Vantage Points

June 30, 2015

A design student and practitioner weigh in on what the future of interiors will look like.

tara headley
Student IIDA, MFA candidate, Savannah College of Art and Design

IIDA: First, what excites you about design?
Headley: The thing that excites me the most about design is the ability to incorporate a concept that creates significant meaning within a space. Recently, I have narrowed the focus of my designs to dealing with the impact of cultural appreciation and understanding, and investigating how this can be showcased through interior design. I love taking an in-depth look at different cultures, figuring out what makes them unique, and incorporating that into a space in a way that truly educates the user, or at the very least immerses the user in a distinctive cultural experience.

IIDA: What is talked about most in your classes? Do you think issues from these discussions will influence the future of design?
Headley: Pursuing my master’s degree has opened my eyes to a whole new world of design. Our classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design focus heavily on the implementation of research and evidence-based design in our studio projects. We are taught to make all decisions based on research and to be able to explain the reasoning behind the design. I believe that this will influence the future of design by producing designers who are conscious about theories that greatly affect users of a space. By using evidence-based designs, we ensure that interiors will be as functional as they are beautiful, and are able to stand the test of time.

IIDA: How do you see the future of design?
Headley: I had the privilege of hearing John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar, give the commencement speech at my graduation this year. He spoke of when he was first starting the company, and his vision of how technology would change the future of animation forever. Similarly, I believe the future of interior design lies within technology.

I foresee environments where with the touch of a few buttons, a room can be transformed to fit anyone’s vision. Perhaps it is the incorporation of projected wallcoverings, atmospheric enhancements, or transformable furniture. I also envision the fusion of human imagination and technology evolving to play a greater role in the process of interior design by using aesthetics to influence emotions, stimulate productivity, and ultimately enhance the quality of human life.

virginia san fratello
IIDA, assistant professor of design, San Jose State University; chief creative officer, Emerging Objects; principal, Rael San Fratello Architects

IIDA: How are you preparing your students for the future of design?
San Fratello: My goal as an interior design educator is to give students the knowledge, skills, and ideals they need to be creative leaders for the future. I believe design for the 21st century should not only be about the user experience, but should also incorporate sustainable methods and take advantage of local and ecological material resources.

In an era of throwaway consumerism and overconsumption, excessive energy use, too much waste, and toxic materials, designers have a responsibility to the public—and the planet—to change our mindset about what our interiors are made of, how they function, and to inform the manufacturing processes used to fabricate the interior. At San Jose State University (SJSU), we are attempting to establish a new paradigm for interior design—one that takes full advantage of new technologies and low-energy manufacturing methods such as additive manufacturing and other computer-aided manufacturing processes. These tools leverage the value of skilled designers to enhance visualization, optimization, and simulation, and can potentially allow designers to minimize their use of raw materials and reduce energy consumption. These tools also allow for mass customization, the new frontier in business for both manufacturing and design.


Over the past three years, I have acquired six different 3-D printers, and I teach students how to be experts in modeling and additive manufacturing. Not only are students able to model, represent, and simulate the effects of their ideas, but they also have the ability to fabricate them at full scale using a variety of additive manufacturing techniques. Students understand that the choices they make in the design of something seemingly as simple as a curtain can contribute to reduced heat gain of the interior, the reduced use of HVAC systems, and how that reduces the demand on our natural resources, decreasing pollution and global warming.

IIDA: What are you tired of seeing in design (practice, profession, and industry)? What do you want to see more of?
San Fratello: I would like to see more people looking outside of design for inspiration. I think sometimes there is a tendency to look at the designs of others and to copy them or to work stylistically instead of looking for something new and original. Look at art, nature, food. Look at neuroscience.

I also sometimes think that things are starting to look the same all around the world—there is a homogeny in design. There is no reason why a hotel room in Dubai should be the same as a hotel room in Chicago but because of over air conditioning and industrialized materials, this is happening. These two places have very different climates, access to different materials, and different traditions. This doesn’t mean design should be traditional, but now in the 21st century we have an opportunity to redefine the vernacular. It’s up to us as designers to invent new vernaculars and to respond to them as we reshape the interior.

IIDA: What does someone just starting out in design need to know?
San Fratello:

1. It takes a lot of time to make things, to put things in the world that don’t
exist. Be prepared to dedicate a lot of time to the pursuit of good design.

2. Experiment, take risks, do tests, fail, use your hands, and work iteratively.

3. Exceed expectations. I do believe this is an industry where there is always
someone eager, talented, and willing to take your place. I love it when I come to a desk critique and a student has done everything we discussed in our last meeting—and more. I feel like that’s the moment when I learn something from them and I know that student is going to succeed.

4. Master your tools; know them inside and out.

IIDA: Where do you think the future of design is headed?
San Fratello: That is a big and broad question and one that I think has many answers, so I will focus on how this question relates to my own work. I’m interested in new technologies and methods of manufacture that open up our ability to design mass-customized interiors that respond to very specific places and needs. 3-D printing is a very new global technology that has the ability to use old, traditional, or local materials in new ways that allow us to address contextual issues in design. I believe it will give us the ability to transcend traditional interior design and practice and will allow users to create truly unique, responsive, and meaningful environments.

The future of interior design for me is dichotomous—local and global, very old and very new, humanist and technological. In the future of design, we will more than ever deal with humanistic issues through technological tools.

To learn more about the IIDA Student of the Year Award, sponsored by OFS Brands, and the IIDA Educator of the Year Award, sponsored by Milliken, visit www.iida.org or contact Beatrice Brittan, IIDA student outreach coordinator, at (312) 467-1950 or [email protected]. Genny Ramos is the communications strategist at the International Interior Design Association. She can be reached at IIDA headquarters at (312) 467-1950 or [email protected].

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