NCIDQ News: Reveling in Variety

March 1, 2006
By David D. Stone
As demographics reflect an increasingly diverse culture, design will need to respond accordingly to meet clients’ expectations.

By David D. Stone

I was a guest lecturer at a colleague's pre-thesis seminar class recently where a foreign student wanted to know if "hospitality design was the design of hospitals." I understood his confusion, and after I explained what hospitality design encompasses, this student told me he was interested in designing a kidney hospital and studying the effect daylight would have on patients. Neither my teaching colleague nor I had heard of kidney hospitals as stand-alone institutions, yet evidently, they are prevalent in the part of the world he is from. This exchange caused me to ponder the different understandings and background each person brings to his or her design experience and also be grateful that such diversity in design exists.

A naturally curious designer, I enjoy carefully looking at new interior spaces that I encounter, especially restaurants, showrooms, retail establishments and grocery stores—places outside my typical corporate business practice. Last year, I was exposed to the world of assisted living and nursing-home facilities when I helped place a family member in one and was struck by how many of the spaces I saw were devoid of good design. While a few of the places attempted to make the space "feel like home," many of them were reminders of bad communal hospital rooms reminiscent of old movies. The rooms looked like old dorms; they smelled of industrial-strength cleaners; the walls and floors were covered in easily scrubbed finishes; every place had harsh, overhead lighting, and they were generally dismal and depressing. We ultimately chose proximity over ambiance in our search, forgoing the "comforts of home" for a more institutional-feeling facility within 10 minutes of our family.

Our own search was for a long-term care solution that would emulate that of the home being left behind, reflecting the white, middle-class New England location of our family member's upbringing. A white, middle-class setting is not hard to find in New England, but I wonder how my friend's student would fare if he were in a similar situation in Massachusetts.

Cultural perspectives, religion and even sexual orientation of the users of designed spaces are becoming areas that need to be better addressed in all design projects. Even health beliefs (beyond the usual faith-based issues), behavior settings (not only Alzheimer's concerns) and the physical limitations of workers and customers (since we are all working and living longer) are having impacts on the programmatic and design needs of our clients as we develop creative solutions to the problems presented to us.

The aging population—the first of the Baby Boomers will be turning 60 this year—and changes in American families (immigrant and 10th generation alike) affect all aspects of design and will have a profound impact on our business for years to come. The latest U.S. census form included 63 racial categories, and for the first time, allowed respondents to check more than one box. (Just 10 years ago, there were only four races on the form.) America's Hispanic population increased by 58 percent since 1990 to 35.3 million. The number of Hispanics is now almost equal to the number of non-Hispanic blacks, who remain the nation's largest minority group. Census data also show that Americans in the 1990s continued a 30-year trend away from the traditional "married with children" family. Fewer than one in four households now consists of a married couple and their children. (

Shifting demographics mean that the nature of our projects will change accordingly. Additionally, as professionals continue to look for opportunities globally, we will need to be well-versed in the varying cultures, customs and needs of our clients. For those professionals who wish to remain competitive, it is more important than ever that we pursue continuing education or experiences that stretch our understanding of diversity. NCIDQ, ASID, IIDA and IDC all offer continuing education opportunities through workshops or even online learning.

I have learned that while attending a seminar or completing a self-study examination are worthwhile, there is nothing like teaching a classroom of curious, diverse students to expand my curiosity and learning. I was delighted this student had the courage to ask about hospitality design and even more grateful that he is joining the ranks of professional interior designers. And I am also thankful that it has awakened a new awareness of the full expanse of the word "diversity" in our profession. Our world will be better—for all—because of those like him.

David D. Stone is an NCIDQ Certificate holder and a member of the NCIDQ Board of Directors. David works in the Interior Design department of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates in Cambridge, MA, a multi-disciplinary design firm, where he is a Senior Associate. Also a past IIDA New England chapter President and Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs, he is active in the efforts of the Massachusetts Interior Design Coalition (MIDC) in seeking practice act legislation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. NCIDQ's self-study monograph series includes five titles ranging from ethics to structural design. Visit for more information.

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