NCIDQ News: Change! Change! Change!

July 20, 2009

As client relationships are forged, taking a more assertive role may ultimately help designers convey the true value of the services they offer.

Perhaps considered the father of adaptive reuse, Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, ... it is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” As we experience this recession—which is deeper than any I have witnessed before—I consider Darwin’s way of thinking similar to using a solar-powered flashlight to illuminate my way through the darkness.

Although we may know why we should change (to survive the downturn in the economy, to lessen our impact on the environment, and to ensure we have a profession to practice), do we agree on what we should change? Our lists may look different, but I offer mine as simply a place to begin a conversation about our profession:

  1. Show leadership
  2. Seek controversy
  3. Quit the “psychology of sameness”

Richard Farson’s book, The Power of Design: A Force for Transforming Everything, is a good start. Although Farson is critical of many of the current professional organizations, one of his ideas hit me hard. It was his call for designers to assume leadership positions— not just on nonprofit boards or within their own firms—but, in client relationships. He writes, “Design is one of the few professions dominated by its clientele. Compared to physicians, attorneys and academics, designers are inclined to do what they’re told. That posture is so widely accepted among designers that it sometimes seems the only ones who can occasionally insist on having things their way are the superstars of design.” I found myself nodding in agreement—his words rang true! How many times have I revised a floor plan to reflect a client’s wishes, knowing full well that the resulting design would be less functional, more cumbersome or simply less aesthetically appealing?

Farson continues, “Successful leaders demonstrate vision, courage, integrity, perspective, openness, concentration, presence of mind, intuition, wisdom, compassion, and extraordinary commitment to organizational goals.” That is a lengthy list of attributes, but our profession will not be looked to for leaders until we assume leadership qualities and attitudes. This change does not necessarily call for arrogance or elitism, but it does require standing one’s ground and being clear about our intentions and our role in the client relationship.

This change relates to showing leadership: If we are to stand our ground or stake a belief regarding an issue, there may be those who disagree with us. Facing conflict is not something I enjoy, yet, controversy is healthy! Famed product designer, David Kelley of IDEO, has been quoted as saying that, “in creating something, the aim isn’t always to please people; it is to make them feel alive ... to think about themselves and what they value and believe.” Many designers, by their very natures, try to please people. Worrying less about the immediate happiness of others and focusing more on the quality of the final design may yield what you were looking for in the first place: joyful clients.

At NCIDQ’s 2008 annual meeting, former NCIDQ president, Lisa Whited, spoke about the “psychology of sameness.” She had read a column in AdWeek, written by Greg Ippolito, who wrote about how he drove past a row of look-alike buildings, past silver cars that all looked the same, and walked into his office building where everyone wore khakis and similar shirts. He lamented the fact that we follow each other without carving our own path—and we are even immune to this sameness because it is all around us and has been going on for so long.

Whited, inspired by Ippolito’s theory, told the meeting attendees that interior designers have become followers of sameness, rather than leaders blazing our own trail in defining our profession. We have duplicated architects’ efforts, believing that legislation was the sole way to define the interior design profession. Whited challenged the Council to break away from sameness and rethink our approach. Whether we use this in how we regulate our profession—in how we show leadership or in how we confront a client whose design change we disagree with—this idea of avoiding sameness was appealing to me. (A pet peeve of mine, for example, is the overuse of white paint. Unless used as an intentional design element, let’s have some color, please!)

Showing leadership, seeking controversy and avoiding sameness: Taken singularly, any one of these three changes is asking a lot. Yet, as wildly adaptable human beings and as designers with a little more time on our hands than we are used to, why not adopt one of these changes today? I’m going for number three—with Howard Roark, the idealistic, independent-minded architect of The Fountainhead in mind. Hmm, I wonder if he would ban white.

Kim Ciesynski serves on the NCIDQ board of directors and is the owner and principal designer of Spaces Design & Planning in Reno, Nevada, which focuses on hospitality, health care and residential projects in the Western United States. An NCIDQ Certificate holder, Ciesynski has more than 17 years of design experience and is a Registered Interior Designer in Nevada and Oklahoma. More information about NCIDQ is available at www.ncidq.org.

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