Design Connections Highlights Equality and Diversity

Oct. 31, 2018
Design Connections began with an open and honest conversation on equality and diversity sparked by the keynote presenter, Jason McLennan, who spoke on the intersection of regenerative design and health and wellness, and a subsequent panel on social justice moderated by Rochelle Routman from Aspecta .
The Elephant in the Room

Design Connections began with an open and honest conversation on equality and diversity sparked by the keynote presenter, Jason McLennan, who spoke on the intersection of regenerative design and health and wellness, and a subsequent panel on social justice moderated by Rochelle Routman from Aspecta. The audience participation during the panel bravely included the discussion of the obvious need for more diversity and equality within the design field – as a necessity for growing strong integrated multi-disciplinary teams to meet the requirements of on-demand client expectations.

Beyond Design Connections ► Scandinavian Design Brings Simplicity to the States

Advancement of inclusivity in the design field is sharing the differing skillsets of various aged and experienced professionals and students. For the “club” to not understand the need of all points of view to result in successful outcomes in a time of continual culture change, including communication and technology, is to encourage another ice age and asteroid strike that will wipe out the “dinosaurs.” It is eminently important for the future of design to embrace a fresh multi-generational approach that includes equality, diversity and respect in all interactions.  

Social Responsibility panel discussion. From left to right: Rochelle Routman; Randy Fiser, ASID; Jason McLennan, McLennan Design and founder of the Living Building Challenge; Jennifer Carter, Studio 8 Architects; and Sunny Reed, Perkins + Will.

Product Design Challenge  

A new opportunity for collaboration with product manufacturers and designers was created through the Product Design Challenge led by Donald Strum from Michael Graves A&D and myself. Donald and Jane worked with Shawn Nichols of Mooreco, Inc. and Lesley Roberts from Kwalu to successfully facilitate four teams, who competed to provide the most creative solution to improve an existing product.

The products included the reinvention of the housekeeping cart, the advancement of the smart chair, the reformulation of a hydration station, and the complete rehaul of the walker with tennis balls. All four solutions were thoughtful, inventive and provided exciting alternatives to the existing unacceptable solutions.

  • The “BEST” (Body Ergonomic Support Tool) smart chair concept, aptly named “your new BESTie,” provided a sit to stand option and included Bluetooth technology that knows when you and your “BESTie” are in range of one another to connect and adjust to ergonomically fit your specific needs. The features include a “do not disturb” light, heating and cooling controls and built-in reminders for meetings.
  • The “Scoot” was a new ergonomic, adjustable walker that could be used universally for various body sizes and types and could be available to rent, similar to the bicycle stations found in urban areas. The Scoot further allowed for adaptability to become an assistive device for toilet transfers, showering/bathing and various stages of need – adapting with a person as their personal needs change over time or temporarily.
  • The hydration station team created a portable experience space for airports, schools, healthcare settings and any space where stress is plentiful and wellness is needed – the Body-dration Pod that includes the Fly-by, the Quick Stop, the Meditative and the Immersive based upon how much time you have available for a mindful moment to destress and re-hydrate – not dissimilar to the options for the drive through a car wash!
  • The housekeeping cart Shark Tank-style presentation completed by Glenn Haussman from No Vacancy won over the audience with a self-leveling mechanism for the new and improved housekeeping cart, optional composting and trash compaction, ergonomic adjustments for various body types that supported safety and efficiency, and communication and competitive gamification systems and technology for personal Bluetooth connectivity. It was selected by the judges as the winner of the Product Design Challenge. 
Product Design Challenge - Collaboration!
Part of the "Scoot" team moderated by Lesley Roberts of Kwalu.
Glenn Haussman from No Vacancy’s Shark Tank presentation for his new housekeeping cart solution.

Giving Back

Historically, Design Connections legacy conferences have always featured a night to give back. The continuation of this mission-driven activity included the same groups from the Product Design Challenge to come together for “Can-Do,” which challenged guests to create a sculpture with canned food items using as many of the provided materials as possible. After creating amazing concepts and designs, judging the results and selecting a winner, all of the canned goods went to a local food bank in the Austin area. The winner of the competition was the “Dragon” concept, but the indomitable Martha Rayle as Lady Liberty was in a close heat for first prize. Long horns, Texas flags, boots, hot air balloons, a guitar, a stadium and other creative solutions were among the exceptional results – displaying the teamwork and camaraderie (with just a touch of competitiveness) as the outcome for a good cause.

The Dragon Team Winners & their Dragon! Dragon, tail is behind!
Martha Rayle as Lady Liberty!
Heather Bachman, HGA representing the longhorn team.

Tools Render Designers Speechless with Excitement

When a designer is looking for information that clears up confusion within green building and health and wellness certification programs, it is wonderful to realize that someone out there is thinking and anticipating your needs to help you make better informed decisions, provide comparative information in real time, and develop visuals that make it easy to quickly glean sustainable building information.

Michael Bloom, the High-Performance Buildings Program Advisor from the General Services Administration (GSA), presented the new Buildings and Health module and crosswalk that is part of the Sustainable Facilities Tool (SFTool), eliciting a reaction from the audience of pure amazement on the depth of information available. The evidence-based SFTool now includes additional modules, informational links, visual “green dot” diagrams and interactive features. The audience’s reaction to the availability of this meaningful open source tool was awe and excitement – this resource includes work that they needed but were not aware of before coming to Design Connections. Making this “connection” is an example of the relationships that are made, encouraged, and long-lasting during and after the conference.

Wrapping Up with A Little Bit of Country, A Little Bit of Rock-n-Roll

 The winner of the Overall Contributing Attendee went to Marie Lukaszeski, Director of Design, Planning & Property of Lafayette General Health, who actively contributed and openly shared her experience with manufacturers and other designers throughout the conference. After the awards were provided, the final evening event was celebrated with a music and some creative outfits – A Little Bit of Country, A Little Bit of Rock-n-Roll. [Pictured: Michael Bloom presenting the SFTool ►
"Howdy Partner - don't think I've seen you in these parts before!" The JSR Associates, Inc. team, including (from left to right) Shernise "Tex" Richardson, Lauren "Hold 'Em" Erickson, and Jane "Gunslinger" Rohde.

Design Connections 2019 was announced at the conclusion of the evening. Plan on joining the Design Connections Team in February 2019 in Ponte Vedra, Florida, for an opportunity to share and come together with a mixture of mentors and mentees that support multiple generations to come together and disrupt the world of design.

Have an idea to share? Want to complete a multi-generational panel? Have a disruption concept for innovation? Please send your ideas to [email protected]. Looking forward to hearing from you and seeing you in February!

[ More Design News | Reforest Design fights back against Deforestation ]

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

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