ASID Update: The Way Forward

Oct. 8, 2009

Believe it or not, some good, including a renewed vigor for your profession, can actually come from a struggling economy.

I recently returned from our 2009 Chapter Leadership Conference in Cincinnati. The purpose of the conference was three-fold: bring together Chapter leadership in order to learn about their individual roles and responsibilities as incoming board members; share what we know about the issues and opportunities affecting the profession; and build a sense of community and culture.

I talked with people from all over the country. Not surprisingly, the economy was first and foremost in our conversations. Unlike any of the previous recessions we have endured, this one has left an indelible mark on each and every one of us. Our members are not only concerned about their business viability, they are also bracing for changes within their families, their communities, and our country.

I also participated in a number of group activities in which we talked about the recession as an opportunity for all of us to dream—to envision a new future. Of note, a conversation with several of our Fellows was based on Richard Farson’s book, The Power of Design: A Force for Transforming Everything. In Farson’s view, we are “metadesigners” with “the power and the knowledge to solve problems and serve populations beyond a traditionalist’s definition of aesthetic design.”

“These new powers,” says Farson, “enable [designers] to recognize that their contributions need not be limited to product but could extend to processes as well … increasing the value of design and of designers to business, to society, and to every organization or institution requiring design intelligence.”

In spite of the economy, or perhaps because of it, conversations like this generated a palpable sense of enthusiasm and energy among all conference participants.

I came away from our leadership conference with a profound, paradoxical feeling: while the economic crisis has challenged our strength and confidence as individual practitioners, our collective strength as a professional society has never been more relevant or important.

“You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste.”

— Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff

Charles Handy wrote, “Paradoxes are like the weather—something to be lived with, not solved ... [with] the worst aspects mitigated, [and] the best enjoyed and used as clues to the way forward.”

If the worst aspects of our paradox lie in the hardships endured by our individual members, then the best lives in the strength and potential of our Society. We are providing resources and programs our members need in order to mitigate these difficult times (e.g., advice about new marketing strategies, cost-cutting measures, ways to capitalize on government stimulus spending, and online job and referral services) while thinking and acting boldly about our fabulous future.

As for clues to the way forward? One comes from Farson’s views on design, which challenges us to think more boldly about what interior design is. In that context, we are investing in an “ASID Census” with the intention of learning more about and leveraging the strengths and accomplishments of our membership. We are also exploring ways to expand ASID’s value by changing how people join and access the Society’s services. Most recently, we have taken decisive action toward changing the conversation about professional practice. We aim to become more inclusive, rather than exclusive, with the vision of enabling all interior designers to practice to the fullest extent of their capabilities.

When Rahm Emanuel spoke those words about crisis, he was talking about disruption—breaks in the status quo that allow new ideas, policies and practices to emerge. In crisis lives the opportunity—and at times the obligation—to do things that we could not or would not do before. As long we keep our love of design at the heart of these changes, I see nothing but open doors ahead.

ASID president Sari Graven is the director of planning and resource development, Facilities Services, at Seattle University. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at www.asid.org.

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