IIDA and the Future of Design

Sept. 27, 2006
By Pam Light, FIIDA
IIDA’s Student Members are debunking generational myths and vaulting into leadership roles.

As the leading edge of the baby boom generation turns 60 this year, designing for this group and acknowledging their work and home preferences is ever-present in project decisions. Accessibility and related issues will only continue to grow in importance over the next 10 years as it's now said a boomer turns 60 every 7.5 seconds. However, with the proliferation of statistics being thrown around, it's easy to overlook the truth behind generational marketing: understanding trends of the past make us better able to plan for the future.

As much as the baby boomers dominate the media right now, it's the younger generation being mentored as future leaders that we need to be equally prepared for, and they're proving to be a difficult group to pin down. We were told for years that Generation X would be defined by their slacker mentality. However, for IIDA this group is actually the backbone of our membership and a driving force behind our Chapter volunteer efforts. IIDA's membership is younger than the general design population, having worked an average of 12 years in the profession (versus the industry average of 18 years of experience). Despite their relatively young age, our members represent all levels of firm leadership, and a full 48 percent are currently in positions as firm executives or management. Far from being apathetic to work commitments, they are active, engaged leaders.

Trying to anticipate the work style of a new hire from "Generation Y" becomes even more difficult than anticipating their predecessors. Various sources describe the same generation of individuals as: more educationally- oriented than any generation before; lacking in distinct skill sets; deferential to organizational hierarchy; or as brash and casual. We've been told that Generation Y wants to take orders. While that may be true for some, IIDA Student Members actively look for leadership opportunities, not waiting to be told what to do.

Key to understanding these discrepancies is the appreciation that today's 18-24-year-olds are a highly pragmatic group. Witnessing rounds of corporate restructuring around their parents has resulted in a generation that does not view job security as a sure thing, and thus, does not look at employer loyalty the way others have before them. Instead, young workers want to acquire skills and experience that will make them attractive to the market. Within IIDA, these individuals are expanding our sphere of influence beyond the usual and expected. They're asking questions about the future of design, affiliated design skill sets, and sustainability. And more importantly, they are firmly grounded in the workplace and in social responsibility, as undercurrents of interior design.

Rather than fighting these tendencies, firms should be encouraged to embrace the best aspects of this new energy. Mentoring, supporting short-term as well as long-term goals, and publicizing the ways in which your firm can support the work-life balance are good recruiting tools for all ages. Further, keep in mind that not all students look the same. Nearly 35 percent of IIDA Student Members are 31-years-old or older; the same size as the group that is 18-22. This correlates with the data regarding interior design as a growing professional choice for second or third career professionals, and only underscores the necessity of looking at recruits as individuals rather than groups.

As we try to navigate the politics of commingling generations, the good news is that collaboration, research, anthropological observation and respect for the entire culture of an organization are fundamental to the way our profession conducts itself. We are the leaders in breaking down superficial barriers, and need to continue to be the leaders in showing our clients how this benefits their company's culture and effects organizational advancement.

  • Pam Light, FIIDA, LEED AP, is the 2006-2007 president of IIDA and a senior vice president with HOK in Culver City, CA. IIDA is headquartered in suite 13-500 at the Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL, and can be reached at (888) 799-IIDA; www.iida.org; or [email protected].

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