honoring an advocate of the year. It was named after a long-time champion of our cause, Brett Logan. We hope to continue this honor in the future, and give our design community something to strive for.

What was the immediate response from the design community in Oklahoma?

KB:
The Oklahoma Interior Design Awards were very well received! We had an amazing turnout of 125 people, which included designers from many firms and not just those that entered into the competition. Although OIDC and IIDA played a large role in the success of this event, it was important for us to showcase all of the designers across the state, regardless of their affiliation with any of our associations. We have even seen an increase in involvement and interest in OIDC and IIDA because of these awards. Designers are already talking about submitting next year. Both our associations and members of our industry are looking forward to seeing how this event will flourish in the future.

Attendees of the first annual Oklahoma Design Awards in late January. Photo by: Taylor Whitehurst

Why was it important to the designers in Oklahoma to award a Legislator of the Year award to HB3098’s sponsors?

KB: We chose to honor our bill sponsors to not only thank them for their support over the last couple of years but to also allow them the opportunity to address our community as a whole. Creating new legislation and authoring our bill takes a lot of time, and we wanted to show them our appreciation for being true champions to the local interior design industry. Having these legislators at the event also gave us a chance to showcase many projects throughout Oklahoma that have had a significant impact on their constituents.

How do you all hope that highlighting Oklahoma projects to Oklahoma-based designers and legislators will impact the design community?

KB: Our competition submissions were evaluated based on the project’s ability to impact the health, safety, and welfare of end-users and the project’s overall functional, contextual, social, sustainable, and aesthetic characteristics. Such criteria allow us to showcase what interior designers can and are doing across the state. It brings awareness to the general public, educates our legislators, and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our community by uniting our two city centers and markets with one event.

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2020 Advocacy Preview: Continued Success

2019 was an eventful year for interior design legislation and activism. To build on this momentum, Emily Kelly, Director of Advocacy, Public Policy, and Legislative Affairs for IIDA, wants to help you advocate for your profession in 2020. Our advocacy initiatives, events, training guides, and resources, are designed to support your voice and creative energy.

IIDA has become a leading advocate for the industry in government and local communities. Our leadership is made possible by the outstanding work that you—our members, supporters, industry partners, and friends—are all doing at the local level. Your teamwork, energy, and commitment have sparked a new era in interior design advocacy.

At IIDA headquarters, we are closely monitoring legislation that may affect the industry, representing the IIDA community on Capitol Hill, and working with local chapters on relationship-building, Capitol Day planning, and legislative strategy for the year.

Content and training are integral to grass-roots advocacy, so please look for updated collateral, training documents, and guides for all members to take advantage of as the year progresses.

Lastly, our sixth annual Advocacy Symposium is slated for September of this year in Atlanta. We encourage our members to attend. This exciting weekend will help support members become strong advocates, while building community among our IIDA Advocacy members.

Whether you are new to the issues or a long-time advocacy veteran, the speakers, sessions, and networking events will help propel your advocacy journey.

As always, feel free to reach out to me (ekelly@iida.org) or Abby Wilson, Public Policy Manager at IIDA, (awilson@iida.org) with any questions, concerns, or comments at any time. We are here as a resource for you, your chapter, and your advocacy efforts!

Photo: Attendees of the Fireside Chat with Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, and State Legislators at the 2019 Advocacy Symposium in Boston.

Member Spotlight: IIDA Members Elected to City Council

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Julie Sayers (L) and Bonnie Limbird (R). Photos by: (L-R) d. marie imagery and Heather Edwards

This past November, folks around the country voted in various local and state elections, deciding on the seats that will affect their lives most, including their City Council members. Our IIDA Mid-America Chapter had the honor of watching two of their members and past presidents be elected to their local City Councils. Bonnie Limbird, IIDA, and Julie Sayers, IIDA, will be serving Prairie Village, Kansas, and Lenexa, Kansas, respectively, bringing the skills and knowledge to the table that only an interior designer can. Limbird and Sayers both have multi-faceted experiences in the design industry, and in serving their communities in a volunteer capacity.

Limbird’s career includes designing low-income and independent housing, project management and business development, and she currently practices as an interior designer at Kansas City’s SFS Architecture.

Julie Sayers has specialized in the design and execution of collegiate and professional sports facilities including administration, large-scale project management, and multi-disciplinary coordination, and currently works as a senior project manager and associate at encompas where she specializes in design and execution of commercial office design.

