ASID Update: Innovation: Next Step

July 20, 2009

Sustainability, ADA compliance and Evidence-Based Design are all disciplines that require designers to be innovative with their solutions.

The theme this year of the education conference held in conjunction with the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) was “INNOVATE.” Innovation is always an appropriate topic for the creative types in our profession, but it is especially apropos during this time of upheaval and repositioning in interior design.

At ASID, we have been talking a lot about innovation lately as we plan for the future. The concept of sustainability looms large in our lens of innovation. From an interiors perspective, the profession has only scratched the surface of what sustainable design can contribute toward conserving and preserving resources, as well as toward promoting care of the ecosystem. This is an area ripe for innovation. We certainly are not yet looking at sustainability as a ubiquitous quality of every design project, nor are we looking at how to incorporate it into every one of our projects in a holistic, cross-disciplinary manner which, I believe, will be the case in the future.

For the most part we are applying old models of design to the issue of sustainability, and receiving mixed results. What if we were to approach sustainable design, not from a product and materials model only, but from a behavior model, such as what is done in hospitality, retail and health care design? We know how to design spaces that make a customer yearn to buy a special diamond in a fabulous retail environment. We know how to design spaces that measurably improve healing and well-being in state-of-the-art health care environments. How then might we design spaces that encourage occupants to be better stewards of the resources in those spaces, or spaces that, in and of themselves, create an atmosphere conducive to conservation and care for our planet? If our designs can change people’s lives—literally change the way we live, work and play (and I truly believe that is the essence of what we do and why our work matters)—why can our work not also propel us, and the people who occupy our interior spaces, toward a greener future? This is a direction for interior design that bears exploration.

Accessibility is also another part of sustainability (the sustainability of life), and this, too, is another design issue that cries out for fresh thinking. Most designers and persons with disabilities realize that strict adherence to the ADA guidelines results in poor design. Certainly, they are better than nothing; but we can do better than “better than nothing.” The current model—our design norm—is “accommodation.” We modify what is “normal” design to try to make it work for someone who does not fit the “norm.” That’s a good start, but what we need is a model that embraces diversity, that acknowledges that difference is the norm, not the exception. And we would then design to that new norm accordingly, thereby creating interior designs that are more often than not effortlessly accessible to people of all ages and in all phases of life.

These are just a couple of obvious examples of how innovation could transform how we design and the tangible, meaningful benefits that would result. In the years ahead, disparities in wealth, age, education, population density, and in access to vital resources and services will challenge all of us to reflect on how design can be employed—not just as a solution to a particular problem of living or working, but as an actual agent for change. I can assure you that a shift in thinking and research is already underway.

Innovation sometimes means introducing something new, like all of the products and materials introduced to us at venues like ICFF and Greenbuild, but innovation also refers to doing things in a new way. There is a lot of exciting work going on right now in the fields of Evidence-Based Design, design thinking, and the psychological and behavioral impacts of design. These are new ways of thinking about the effect of interior design. Where that work will take us … it’s too soon to tell, but we at ASID plan to be part of the leadership in this new thinking. One thing becomes abundantly clear from this new understanding of design: The view that interior design is simply the “icing on the cake” no longer holds true. We are approaching a new paradigm—one that recognizes that design is the cake, and for that matter the meal before it, as well.

Over the years, ASID has been a major proponent of Evidence-Based Design, and a bellwether for important developments within the interior design profession on issues such as accessibility, green design and design technology. By professing a broad and holistic vision of interior design, we have tried to foster a culture that is open to new ideas and opportunities.

I hope you come away from this issue of Interiors & Sources with some new insights on how to innovate—in your designs and in your practice. And if you want to carry on the conversation, or are searching for that “something” that will take your work to a new and better place, I invite you to check out ASID and see what we have to offer. We invite you to be a part of designing our future.

ASID president Bruce J. Brigham, FASID, ISP, IES, is an award-winning interior designer and authority on retail and lighting design. He is principal of Retail Clarity Consulting, specializing in retail design and brand development, based in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with clients in the United States, Hong Kong and PRC China. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at www.asid.org.

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