30 Years and Counting

April 22, 2014

We invite some of the most notable designers we’ve profiled through the years to reflect on where their personal journeys have led them since we last spoke, and how they feel about design's future.

This opening line from our editorial mission statement has been the guiding force behind every decision we’ve made as a magazine for the past 30 years. We’ve been in the vanguard of promoting the value of design services in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public, as well as connecting the professionals, firms, and associations with projects and products that have shaped the built environment for the better.

Those who have been paying attention know that the I&S brand has evolved significantly over the past three decades, responding to changes in our industry as well as the economy. During our first 20 years, esteemed interior designers and architects graced our covers and shared their insights into the critical issues facing the profession, as well as their abiding passion for good design—examples of which are now featured prominently on the front of and inside each issue.

In 1995, the editorial team, led by former editor Katie Sosnowchik (now with HDR Architecture), came to the critical realization that good design could not be divorced from social and environmental responsibility. As such, they formally ratified the mission statement to reflect the magazine’s support of “the creation of functional, sustainable and aesthetically-pleasing environments.”

With that stance, we quickly became well-known as the “green magazine” among the suite of design publications in the market. We launched the groundbreaking EnvironDesign Conference in 1996, which enjoyed a 10-year lifespan and was regarded as a precursor to the now hugely successful Greenbuild Expo, produced by the U.S. Green Building Council. We also hosted the popular GREENlife Pavilion and the Green Walk showroom tour at NeoCon before sustainable product offerings were a given.

I&S continues to champion the design of sustainable interiors, which are now (thankfully) part of mainstream design thinking and a permanent part of our brand’s DNA, as we received a LEED-CI Silver certification for the remodeling of our Cedar Rapids headquarters following a devastating flood in 2008.

But we’ve also become much more than that; we’re a go-to resource for busy practitioners who seek practical, reliable, and inspirational ideas to keep their creative juices flowing and to help them become better at what they do. By keeping abreast of industry trends, offering expert analysis on vital topics, going inside the latest interiors projects, showcasing the most beautiful and functional new products on the market, and tapping the minds of the people who are pushing the envelope of design thinking, we aim to be the publication that delivers the most relevant, exciting, and actionable content around.

With that in mind, we invited some of the most notable designers we’ve profiled through the years to reflect on where their personal journeys have led them since we last spoke and how they feel about design today—and tomorrow. Their perspectives on the practice of design are as fresh and inspired as we feel today as we celebrate this significant milestone in our magazine’s history.

 bill valentine, faia Architect and Chairman Emeritus

Chairman Emeritus Bill Valentine, FAIA, retired in 2012 after 50 years as a design leader at HOK. Valentine joined HOK in St. Louis in 1962. In 1970, he moved to California to open the firm’s San Francisco office, where he remained until his retirement. As a sustainable design pioneer, Valentine led HOK’s adoption of sustainability as a core value in the 1990s. He served as president from 2000-­2007 and chairman from 2007-2012. Today, he lives in Mill Valley, Calif., and continues to consult on design projects with HOK.

When you were last profiled in I&S back in 2003, you were still president at HOK and have since retired. How has life changed for you since retiring?
Since I’ve retired, I get to spend more time with my family. My wife, Jane, and I have three-year old twin granddaughters who live in the area. It takes both of us to babysit them!

What role does design continue to play in your life?
Since the beginning of the year, I have been helping a team in our San Francisco office with a design competition. Going to the office twice a week to focus on design has been great fun.

I sponsored the AIA Fellowship nominations for two HOK architects this year. I was delighted that my friends Alan Bright and Ernest Cirangle both were elevated to the College of Fellows. We are hosting a sponsor dinner for them at the AIA National Convention in Chicago in June.

In our 2003 cover story, you had said, “Architecture, in its best light, is a social instrument about how you can make the living condition better. And, so, that’s what I see for us in the future.” Do you still see architecture in this light, and is this still a notion that drives the work at HOK?
Yes, overwhelmingly. I see architecture in this light even more so today. Improving the living condition remains the highest purpose for architecture and still drives our work at HOK.