What made you decide to run for city council? 

Bonnie Limbird: No one single reason made me decide, but reasons just kept coming up until I couldn’t not run any longer. The reasons were issues that are important to me, my family, and neighbors in Prairie Village, and that the Council had trouble passing, or couldn’t get passed at all, Issues such as a Non-Discrimination Ordinance, loosening of alternative energy regulations for homeowners, enacting neighborhood design standards, and repeal of breed-specific legislation, are just a few.

Julie Sayers: I got involved in local politics during the 2018 midterm election when I was introduced to a congressional candidate through the owner of my gym. As I spent months going door to door campaigning on behalf of someone else, I found that conversations often shifted to the issues that affect people most closely here in Lenexa: creating a sense of place and providing a safe, connected community that is accessible to everyone. Volunteering for that campaign opened my eyes to the fact that we need more diversity and women’s voices at every level of our government.

Can you tell us about the issues you are most passionate about working on for your community?  

JS: Like most suburban areas in the United States, Lenexa is experiencing explosive growth, which is creating an imbalance between new development and existing infrastructure. Our citizens are concerned that the older parts of our city are being left vacant and falling into disrepair, and I believe it is our responsibility as a municipality to provide cohesion between new development and revitalization to ensure that all parts of our community remain affordable and vibrant for all residents. I believe my background in design and commercial construction provides me with the skills to be a valuable voice in that process.

BL: As a designer, improving the neighborhood design standards, which were enacted to regulate the massive teardown/rebuilds, are important to me and important to our community to maintain the diversity and welcoming nature of our neighborhoods. However, a larger issue has arisen as an additional symptom of the rebuild problem: skyrocketing property values that are pushing our long-time residents and senior citizens out of their homes.

As a community, we need diversity of age, income, race, ethnicity, experience, and more in our neighborhoods and the rebuild trend right now is pushing out our seniors and fixed- and low-income residents, and keeping out most first-time homebuyers, young families under a certain income, and most folks with jobs that are foundational to our community’s well being: nurses, police officers, firefighters, and educators. Additionally, all of the homes being rebuilt are multi-story homes and are inherently inaccessible for the differently-abled and elderly with mobility issues, and they’re being built without any guidelines for sustainability or energy efficiency.

So altogether, this is a massive problem that can’t be resolved at the city level alone. However, with my experience in accessible, universal, and sustainable design, on top of my concern for our aging population and other residents, I am uniquely qualified to work with our county commissioners and local state legislators to identify the biggest concerns and write policy and create programs to resolve them.

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Julie Sayers’ campaign kick-off event. Photo courtesy of Julie Sayers.

Is there a particular project that you are especially excited to start working on?  

JS: The Metro Kansas City region is one of the recent recipients of grant funding from the Global Covenant of Mayors to support a newly-formed organization called Climate Action KC (CAKC). The purpose is to develop policies and solutions that can be implemented regionally to address the problem of global climate change. Over 70 elected officials from across the region signed on as leaders of this organization, and with my election I’m excited to be the first from Lenexa. I have been working for CAKC in a volunteer capacity since its inception, and am excited to use my elected position to educate and empower our community and to help implement solutions at the city level.

BL: See previous answer. 

How did serving your professional community as IIDA Chapter President prepare you for the campaign, and how will that experience help you to serve your community as a City Council member?  

JS: Serving as a chapter president teaches the skill of long-term leadership when it comes to visioning, goal setting, financial planning, and succession. Like an IIDA chapter, many of the initiatives and financial plans for my city have been decided prior to my election, and it is my job to ensure the successful implementation of that vision.

BL: Serving the IIDA Mid-America Chapter was my first true board experience, which led me to other non-profit and board roles, and now to a city council role. All of these organizations have had the same foundational structure of serving a mission on a budget, with care for those served. Listening skills, volunteer management, delegation, follow-through, and accountability are some of the leadership qualities I learned and refined the more I served. As an IIDA chapter president, I began the practices of listening, researching, and learning about all of the aspects of our local organization to prioritize and execute the most needed changes. To me, listening is the first and most important action to practice in leadership and will remain so in my service on the city council.

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Bonnie Limbird and supporters. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Limbird

What aspects of working in the interior design field will be most transferable to the decision making and policymaking that you will be doing for your community going forward?  

