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State of the Industry 2018: Interior Design at a Crossroads

Feb. 7, 2018

While moderate, steady growth is ahead for interior design and architectur; designers must work to differentiate themselves and decide if advancing technology will help or hurt them.


The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) 2018 Outlook and State of the Industry (OSI) report, released yesterday, shows signs are pointing in the right direction for the A+D market, citing more opportunity and increased demand for expertise as reasons for professionals to continue riding the wave.

The 80-page compilation analyzes the state of the U.S. economy overall and provides an in-depth look at the interior design and construction industries specifically. In addition, the OSI report discusses design trends and their implications for the profession moving forward. Both societal and technological advancements are set to influence interior design in years to come.

Interior design and architecture industry experts that contributed to the report and participated in a live panel to discuss the findings include:

  • Randy Fiser, Hon. FASID, CEO of ASID (panel moderator)
  • Bernard M. Markstein, president and chief economist at Markstein Advisors
  • Michael Berens, M.S., Ph.D., consultant, MJ Behrens Research
  • Susan S. Szenasy, Hon. FASID, director of Design Innovation for METROPOLIS magazine
  • Donna Sharpe, ASID, LEED AP ID+C, WELL AP, vice president at HKS (panelist only)

Interior Design's Economic Outlook

Markstein reports the U.S. economy overall is on “solid footing,” with “moderate growth” predicted for the next three years along with positive employment growth. In building, there is an optimistic outlook on new construction with a strong, positive shift in various sectors. Multi-family building has come back from the economic downturn, with continued activity in major cities and a pickup in “second-tier” metro areas like Sacramento, Calif., and Columbus, Ohio.

In commercial building specifically, “hospitality, office, and retail construction will grow more slowly” while “education and healthcare facilities … which have lagged in recent years, will perform better, and residential construction will remain a strong growth area. Within this changing landscape, there are many opportunities for the interior design industry.”             

A Competitive Market for Innovation

With lots of designers working, there is plenty of competition, Berens noted. Over the last three to four years we have witnessed the “democratization of design,” he said, with more people having access and the desire to design. Plus, the advent of more advanced technologies (think beyond virtual reality to robots) and design services from non-designers pose a challenge to the design trade. Designers have to put effort into demonstrating their unique value propositions.

“With the economy growing, tax incentives for companies, and continued demand for remodeling services, the interior design industry should continue to see positive growth in 2018,” Berens said. “The issue for the profession is not whether there will be a demand for interior design services, but rather, of what kind and provided by whom.”

He continued, “Most of the focus of innovation is around product and technology; it’s not around how designers are innovating spaces. It’s about what manufacturers doing, creating innovative products, innovative visualization technologies like artificial reality and augmented reality and 3D visualization. [The media is not] talking about who is actually designing those virtual environments and [if they are] qualified to [do so]. And so I think that’s a place where designers are losing ground in terms of their media visibility.”

The Designer's Approach

As the interior design profession “is cooking,” according to Szenasy, there has to be an understanding for designers to continue to personalize their approach, even as it gets easier to automate processes. This includes maintaining a focus on designing interiors for human health and wellness.

“While most interior designers are friendly with such technologies as virtual reality, and many make use of it for presentations, we are reminded that design is an ‘iterative’ process, and that for it to be successful, there needs to be a series of discovery moments, which the rapid pace of VR doesn't allow. The connection of digital technology and the increased emphasis on well-being will continue to shape interior design.”  -Susan S. Szenasy

Behrens noted the movement toward using technology solutions to change aesthetics or design rather than using physical environment changes. He believes this can pose a threat to the design profession. “So creating a room that’s a blank palette and then using lighting to change the aesthetic of the room rather than using wallpaper or paint or art or something else….Rather than creating a livable space you are just creating an adaptable space you can basically force yourself into. All of those things right now are still very experimental but again they are kind of encroaching on what designers really do.”

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Despite these developments, Sharpe said, as a designer she is “encouraged” by where the profession is today and sees technology as a useful tool. “We are poised … to use technology for design instead of being the design. Things like the tracking systems we have in place, we can use the data to find out how people work and we can use the technology for renderings and [to create a] 3D space to give people idea of what it’s going to be when they walk into it. I think it’s an encouraging time to be an interior designer and being able to use technology to help bring it all together is very encouraging.”

She also noted the importance of designing for the human experience and human health. “I think that WELL is going to take interior design to the next level. Because we deal with interiors, we will be dealing with the wellness of people because interiors affect wellness. We’re the ones that can take care of the light intensity of the space, the materials that are used in the space—having that knowledge to help design a healthy interior is important.”

Download the full report.

ASID members may download the publication free of charge and non-members may access the report for $249.95.

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