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International Interior Design Association

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All About the "I"

On Sept. 7–9, 2007, IIDA convened its annual Industry Roundtable — which aims to strengthen the manufacturer/ practitioner relationship by offering strategic perspectives — to discuss international issues facing those involved in the profession of Interior Design. The roundtable was composed of representatives from IIDA’s Corporate Membership and interior design experts, represented by IIDA’s Forum Advisors.

The focus of this year’s roundtable was the international facet of the design profession and the importance of sharing knowledge between manufacturers and interior designers. The popular event, now in its 11th year, offered a valuable opportunity for thought-leaders to dialogue on time-sensitive topics: protecting the authenticity of products abroad, distribution channels and partnerships, and global design trends.

Facilitating the synergy between the interior design and manufacturing communities is an essential role of IIDA in enhancing the future of design. At its most fundamental level, the roundtable format provides IIDA’s Corporate Members and Forum Advisors with an opportunity to meet annually and engage in meaningful conversations about pressing issues that concern the interior design community.

This outcome article is meant to facilitate a larger discussion within the design community regarding the state of global design, and what the first “I” in the Association’s name represents. It does not reflect the position of IIDA or any individual roundtable participant.

Common Factors

The global nature of the design profession today — from manufacturing to distribution, and from project teams to client location — requires a broad definition of “international practice.” While international certainly defines the trade of products and services among nations, it is clear that in the design profession, it also defines a point of view. At its best, international is a way of looking at how design solutions can transcend national boundaries and viewpoints. Bringing an international perspective to design means remaining sensitive to multiple users of varying backgrounds, regardless of project location. This is as true for projects in the United States that take into account local customs and preferences, as it is for projects around the globe.

Determining Global Standards

Certainly, with computers, it’s easier to convert from metric to imperial units and back. However, standard project plans do not guarantee standards in construction. For this reason, many design firms partner with local designers and tradesmen to effectively monitor projects. Those relationships take time to build. Manufacturers can be a great resource as well. They often employ customer service representatives who speak multiple languages and can foresee challenges before they arise.

Even when a firm has operated in a region for a while, difficulties still arise in ensuring the product specified is installed, protecting the manufacturing community from knockoffs. Further, sustainability can be an issue. Without a single platform for rating products, measuring and comparing the footprint of U.S.- manufactured products versus those made in a foreign country can be a challenge. As more designers working internationally try to adhere to LEED’s points given for products within a 500-mile radius of the project site, the need for a consistent method of judging materials will increase.

Challenges Working Abroad

It’s important to recognize that many of the challenges of working abroad are similar to those faced in the United States. Differences in culture and language only exacerbate the need for quality management of dealers and installers. Designers noted that data sheets including side-by-side translations in English and the language of the client can be helpful to ensure all parties have the same information. Designers also requested that manufacturers help squash defensiveness by sales representatives who are hesitant to collaborate with colleagues outside their home territory.

Opportunities Working Abroad

The tendency of the casual mind is to pick out or stumble across a sample which supports or defies its prejudices, and then to make it representative of a whole class.” -Walter Lippman (1889-1974), Public Opinion, 1929

While designers and manufacturers noted there can be added challenges when working on projects abroad, all were eager to note there can be many opportunities for success as well. One is the ability to draw on the strengths of local designers and artisans to enhance the expertise of project teams, and in turn give the client great craftsmanship and play up the strengths of local trade groups.

Manufacturers also use special international sales and customer service groups to ensure seamless delivery of product and information. They are trained in logistics and seasoned in the details of foreign trade. In conjunction with a manufacturer’s corporate staff, these international service agents often partner with local sales representatives. Customer service representatives who speak a client’s native language can be a strong resource for both the designer and the client. Since a growing number of companies look to U.S.-based designers to create a global brand for them, having strong relationships with key manufacturing representatives around the world is very important.

Manufacturers note that from a production standpoint, ongoing plant inspections and vendor certification are employed to ensure product consistency. This will only grow in significance as designers look for consistency in the international design market. As many designers are aware, sources estimate that between 15 percent and 25 percent of the world’s cranes are in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, just one of many growth markets. Those clients are mandating a multicultural mindset to the corporate office. Flexible or mobile designs, long-requested in Europe, are now seen in the Middle East.

Global Design Trends

Many forces are at work in the global marketplace. Some trends cross cultural boundaries, and others are specific to certain countries or subsets of design. Designers discussed the increased use of 24/7 project teams as design work goes global. Technology has assisted in this crossoffice collaboration.

While currently offered infrequently by U.S.-based manufacturers, multilingual Web sites and online customer service teams accessible any time of day or night will be necessities, not differentiators, in the future.

U.S. clients are becoming more sensitive to other cultures and open to incorporating international design trends. Project teams both in the United States and abroad are also more sensitive to the growing need for wayfinding and language use in public buildings, as international travel becomes more common. The development of standards and universal platforms are still in the creation phase.

Thanks to the 2007 Participants in the IIDA Industry Roundtable:

Brian Graham, IIDA, Graham Design LLC

Corporate Participants:
Allsteel, Amanda Schneider
Haworth, Jeff Reuschel
Kimball Office, Dave White
Luna Textiles, Jane Steel
Masland Contract, Wes Gunter
Mohawk Group, Allen Parker
Shaw Contract Group, Carrie Edwards

IIDA Forum Advisors:
Jim Walker, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP, Corporate Forum
Giselle Newman Young, IIDA, ASID, Education and Research Forum
Elise Friedman Shapiro, IIDA, Facility Planning and Design ForumDeborah Loveridge, IIDA, Government Forum
Linda Gabel, IIDA, AAHID, Healthcare Forum
Belinda Bennett, IIDA, Hospitality Forum
Holley Henderson, IIDA, LEED AP, Sustainable Design Forum

IIDA Board and Staff:
Anna Hernandez, Industry IIDA, Board Vice President,
Industry Relations
Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. IIDA, LEED AP, Executive Vice
Dennis Krause, Senior Vice President
Suzanne Heath, Senior Director, Education
and Professional Development
Jocelyn Pysarchuk, Senior Director,
Communications and Marketing
Kassondra Granger, Manager of Industry Relations

In the healthcare market, hospitals are taking advantage of their name recognition and exporting their entire brands to other countries, not simply opening up satellite offices under different names. While this has been done for quite some time in the retail sector, the healthcare field is only beginning to get on board. There is also a new emphasis on responding to and reflecting local customs and culture in all healthcare projects. This is true both in the United States and internationally. Healthcare projects in Asia reflect a streamlined design, combining an Asian sense of balance with a European aesthetic.

In the retail market, there has been a homogenization of retail and hospitality chains. While some clients look to designers to help them incorporate local customs and purchasing preferences, many others look to designers tohelp create a single consistent cross-cultural brand. In both corporate and retail applications, blue remains a dominant color. Across all markets, when specifying product, designers must take into account the fact that different users of varying weights and heights may use the same product.

Designers hold great responsibility in the global village of today’s workplace. They must be sensitive to the push and pull of design trends as U.S. ideas move abroad and global ideas and customs are incorporated in the United States. IIDA looks forward to continuing this dialogue with its Members.