BL: Being able to see the forest and the trees while understanding how they each work to serve one another is important both in designing spaces for clients and governing a municipality. Being a good listener and practicing problem-solving skills are necessary to help teams formulate solutions and have buy-in from the very beginning. Change is hard, and working in the design field has taught me that there is always room for improvement from within and that proactive communication and involvement from the very beginning always makes for smooth and successful change management.

JS: From my perspective, there is no one better suited for public service than a designer.  It is central to our core as professionals to listen to our clients, help them understand their own goals, build consensus among often complex groups, communicate effectively, and responsibly manage a budget. Designers are also acutely aware that implementing a concept can often be a very long and complicated arc, and that periodic re-evaluation is necessary for ensuring success. I hope to be an engaged and transparent representative to whom my residents feel comfortable providing meaningful feedback, just as clients do during the design process. 

You have extensive volunteer and community-service experiences, what would you say to IIDA members and other creatives that ask why being involved in your community as a volunteer is important to both personal and professional growth?

JS: It often isn’t clear until later what skills and connections are afforded to you each time you volunteer. Every time you say yes to an opportunity, you are generating new threads that over time weave a tapestry that makes you a uniquely valuable voice within your professional organization and your community.

BL: I can’t say enough about how important volunteering is in your community for so many reasons, but relative to personal and professional growth: it will make you a better designer.

Learning about, meeting, and knowing people and organizations in your city that you wouldn’t necessarily interact with normally gives you an extended breadth of knowledge about:

  • How facilities really function when the designers leave the building, or
  • Types of organizations that don’t have the luxury of hiring designers
  • How debilitating bad design can be for organizations that need to run as efficiently and cheaply as possible
  • How you can give back with your time and talents even when you don’t have money to give 
  • How to prioritize what’s really the most important expenditure for an organization
  • How hard it is to raise money for capital improvements
  • Hands-on experience working with the community being served by the organization

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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2019 Advocacy Symposium Inspires Collaboration in Public Interest

The 5th annual IIDA Advocacy Symposium, held this past September in Boston, was a resounding success thanks to a bevy of informative speakers, engaged attendees, and meaningful advocacy conversations. We cannot say thank you enough to our sponsors IdeaPaint who hosted the opening reception, and Allsteel who hosted Saturday’s event.

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IIDA member attendees tour the Massachusetts State House. Photo by: Caitlin Cunningham

On Friday, attendees were welcomed to the Massachusetts State House, one of the premier examples of Federal architecture on the East Coast. Docents gave a guided tour of the historic building before attendees settled in for a keynote presentation from Arline Isaacson, president of Isaacson Consulting. Ms. Isaacson was a lead advocate in the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts and integral in the passage of the first same-sex marriage law in the United States. Her inspirational story included practical advice on having more than just a good idea, but how to do the work to back it up. Next up, our lobbyists from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Utah had an enlightening panel conversation about the work that goes into passing a piece of interior design legislation in today’s political climate.

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2019 Advocate of the Year Chealyn Jackson, IIDA. Photo by: Caitlin Cunningham

The day ended with an awards ceremony, naming Chealyn Jackson, IIDA, VP of advocacy for the Ohio-Kentucky Chapter, the 2019 IIDA Advocate of the Year. Three Legislator of the Year awards were presented by IIDA New England to their bill sponsors, Senator (MA) Joan Lovely, Representative (MA) Elizabeth Poirier, and Representative (MA) Patricia A. Haddad.

On Saturday, we focused on the successes and challenges of advocacy at the chapter and the state levels. Members from Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and South Florida shared techniques for successful advocacy, discussed challenges they have overcome, and identified opportunities for the future of interior design advocacy. Next up, Tracey Thomas, director of strategic sales at IIDA, gave an energetic presentation on the power of persuasion that provided attendees with communication strategies tailored for advocacy efforts.

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Attendees of the Symposium. Photo by: Caitlin Cunningham

The Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ) provided an update, which was followed by a panel discussion covering the changing and unchanging landscape of interior design legislation that featured John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA; Megan Blacklidge, IIDA, Mid-America Chapter member; Matthew Whitehead, vice president of the Governmental Policy Group, Inc; and Amy Coombs, founder and executive director of Prestige Government Relations.

This was followed by two panel discussions to close out the weekend; the first focusing on effective communication strategies for chapter leaders to engage their chapters in advocacy efforts, and the second focusing on discussing advocacy at multidisciplinary firms.

We can’t wait to see you all next year at the 6th annual IIDA Advocacy Symposium!

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Featured image by: Caitlin Cunningham