What topics or ideas interest you most these days?
At the top of my list would be two intertwined ideas: sustainability and zero carbon emissions. Architects have a social responsibility to reduce the carbon used by our built environment. There is a fair amount of discussion about achieving zero carbon but not enough progress. Renovating existing buildings to achieve zero carbon emissions would be the gold standard.

How has design changed, in your opinion, since we last spoke? Do you see that as a good or a bad thing?
Design has changed for the better. There is an increased interest in efficiency and sustainability. The cost of sustainable technologies like solar panels is going down and the political climate is much more accommodating. LEED Gold certified buildings are almost pro forma. Compare this to a decade ago when people said, “What’s LEED?”

Planners and designers are revitalizing urban areas and densifying suburbia. There is more emphasis on creating compact, walkable communities where people can live, work and connect. With the needle moving in the right direction on so many fronts, I am quite optimistic about the built environment.

What worries or concerns you about design?
What worries me is that there still is too much attention given to complicated “look at me” buildings instead of buildings that are really striving to help people.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career over again, what would it be? Why is that?
I would be more proactive in connecting with universities to cross pollinate the innovative new concepts coming from their faculty and students with those of the talented designers in our HOK offices. I would encourage all design firms to do this.

Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am the absolute luckiest architect in the world. I grew up in a small North Carolina farm town, went to a state-supported architectural school, and then, in graduate school, had the incredible good fortune of a leader from this new firm called HOK visiting our class and eventually offering me a position in St. Louis. Then I was given the opportunity to move to California and open a small HOK office in San Francisco. Years later, I ended up as president and chairman and suddenly found that I had a voice in the national design community. I could not have imagined this career! I would be afraid to replay it because it could never turn out this well again. I was just doing what I loved. How could you want anything else?

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
My lessons stem from Gyo Obata’s teachings about simplicity in design and listening to clients to really understand their needs. I believe one can help the most by designing buildings that are simple, affordable and helpful to clients and our society.

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
Approach design from a social perspective. Instead of designing to create something splashy, ask yourself how the design can help people. You have an opportunity for your work to be germane and helpful. Our society has a crying need for this type of design and, in my experience, it also is good for business.

What do you see as the future of design?
We are living in an increasingly complex, urbanized world. There is a need for design thinking that will actually make life better by using fewer natural resources, providing access to education, creating humane environments that promote interaction, making the world a safer place—the list goes on. These are real problems that designers can and must tackle.

Think about an iPad, a Prius, or the Golden Gate Bridge. What do they have in common? They all were designed to enhance life and uplift us while being incredibly useful. There is great beauty in their simplicity.


 gary lee President
Gary Lee Partners

When we last featured Gary Lee on the cover of I&S, the self-described advisor/interpreter had been running his namesake firm for more than a decade and was already at a comfortable cruising altitude.

With the firm’s 20th anniversary officially in its rearview mirror, the momentum continues to build as the accolades and press keep piling up. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Lee isn’t content resting on his laurels; his passion for design continues to push him to remain focused on what matters most.

To what do you attribute your success, and in what ways have your experiences changed the way you look at design?
As our firm celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, I am grateful for the extraordinary skill and resourcefulness that our staff possesses, our uncompromising passion for all aspects of design, and the philosophy that our success is based on the relationships we form with our clients. With all of the challenges presented to us by our clients, our pursuit of the best solutions to each design problem has become increasing more difficult and more rewarding.

In 2006, you told us that “it’s important for us to manage technology so that it supports us, and that we’re not being driven by it.” Do you still feel that technology needs to play a supporting rather than a leading role in the design process?
Our firm utilizes technology as a tool to create our work, and I am happy to say that it has integrated into our thinking and processes quite “naturally.” We enjoy being able to “see” more clearly.

How has the industry changed, in your opinion, since we last spoke?
Our industry has managed to survive the economic roller coaster of recent years. Many of the things we’ve learned are good and have dealt with the “new normal.” However, there are also a number of needs and trends that have evolved that challenge good design.

What excites you most about design today?
The economic and cultural challenges today require an ever-heightened level of inspired solutions.

