ASID Update: Is the Design World Getting Flatter?

June 21, 2006
By Anita Baltimore
FASID To survive in the global marketplace, design firms must look outside their spheres of operation and combine creativity with collaboration.

In interior design as in other professions, we must think globally. The political climate does affect how we interact with other countries and how we view the world. As we think about traveling in pursuit of goods and services, we always do a gut check on how we think Americans are received in a particular environment. So what about our relationships with China, India, France and other countries? Do we see opportunities or threats in this geopolitical analysis?

Shopping abroad has its own set of challenges; particularly when importing antiques and other goods, there are complicated processes and tariffs. The other side of the global economy, in our business, is remaining loyal to our U.S. manufacturers and letting them decide whether to import or manufacture locally. The idea that we should purchase only United States manufactured goods, however, is an increasingly difficult proposition, and perhaps too isolationist in a global world.

At a recent ASID leadership forum the positives and negatives of a global economy were discussed. In the context of trends that will affect our practice in the future, some designers saw this as an opportunity and others saw it as a threat. Therein lays the dilemma: Do we spend our time and resources finding opportunities to grow our knowledge and information of other countries? Would it be beneficial to form liaisons with other design associations? Should we be seeking collaboration with designers in other countries? But, how many practitioners pursue design projects overseas? Are U.S. designers collaborating with designers in other countries to solve problems here at home? I suspect not, at this juncture, but will it be beneficial in the future?

Some of the large A&D firms have been working overseas for a number of years. The large architectural firm model of an interiors practice is generally based on project work by the entire firm. So do we see other large architectural firms from outside the U.S. competing for work in our marketplace? Other than in large cities, or large firms, we probably don't have this on our radar either. But in the future will virtual companies assemble best practices across borders? Will one-man firms compete using technology and the Internet? How will the practice look and how will we compete in a level playing field?

Globalization today, in the words of Thomas L. Friedman, means "the world is flat." This premise is explored in his book of the same name. I first heard of it at a BIFMA breakfast at NeoCon, where it was suggested as a "must read" to the furniture manufacturers attending. It is a fascinating and thought provoking book. The phase of globalization we are in, according to Friedman, is "Globalization 3.0," "which is shrinking the world from a size small to a size tiny and flattening the playing field at the same time. . . . [I]n Globalization 3.0—the thing that gives it its unique character—is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally." Friedman gives many examples of how innovation and the ability to assemble knowledge and technology are strengths in this kind of economy. "On such a flat earth, the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination— the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools can be put together in new and exciting ways to create products, communities, opportunities and profits."

Those of us who see globalization as an opportunity for the future of our profession need to begin now to examine our strengths and weaknesses. We must be willing to do what is necessary to succeed in a "flat world." Interior designers pride themselves on having a creative imagination. When teamed with a collaborative spirit, the possibilities are endless. I encourage you to be aware of the bigger picture and be flexible in your approach. We face the challenges of reducing our cost of doing business while building value for our customers. Participating in the global marketplace can help us do both.


    ASID president Anita Baltimore has served as an ASID volunteer at both the chapter and society levels for more than 25 years. She is a founder of Interior Design Services, Inc., located in Nashville, TN. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480; fax: (202) 546-3240;

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