Global Views: The Design Industry Around the World

With Vincent Frey, Hatta Byng, Chanintr Sirisant, Victor Legorreta, Wendy Goodman

From all corners of the globe, our speakers, leaders and experts in our industry shared their personal experience and insights on how the industry shifted during the pandemic and what lies ahead. Despite the challenges and struggles we have faced; shutdowns, backlogs, shortage of materials, uncertainty and disruption, there is a renewed sense of optimism and new opportunities to take advantage of.

The pandemic forced us into lockdown and with that came time, a valuable resource that we often lack which hinders creativity. More time brought a burst in creativity, an opportunity to reinvent.

With more time spent at home, the spaces and environment we live in became more important and we focused more on quality of life and made us happy. As people adapted to a new lifestyle, construction and design of homes surged. Clients are more appreciative of the spaces they live in, architects and designers have never been busier.

Design enables people to live better in a more sustainable and responsible way. The resurgence of energy and ingenuity is helping us be more thoughtful about how we repurpose empty spaces, reconstruct our lives and the ones we’re in a position to help because we’re in the design world.

People are paying more attention what we purchase, where things come from and how they are made. Products that are made with quality, craftsmanship and passion make a difference because they are more durable and therefore sustainable.

Technology has undoubtedly become critical during this time and will continue to be essential in how we do business and service clients. It has allowed us to stay connected  to our team members, clients and manufactures worldwide. Technology has furthered globalization, on a professional level and in the manufacturing world, providing new opportunities to collaborate on projects with architects and designers internationally, and local artisans and craftspeople worldwide.


Crafting Winning Collaborations

With Kate Verner and Suzanne Kasler

With decades of experience in launching product collaborations and collection in the interior design world, Kate Verner and Suzanne Kasler bring a wealth of knowledge on what it takes to design and develop product.

Starting a product design business, especially in addition an interior design business, takes a new level commitment because you need to be available to partners and constantly developing concepts and bring them to market, whether to the trade or direct to consumer. Implementing a strategy plan is crucial and partners are always looking for designer to stay relevant in the market but they key to remain authentic to your own style. You have to bring a signature style that will enhance your partners, inspire them and give them something they don’t get from their in-house design team that will ultimately grow their client base.

It is important to consider where your brand resonates and whether you will license direct to the trade or the consumer, or both. These two marketplaces have different audiences who have different needs, the design trade being edgier and more design-centric and the retail consumer being less inclined to take a chance.

There should be a mutual understanding of how the manufacturer is going to support and market a collection. Nowadays there is more involvement from designers because they have stronger brands and signatures so partners expect designer to take on more of the marketing which should be seen as a long-term investment.

To have a winning collaboration, you have to be clear on the investment you will have to make to back that collaboration. Most relationships are royalty based and don’t often include an ad budget so it’s a business commitment. Although it’s important to keep your interior design business separate from product design, the synergy between the two is crucial to stay relevant and make products that consumers respond to.

“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon”, it takes time and commitment and you should make use out of the design work that you are giving partners.


The Evolution of Digital

With George Eid

As the founder of a digital agency, Area 17, George Eid shares his knowledge on digital transformation of businesses and the importance of designing systems and strategies that enhances human potential.

The pandemic accelerated a shift to digital and widened the gap between businesses that embraced technology and were able to adapt to digital successful and those that didn’t. Never has it been so obvious that organizations need to be able to transform and adapt to stay competitive.

When it comes to digital transformation, George highlights the importance of focusing people and potential rather than technology. We should be creating models and experiences that bring people together, allowing them to fulfill their collective potential.

All systems start with purpose or value proposition and this is about realizing your potential. It’s what drives all aspects of the system. Systems are made up of models and experiences, the former being the personification of your purpose and the latter being how someone interfaces with your models.

Elements of the Framework

Business model: how do you make sure a customer is implicated in the success of the community? How do they create value for other customers? What is the model for creating value from unused capacity? You need to be constantly brainstorming ideas and using digital to enhance your existing business models.

Operating model: how the organization delivers value to customers and how it runs itself. The problem is often the speed at which you can redirect your team and priorities to new opportunities and challenges. How do you make the organization agile? How do you create teams that are less silo-ed and more cross-functional to cultivate perspective, creativity and innovation? How do you insure rather than quality?

Customer experience: takes place across all channels on all touch points, both online and 0ff. Over 70% of website features created by websites don’t actually get used by customers. You should know exactly what customers are using your platforms for and how. You should be engaging with them directly and often in order to understand their needs and motivations and you will therefore be able to use your budget more efficiently. How do we include customers in the design process effectively? How do they navigate and use our channels? How do we respond to needs of customers individually?

Employee experience: most transformation efforts fail because of challenges associated with people and corporate culture. Employees have first hand knowledge and experience on how to improve the business. How do you increase your employees’ autonomy, mastery and purpose so that they become more creative?