What worries or concerns you?
The impact of those solutions.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career, what would it be?
I would have consciously explored more aspects of design.

Why is that?
I believe that all aspects of design are related; a stronger foundational knowledge of creative expression, regardless of the discipline, improves the clarity of our visions.

 viveca bissonnette, fiida, cid, leed ap Vice President and Design Principal
Hollander Design Group

Eight years ago, Viveca Bissonnette, along with nine of her peers, graced the front cover of Interiors & Sources as part of our first ever profile on emerging designers (see “Young Professionals: The Future of Design,” May 2006). In less than a decade, she has catapulted herself from an emergent practitioner to the very top of her field, having served as the national president of IIDA and inducted into its prestigious College of Fellows. Here’s what Bissonnette had to tell us recently about her path to success:

What perspective(s) have you gained from your experiences at IIDA on a national level?
I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with some of the most talented individuals in the design industry. My success as a designer and business person can be directly attributed to my experience with IIDA, serving in multiple capacities over the years, including President and currently the Chair of the College of Fellows.

What topics or ideas interest you most these days?
The changing landscape of work. In a world where companies are fighting to stay relevant in the age of disruptive technology, driving innovation and creativity, there has been a huge shift over the past several years to more open and collaborative workspace, but this does not address the specific needs of each individual or automatically support the overall culture of an organization. While spontaneous collaboration is being supported, heads down and focused work is suffering. Quickly evolving technology, multiple generations in the workforce, various personality types and increasingly matrixed organizational structures are all pieces of the puzzle that companies are faced with incorporating in to their workplace culture. One size does not fit all.

As a cultural anthropologist as well as an interior designer, I together with the rest of our firm focus on workplace culture and how organizations function, work, and socialize together. We use ethnography—one of the basic tools of cultural anthropologists—to observe and interview, resulting in an in-depth understating of our client’s requirements. Individual needs are as important as the overall organizations'. More and more companies are using tests like the Predictive Index to inform their hiring and placement decisions. We are also using this type of information to understand how individuals work most effectively so that the environments we design, whether open or enclosed, ultimately support increased productivity and satisfaction.

What excites you most about design today? What worries or concerns you?
The speed at which we are all working … and the speed at which we are all working. Technology such as Sketch-up, BIM, Dropbox, Skype, Facetime, Roomscan is allowing design concepts and documentation to be produced and communicated more quickly, effectively and accurately than ever. We are able to complete more work in less time and photorealistic 3D depictions of our designs are the norm, but the art of hand sketching is being lost along with the actual time needed to grow and nurture new concepts and ideas.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career over again, what would it be? Why is that?
I have no regrets. The path I have taken, as circuitous as it was, is what has shaped me to be the designer, strategist and business owner I am today.

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Relationships are everything, whether it be with clients, vendors or colleagues. The ultimate work/life balance is when it’s all mixed up together. My partner Jeff Hollander, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP and I, along with the rest of the firm, have been able to focus on the personal relationships we have with our clients, staff and vendors. Building lasting friendships has resulted in more satisfying working relationships. 

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
Keep your eyes and ears open. Take advantage of every opportunity you are presented no matter how challenging, and never forget why you became a designer in the first place. Keep pushing and growing yourself and your clients.

What do you see as the future of design?
We need to think beyond our current assumptions. At a recent conference futurist Edie Weiner called it “educated incapacity,” the inability to conceive of new ideas because we are confined by the knowledge we already have.

With new technologies emerging daily, the ease of communication and sharing of information has changed how we work and interact. We live in a global economy, connecting and collaborating with individuals from around the world who are able to work out of their pocket with tools that have been designed to be intuitive. Those tools, like the iPhone, were developed not by repeating what had been done before, but by challenging the status quo. As designers, we need to always look beyond our best practices to provide real value to our clients. Organizations are looking for design intelligence and innovation—not just an aesthetically pleasing space that incorporates their brand colors.


bonny slater, ncidq, leed ap id+cSenior Interior Project Designer and Associate

Bonny Slater is no stranger to I&S. She was most recently featured as part of the winning team in Mannington Commercial’s 2013 Design Local contest, and was also one of our 10 Young Professionals we featured in 2006. Having moved from NBBJ to Perkins+Will in recent years, she’s developed a specialty in the field of healthcare design and a sharp focus on the essentials of design.

