July 1, 2003
Robert Nieminen

FIDER opens dialogue with leading design practitioners to gather feedback about the state—and future—
of interior design

If it ain't broke, don't fix it." While that old expression may have a ring of truth to it, it certainly doesn't speak much to the value of being current or forward thinking—characteristics that are absolutely critical to interior design, both in education and practice. In other words, as an interior designer, you can't afford to wait until something is broken to find a solution. It is your job to stay on top of your game and anticipate problems or changes that may affect your clients' well-being and satisfaction.Likewise, as a strategically managed organization whose core mission is to establish standards for college and university programs in interior design, evaluate programs and then accredit qualified programs, FIDER's Standards must be relevant to current demands of professionals and practice, according to Beth Harmon-Vaughan, FIDER's current board chair. In order to help achieve its ongoing mission, the FIDER Board of Directors met with a handful of Atlanta, GA's design leaders earlier this spring at the offices of TVS Interiors to openly solicit their views on current trends in the practice—and gaps in interior design education—that could affect FIDER Standards in the future. Although this isn't the first time the 33-year-old organization has reached out to the design community to gather feedback on current issues, it was the first forum of its kind to use a firm leader roundtable format." The purpose and goal of the town hall and roundtable sessions is to provide contact with our community with regard to current issues and trends in practice that may affect FIDER Standards. Through these and other contact methods, we are able to identify trends and update or upgrade standards to remain relevant and current with the needs of the profession," Harmon-Vaughan explained.Participants in the roundtable consisted of firm leaders in the Atlanta area who were invited by the FIDER Board to candidly share their views of interior design education. Among the firms represented were TVS Interiors, HOK, Gensler, Perkins & Will and Carson Guest, Inc. "We were very deliberate in identifying design leaders because they have the experience, and wisdom to reflect on their experience, and give us early indicators as to what might be changing in practice," said FIDER's executive director, Kayem Dunn. "The important thing about making a connection with design leaders in Atlanta and elsewhere is to test the direction of the wind, so to speak, and to reach out and form relationships for an ongoing dialogue," she said.The dialogueSo what kind of feedback did the FIDER Board get from its first roundtable session? Harmon-Vaughan said the quality of responses they received were "remarkable and most helpful to us as we continue our work to identify future needs and trends. It was clear that education and preparation to enter the profession are hot topics and generally resonated with the kinds of comments we're hearing elsewhere."Asked what they thought about the roundtable sessions, participants sounded as enthusiastic as the FIDER Board. HOK's senior vice president Karen League said, "It was an invaluable experience for those of us who participated. I thought it stood out that Beth [Harmon-Vaughan] had gone to great lengths to organize the meeting and was very respectful of our time. We had a great interchange with the board members, even though they set it up so that it was a very interactive session among professionals." (Note: At the session, all the FIDER Board members took notes and were not allowed to speak. The board, as part of their regular director's meeting immediately after the roundtable session, debriefed and developed an outline. The summary was drafted and sent out to roundtable participants with the question, "Did we hear you correctly?")Al Morrison, principal with TVS Interiors, said he went into the roundtable session with an open mind and left with high regard for FIDER and its board. " I expected to learn, frankly. I wanted to learn about FIDER, how they operated, how they were composed, what issues they needed assistance on and where they needed help." He added, "I was very impressed by their professionalism. They knew what they were about and were very well organized. There was a lot of good input, and I think they did a good job of summarizing the whole experience."Gaps and TrendsOne could say that, for an organization that is so closely aligned with interior design education, the idea of inviting a group of practitioners to openly share their opinions about it is, at the very least, gutsy. But it's also a brilliant move if you want to remain relevant and current to the industry and stakeholders. As evidenced by participants' reactions to the forum, FIDER did the right thing by opening up dialogue and letting the chips fall where they may.Case in point: Morrison said the roundtable session addressed one of the most critical—and perhaps touchy—issues facing the industry: the "perennial gap" between education and practice. "I think what FIDER is trying to do is close the gap so that the graduates are more relevant to the profession. We don't expect students to come out of school able to do everything, but what [FIDER is] trying to do is have graduates who are not poorly trained and are better prepared to enter the workforce."League echoed Morrison's comments when she said it's important to discuss ideas between educators and practitioners and to close the gap between them, particularly when it comes to preparing students. "We talked about making internships mandatory for schools so that students have more practical experience. Internships are a win-win situation for both, and they are invaluable for students. We certainly support the idea and support colleges and universities that do."In addition to strengthening partnerships and internship programs between schools and firms, other trends and/or gaps that participants identified during the discussion included topics such as:
  • sustainable design and LEED™ certification;
  • diversity within the profession;
  • stronger emphasis on certification as a career benchmark;
  • speed and urgency (the ability to do research and design/produce more quickly);
  • communication;
  • budgets;
  • 3-D design;
  • business and marketing;
  • vision.
While educators might wince at the items on this list or the thought of having a room full of practitioners offering their criticism of interior design programs and graduates, Morrison explains that expectations are changing. "I think the important point in all of this is that practitioners may sound overly critical, but the bar for graduates is being raised constantly." He admits that he sees a lot of graduates who are barely trained for the job, but "we're seeking the best ones—the top percentage. There are students who achieve that, but the goal is to raise the whole bar."Looking AheadAlthough the feedback that FIDER received from this new roundtable forum was more of an informal way to identify needs and trends, "As we start to see these same issues and concerns discussed in other forums, we will conduct more formal research to clarify the issues and then to modify the standards," Harmon Vaughan added. "FIDER is committed to bringing these issues to the community of stakeholders for feedback prior to modifying standards. This is an ongoing and meticulously managed process."The process will continue this fall when the FIDER board will hold another roundtable session in Vancouver, BC, according to Dunn. "One of the board's major responsibilities is to maintain that broad view of what's going on in the world. I think that there was such a positive feeling about the success of that event that we want to do it again," she said.Participants agree. Asked if the roundtable ought to be repeated in other parts of the country, they responded with a resounding, "Yes!"

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