The Glue

The technology platform is the glue of all the framework’s elements. If must serve your business and not block it from achieving its potential. How do we build scalable, sustainable, reusable solutions that work well together. How do we close the communication gap between business and technology teams?

As designers, it’s our job to solve challenging problems. The most challenging of them all is bringing people together to fulfill a collective purpose.


Designing Diversity; How to Make it Happen

With Del Ruff and Tiara Hughes Hosted by Rebecca Birdwell

Joined by accomplished architect, Tiara Hughes, and Del Ruff from the AIA, Rebecca Birdwell helps us understand the lack of diversity in our industry, unpacking the obstacles and barriers that many individuals face and need to addressed to level the playing field.

Aside from being a senior urban designer at Skidmore Owings & Merrill and a commissioner for the Chicago Landmark’s Commission, Tiara is also the founder of FIRST500, an organization focused on highlighting African American architects and increase representation in the built environment.

Del started his academic career in science but spent 20 years in education prior to coming to the American Institute of Architects where he is currently the senior director of workforce and education. His focus is looking at the K12 continuum and getting historically underrepresented students into architecture, helping them through the program and into the workforce.

Why don’t we have a more diverse industry?

  • Some students face more barriers, especially financially, that prevent them from having access to architecture school and being able to complete the degree.
  • It often starts before that too… are they in the right math class in school to be prepared for college? Once in architecture school, how do they matriculate through the program? Do they feel a sense of belonging? Do they have support for internships?
  • We often believe that equality is everyone receiving the same toolkit but that is  not an equitable approach. We need to understand what the needs are for each individual student and address them accordingly.
  • The finances of getting the latest technology and software needed to pass, is another barrier.
  • The disparity is so vast that students are not competing equally through the program which means they won’t be completing equally when applying to jobs.
  • Students have to complete school from an accredited university, have serval years of experience and pass six exams which is very costly. It is difficult to fit because exams aren’t inclusive and it’s a challenge to balance school and works especially for parents.
  • Academic has also negated an entire group of people from history and the contribution black architects have had to the built environment.

What can we do?

  • Mentorship is key. It will take a while for the face of academic to change but we need to connect minority students to mentors who practicing in the field and will be able to provide students with the resources they don’t naturally have.
  • Aside from financial support, which is crucial, you can also be a sponsor and use your networking capital to move an individual through the profession.

What is the true picture of diversity?

  • Diversity means people of different races and ethnicities, not only African Americans as well as individuals from different socio-economic classes.
  • Data proves that diversity impacts success and the more complex a project is, the better it is to have a diverse team.


The Next Normal: What’s the Future of Work?

With Farah Harris

Farah Harris, Psychotherapist and CEO at WorkingWell Daily, helps us understand the next normal and the future of work, not how offices will physically change but how we have change psychologically. The Future of work is leading with emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be in tune with yourself and your emotions, and to be able to read the room. To be in control of your emotions, you don’t want them to be leading you because it means because you’ll be highly reactive. You also don’t want them to be behind you because that means you’ll be passive aggressive. Your emotions should be lock and step with you so that you can present and engaging with them in the moment.

To do the latter you have to be aware, assess and then act on your emotions. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”, “What brought upon this emotion?”, subsequently, you can put into action a reasonable reaction to whatever it is that serves you, and the other person, well.

With all the overwhelming emotions people are experiencing right now and it is up to leaders to step-up, develop emotional intelligence.

Employees see the workplace as a social system and interaction within it are crucial. Leaders set an example and their attitudes trickle down the organization and dictates the workplace environment.

You have to know your narrative around emotions because it will make you self-aware in your communication style and be considerate that everybody else is coming in with their narratives too. Your verbal and non-verbal communication will affect the team so think about how you are communicating?

Culture within an organization is about interaction, not the physical space, whether in-person or virtually.

The four domains and competencies of emotional intelligence are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, they ultimately shape you and the workplace.

Try this: once a day, in the morning and evening, write down how you are feeling with no judgement so that you become aware of them.

This is THE time to be empathetic, people are dealing with drastically different situations. Some might now experience social anxiety as they return to the office. How will you address it?

It is key to label the fear because it allows you to diffuse them. Leaders need to be decreasing the threshold of fear. Empathy lets people know that you hear and see them which will allow you to effectively communicate with them.

Try this: if you are going to have a difficult conversation with a team member, take 5 minutes to write down what their concerns might be and if think there are solutions for them, write them down too. They will be grateful that you are trying to understand where they are coming from.

The use of emotional intelligence allows us to work W.E.L.L: Wellness and wellbeing, Elevating emotional intelligence, Leveraging psychological safety, Learning self-care.

When you are self-aware and emotionally aware, you’re able to know what drains you and fills you and the same goes for your team. By doing more of the work the motivates you, this will help with your self-care.

Create a life by design by having work-life alignment and boundaries. We want our way of work to be different, COVID has helped us see what we have done well and what we haven’t so have are we using that knowledge to improve the way we work and live?