How have your experiences in the past 8 years changed the way you think about design?
Over the past eight years, my perspective has shifted in terms of what I see as good design.  Early in my career, good design was all about the “big idea,” and a clear concept carried through the design.  Now, although I’m still drawn to a compelling story, I realize that experience is what really creates a brilliant design. Designing to shape an experience goes beyond architecture. It engages all the senses, influences behavior, and has an emotional impact. 

In our 2006 roundtable discussion, you noted that legislation was one of the biggest challenges facing designers but felt that “it’s very achievable in the near future.” Do you still feel that way? Why or why not?
I do think legislation is a big challenge, but the degree to which this affects designers depends on where they practice. I started my career in New York, which has struggled with the advancement of legislature. Although I fully support the efforts of IDLNY (Interior Designers for Legislation in New York), things are different in Washington.

What topics or ideas interest you most these days?
I’m doing a lot of work overseas and am absolutely fascinated by the impact cultural differences have on design. Culture affects how people behave, how they perceive color and light, and the meaning they attach to space and form. If you take the time to explore a foreign culture, you can’t help but ask yourself: what are the architectural implications?

What excites you most about design today? What worries or concerns you?
I think the upcycling of products and buildings is an exciting movement. People are finding really innovative uses for older buildings and neighborhoods, especially industrial ones, and breathing a second life into them. The perception of “new,” equating with “better,” is dying, and I love it.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career over again, what would it be? Why is that?
To be honest, that isn’t something I’ve thought about much. Every mistake has been a lesson. The one thing I would revisit is a commitment to maintain my hand drawing skills. I fully embraced digital visualization methods, which pulled effort off of my sketching skills.

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
I have learned to not plan my life around project schedules since schedules will inevitably change. If you keep rescheduling your personal life, you may not have one left when you do finally get a break. 

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
Work at developing a broad range of design skills and experience multiple project types. Develop your strengths and interests, but don’t become myopic in your focus. In the last economic downturn we saw a lot of experts struggle in their areas of specialization, however those with a strong set of general design skills thrived because they were agile enough to shift with the market.

What do you see as the future of design?
I see designers themselves being more highly valued by the business community. The more we tell the stories of how design has facilitated organizational change and improved business metrics, the power will be recognized in the aspects of design.

 kate ward, ncidq, leed ap Workplace Consultant

Kate Ward is among the many designers who have made the leap from the interior design practice to the manufacturing world. Since she was last featured in I&S eight years ago, Ward left her position as project manager and lead designer at ARCTURIS for a career as a workplace consultant at furniture giant Steelcase. Her insights into design thinking have been greatly influenced as a result of this move, which she expands on below.

When you were last profiled in I&S in 2006 as part of our Young Professionals feature, you were still relatively new to the industry. What topics or ideas interest you most these days?
Well-being, in a holistic sense—physical, social, emotional and cognitive. As a career, design can be all-consuming; this focus on finding balance, focusing on things that truly bring joy and satisfaction in my career and life is very personal. This topic has significant relevance for my customers as well since most individuals have found their boundaries between work and life blurred by new technologies, being accessible at all times, the speed at which business is accomplished today, and the increasing complexity of work.

Human beings are spending more time at work, than they do anything else in life. How can work and the workplace start to support the well-being of its employees? It needs to be a wholly different environment than what has been offered to individuals in the past.

What excites you most about design today? What worries or concerns you?
We are experiencing a very exciting time for design, with technology driving so many changes and connections for human beings. So, our places and spaces that bring us together (whether that’s for work, school, socially or other) have to function very differently than they have in the past.  This makes the job of the designer and problem solver extremely relevant. 

In the future, I think the opportunity for the profession is to shift the focus from predominately the built environment and aesthetic components to a more prominent focus on the components that humans interface with the most. Today, I feel they are not given the attention that is warranted, and that is a tremendous opportunity for all of us.

