IIDA Notes: Redefining the Design Team

June 21, 2006
By Eric Engstrom, FIIDA
A growing trend toward specialized teams brings diversity and expertise together to create the best design solutions.

Partner, Merge, Joint Venture, Collaborate, Team—these are all words that are being used as verbs to describe the way designers are working together in the twentyfirst century. More and more, as each of us specializes in an area of specific expertise, we are finding that we need to fill the gaps in service coverage. New team configurations are becoming the rule rather than the exception, as evidenced in recent trends in hotel design.

In the past, the development team for a new hotel might include the base building architect working for the owner/developer and a hotel interior designer working for the operator. The interior designer would have the responsibility for the design of all the interior spaces including guest rooms, public spaces, restaurants and banquet/meeting facilities. The interior designers, as part of their work, often accomplished graphic design services including logo/name development for the restaurants and hotel interior signage.

The new trend in hotel, however, involves creating a team made up of specialists to develop all aspects of the interior design. Team members might include an interior designer for the rooms and suites, another interior designer for banquet and meeting spaces and public areas, and a restaurant design specialist for the restaurants and bars. In addition, a concept firm may be hired to develop restaurant concepts that include establishing the level of service, menu type and contents, tabletop selections and restaurant names.

A graphic designer/branding expert can be brought in to work with both the concept firm and the interior designer to coordinate a unified graphics and signage program. A lighting designer will be contracted to the restaurant designer, while a food service equipment designer retained by the operator works with the team to establish the kitchen requirements. Both the base building architect (or coordinating interior architect) and engineering consultants are also members of this team of specialists.

The result for the hotel owner/ developer and the operator is that they can select expertise at the top level to bring together all the diverse elements for the best design. Essential to this approach is the establishment of definitive scopes of services for each discipline to insure that each team member knows his/her specific responsibility in developing the project. Clear communication and agreement between all team members, including the client, is also critical to designing the best solution.

Another area of practice where the team approach has taken hold is in the development of retail spaces and brands. A majority of large retail projects are "single sourced" to an archi-tecture design/firm that has inhouse capabilities in branding, graphic design, interior design and architecture/engineering. However, now many retail companies are increasing their use of specific project teams made up of a number of consultants with specific areas of expertise.

Some teams now even include market research firms and anthropological experts that concentrate on the behavior of shoppers in the retail marketplace. This direction started with smaller innovative "boutique" retail companies, but has recently expanded to some of the largest retailers. In most cases, the team leader is the interior designer acting as the project facilitator who insures that the work of all team members is toward a common goal.

The responsibility of putting together an effective team has most often fallen to the owner/ operator/retailer in the past. However, even this scenario is changing—design firms are increasingly being held responsible for bringing the team together and establishing and coordinating the project scope of work. The intent is to retain the highest level of problem-solving expertise by retaining specialists with experience working with a variety of clients.

The team approach allows each firm to retain its independent identity and specialty area and helps each member of the team to both specialize in an area of expertise and collaborate with other experts. Firms don't need to have all levels of expertise "in-house" under one roof, and can concentrate and deliver in their core competencies. This approach also allows more flexibility in the approach to project solutions, as more ideas are coming from more individuals.

The trend toward the Partner, Merge, Joint Venture, Collaborate, Team approach will grow as projects become larger, more complex and more directed toward specific market segments. Interior designers will have to reach out across many disciplines to find the right team members and to increase business and public acceptance of this type of approach.


    IIDA president John Lijewski, FIIDA, LEED AP, is a principal at Perkins & Will, New York. IIDA is headquartered in suite 13-500 at the Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL, and can be reached at (888) 799-IIDA; www.iida.org.

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