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Design Connections

Jan. 8, 2018

It’s all about collaboration

Kicked off with George Bandy from Mohawk, the theme of collaboration was set for the first Design Connections that included four verticals--education, healthcare, hospitality, and workplace--at the La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio, Texas, December 3 to 6.

Integrative and transdisciplinary teams were a focus throughout the conference in support of breaking down silos, working together, and finding solutions to difficult problems. Terry Murphy of The Vinyl Institute, Teri Bennett of Johns Hopkins, and Tim O’Keefe of Spradling shared their experiences of how a “bus ride” and conversation can start an initiative that can grow, gather momentum, and in veritably solve problems to reduce product failures through collaboratively developed solutions. The overall process is representative of how to solve problems in various sectors related to design needs and product development. Stakeholders coming together cooperatively, identifying the issues at hand, and subsequently working as a facilitated group stops finger pointing and supports creative thinking to provide viable solutions. This is true whether it is about the design and cleaning of a durable coated fabric meant for healthcare applications to improve infection control and reduce costs or developing new flooring technologies that require performance metrics and subsequently updated cleaning systems. A gathering of the minds, talents, and disciplines is the answer to forming relationships that further product development within the interior design industry.

Collaboration Across Verticals

Design Connections provided the opportunity for conversations across the verticals in interior design, fostering discussion on processes and trends, what is driving each sector, processes for strategic culture change and transformation, and identifying product design developments needed. I had the good fortune to participate and represent healthcare design on a facilitated panel moderated by Bennett with Cheryl Duvall of Avance, LLC representing workplace, Rick Marencic of JCJ Architecture discussing hospitality, and Kevin Greischar from DLR Group offering insight on education. 

There were commonalities throughout programming processes but a differentiation in terminology. Our healthcare guidelines term and process, “functional program,” was much more exciting in Duvall’s description of “the discovery process” for workplace. In healthcare, this is looked at as a “licensing code requirement” whereas in the other verticals this has an opportunity to be a journey of discovery and process that informs a project, supporting new ideas and culture change. This is the intention of functional programming in healthcare, too, but often not utilized in the same productive and positive way.

Greischar presented the changes in how children and adolescents learn,  totally changing the face of environments designed for education. Engaging students in an innovative, rigorous, digital learning environment is essential; “quiet zones,” “living rooms,” and “lounges” are spaces that foster opportunities for collaboration and learning. Similarly, in the senior living side of healthcare, these types of spaces will have a different residential aesthetic but very much function similarly: areas for higher stimulation and socialization, and areas that provide quiet time for decompressing and reduction of anxiety.

In the workplace most are familiar with shared work spaces, such as the WeWork format, that allow for shared collaborative areas, open offices, and scheduled private spaces resulting in shifting workplace culture away from closed offices and dark interiors. Per Duvall’s example, improving communication can occur with the “breaking down of barriers” and having shared space and smaller areas for focused activities in all types of workplaces. This is true in offices for healthcare and senior living— particularly for younger generations working within these settings—as it is still a bit of a challenge for some of the older workforce to use teaming rooms instead of private offices.  

Marencic focused on the need to recognize and fully understand a client’s needs and culture for hospitality settings, as demonstrated in working on a tribal museum, spa, and casino project. There were natural springs on the site that had deep meaning for the tribal council, providing wellness within the spa space; the site planning and design reflect the client culture and history. In healthcare, the need to understand all the stakeholders’ needs is also essential for successful projects, including listening through focus groups and paying attention to details that are supportive to the environment and those living, staying, visiting, and working in healthcare. As Marencic indicated, branding and aesthetics are important but the iterative process of design has to not only meet the project’s intended goals but also the functional needs of the users. Documentation of a framework for decision making is reflective of the goals while also accounting for the “devil in the details” so that the nuances are not missed in the final decision and project outcomes.  

Millennials and Boomers Perspective

Jenna Lippin, managing editor of i+s, moderated a panel discussing the differences between working styles of different generations. Osamu Osawa from Gensler represented millennials and Kay Sargent of HOK spoke for baby boomers. Differences in communication, thoughts on working, and creation of experiential living were all covered in the panel presentation. The boomer theme was “work hard and you will be rewarded,” while the millennial sees an opportunity and has a desire to leap frog into positions, which has caught the Gen Xer off guard in the position of life and work balance that then leads to advancement. Overall, understanding the differences as well as the similarities are important in order to focus on needs of different client demographics and to relate to the various generations of design professionals; communication and understanding are key.  


Greischar provided an excellent takeaway in historical perspective. In 1970, the list of Fortune 500 Most Valuable Skills included teamwork as number 10; in 1999, teamwork was number one. In 2015, Forbes listed the “Ability to work in a Team Structure” as the number one most important skill. Overall, communication skills, the ability to collaborate, and cooperatively working together are essential for the future of interior design education, the business of design, and research and development of products. 

With that, collaboration and teamwork were well represented at Design Connections, even after the daily sessions were complete. An evening event called “The Great Food Race,” which was a scavenger hunt that benefited the San Antonio Food Bank for the Snacks4kids and the Kid’s Café programs. In addition, Sunny Reed from Perkins+Will was honored at the final dinner with the “Designer of the Event” award as she remained engaged and enthusiastically provided insight throughout the two-and-a-half days.

Plan on joining the Design Connections team in October 2018 in Austin, Texas for another opportunity to share and come together. There is no other interactive venue for interior designers that creates lasting relationships and such a memorable experience.


Jane Rohde is the founding Principal of JSR Associates, Inc., located in Catonsville, Md. JSR Associates, Inc., celebrates 22 years of consulting services in 2018. Rohde champions a global cultural shift toward de-institutionalizing senior living and healthcare facilities through person-centered principles, research and advocacy, and design of the built environment. Clientele includes non-profit and for-profit developers, government agencies, senior living and healt care providers, and design firms. Rohde is the recipient of the 2015 Environments for Aging Changemaker Award and speaks internationally on senior living, aging, healthcare, evidence-based design and sustainability. For more information or comments, please contact Rohde at [email protected] or “Chat with Jane” at www.jsrassociates.net.

About the Author


Jane Rohde, AIA, FIIDA, ASID, ACHA, CHID LEED AP BD+C & GGA – EB: Jane Rohde is the founding principal of JSR Associates Inc. in Catonsville, MD. JSR Associates Inc. celebrates 23 years of consulting services in 2019. Jane is the recipient of the 2015 Environments for Aging Changemaker Award and in 2018 she received the ASID Design for Humanity Award, was recognized as an Honorary Alumni of Clemson University’s Architecture + Health program, and has been honored as one of 10 notable Women in Design. For more information or comments, please contact Jane Rohde at [email protected] or “Chat with Jane” at www.jsrassociates.net.

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