How would you describe the similarities and/or differences working for a manufacturer like Steelcase versus a design firm?
There are probably more differences than there are similarities. I was working for a 100-person design firm that mostly did business in a single market. I’m now working for a global corporation with 12,000+ employees. The business functions themselves are extremely different—it’s been really exciting to be exposed to such a different scale and organizational structure.

How has that change influenced your design thinking?
Being a part of Steelcase has greatly influenced my design thinking and exposure to significant industry thought-leaders from within our company and with the design firms I support. IDEO and their unique partnership with Steelcase is likely the single largest influencer on my growth in design thinking. Steelcase places great value on conducting our own research, following IDEO’s design methods and processes. Our company also has a large emphasis on training and development; I feel extremely lucky to be a part of an organization that cares about my growth and offers us freedom in how we seek out opportunities to learn.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career over again, what would it be? Why is that?
With experience, my confidence has grown—however, even now I still struggle with it from time-to-time. I wish I would have started with this level of confidence earlier in my career.

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Never underestimate the power of empathy. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and sharing their perspective. Truly listening to the verbal and non-verbal signals people put off. This single quality is powerful in design, making others feel comfortable trusting that you truly understand them and their needs.

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
As you put in the long hours and hard work early on, always remember to balance everything in your life. While time brings new customers and new problems to be solved, connect yourself to mentors from a variety of places so that you see new approaches to solving problems. This is critical for your personal development. And, remember that parenting is great—don’t put it off too long due to the demands of this industry!

What do you see as the future of design?
The future of design is in the hands of those who can support creating human-centered solutions that support cultural change.  Understanding what does the organization want to be and how to design that space as an integrated tool, will transform behaviors that drive that cultural change. 


 lauren rottet, faia, fiida Founding Principal and President
Rottet Studio

Lauren Rottet hardly needs an introduction. She is among the most celebrated interior architects in recent decades, having recently become the only woman in history to be elevated to Fellow by both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and International Interior Design Association (IIDA), and inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. Rottet founded her eponymous studio in 2008, and has been heavily involved in commercial and product design ever since.

What projects or ideas have you been focusing on since we last spoke?
I have always been engaged in commercial work, but am now also working on large-scale hotels in major cities, including Houston, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Waikiki. I’m also juggling a new venture into the residential market and a custom furniture line.

When we last spoke to you, you said your job was to fight “visual static” and “create the illusion of change so that these interiors are not boring to look at or work in.” Are you still fighting that battle against visual static?
Fighting visual static continues to be a strong driver for design and my exploration of “chameleon-like” materials.

What other topics or ideas are interesting you these days?
Authenticity of time and place. I love nostalgia as much as the next person, but not new restaurants with an antiquated feel. People too often copy this era, but disregard the level of design detail which makes it so meaningful. Tod Williams and Billie Tsien understand this. They created the Barnes Foundation with a high level of craft and attention to detail, and it’s simply awe-inspiring. Contemporary design should provide a high level of detail and interest that holds one’s attention and provides the same level of satisfaction.

What excites or concerns you most about design today?
I am excited by the fact there is more appreciation for design. Raising the bar for design forces the designer to do more research, promoting a more knowledgeable design community. In terms of advancements in design, I find the 3-D printer to be an especially exciting innovation, as it allows you to look at furniture live without manufacturing it. However, I am concerned that people expect design to be delivered instantly, like a rendering. Although renderings have improved drastically over the years, they create the illusion that design can be delivered quickly, which consequently makes some people overlook the details of the design that would otherwise make it unique.

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
Understand that small tasks must be completed well and thoroughly, so people trust you with larger roles. Be a sponge. Learn as much from as many as possible. Go with a firm that provides a well-rounded experience and can help you grow.

What do you see as the future of design?
I’d like to see children gain exposure to design at an earlier age and understand that it can influence everything, from highways to clothing and even the pencil they use to write, in order to open their minds at a younger age and foster creativity.

 ken wilson, faia, fiida, leed fellow Design Principal

In 2002, we profiled Ken Wilson on the cover of I&S and gave him the moniker, “The Dragon Slayer,” referring to his epic quest to green the world of interiors in a time when sustainability was still a wildly moving target. Twelve years later, he’s still fighting the good fight and is as optimistic as ever about making a positive impact on our environments and the people that inhabit them.

When you were last profiled in I&S, you were still with Envision Design and have since settled in at Perkins+Will. What have you been doing to since we last spoke with you? What projects or ideas are you most focused on?
It has been a dozen years since I was on the cover of I&S and my firm was three years old then.  Since that time my business partner, Diana Horvat, and I continued to lead Envision designing a range of projects all over the country.  We had some fantastic clients and were able to do some exceptional work.  We won over 90 design awards in a range of project types from workspace to residential to hospitality, and had our work published in seven different countries. In August of 2012 we were acquired and we relocated our entire firm five blocks down the street to Perkins+Will’s Washington, D.C. office.

In terms of what I like to focus on, I am always looking for projects that will give us a design challenge.  The type of project doesn’t matter that much to me.  What really matters is having a client that understands the value of good design, the ability to work with great people, and to feel challenged by a complex design problem.

What topics or ideas interest you most these days?
Advancing green design, pushing toward carbon neutrality, and improving human health and wellbeing.  I am also fascinated by the positive affect that design can have on business. By far the biggest cost to a business is their people and even tiny improvements in productivity can have tremendous effects.

How has design changed, in your opinion, since we last spoke? Do you see that as a good or a bad thing?
Design has gotten a lot leaner in the sense that the fees the market will bear are so low that it is stifling innovation. Great design takes time and new ideas have an incubation period. Sure, we can all do a project really fast and go with what we have done before but this doesn’t advance the profession.

Another issue that concerns me is the fact that we are continuing to lose services to the big real estate companies. First it was project management, and now it is programming and workplace strategies. This is not a good thing.

What excites you most about design today? What worries or concerns you?
I am excited about the advancements in green design and the optimism about what can be accomplished.  When we did one of the first LEED-CI pilot projects back in 2001, achieving Platinum level certification seemed impossible. Since then, we have designed projects that have exceeded LEED-CI V3 Platinum by as much as 15 points. In April of this year, my hometown of Washington, D.C. implemented their new green building code, which sets the highest bar in the country for green design. This was unimaginable 10 years ago.  We are now talking with several potential clients about designing net zero energy projects—this is the future of design.

What concerns me is all the LEED bashing we have been hearing. There is a campaign of misinformation by special interest groups. I was on the core committees that developed both the LEED-CI and LEED-CS rating systems for seven years. The process was long, consensus based, and very transparent. Everyone, including the USGBC knows that LEED isn’t perfect, but I can’t imagine where we would be without it.  Now LEED is being threatened and this is, in effect, starting to lower the bar when we should be raising it—the way Washington, D.C. is doing.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career over again, what would it be? Why is that?
I can’t say I have any regrets about anything I’ve done.  I was a late bloomer in this business and rarely got to do the things I really wanted to do until I started my own firm. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I could have done the things I did if I hadn’t started my own firm and been willing to take the financial risks that go along with following your passion. I suppose if anything, I wish I had prepared myself to start my own firm earlier and worked on being more well-rounded, especially on the business side of things.

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career.
Be nice to everyone and treat everyone with respect. Assume first that people want to do the right thing. Always be honest, don’t beat around the bush, and mean what you say.

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
Take responsibility for your own career. Half of your career is made up of experiences that were handed to you and the other half are what you make for yourself. Don’t put your career solely in the hands of others. Show your passion for design and make an effort to get to know people outside the profession.

What do you see as the future of design?
I would like to see design continue on a path toward zero carbon emissions and promoting human health and wellbeing. Good design is more accessible to more people than ever before, and I hope that also continues. With today’s smartphones, everyone has a beautiful piece of design and technology in their pocket. It may be the best-designed thing they own. They instinctively know this, and it starts to change their attitude about the value of design.

About the Author

Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of Architectural Products, BUILDINGS and i+s, sister publications of Smart Buildings Technology. He is an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience reporting on the architecture and design industry.

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