The ride raised $100,000. "It's funding a one-year study to develop a model for ideal interior design education and the connection to continuing education," Frankel says. "This year we're very specific in funding this independent research study that's being done. The results will be announced at NeoCon this coming year."
With more than 35 years at some of the largest and most prestigious firms in the country, culminating as director of interiors at Chicago's Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Frankel brings a broad international perspective to his term as IIDA president. What's more, it places him in a leading role in an association that brings together many of his particular interests: design education, the future of the profession and information development and sharing. "It's an association for enhancing the professionalism of its members and the profession itself, so it deals with education, it deals with professional strategies, and it also serves through connectivity in terms of putting designers together so they can share information," Frankel says.
D&WC: What will be the most important societal and environmental issues facing interior design and how big of a role will green design and international markets play?
Neil Frankel: The whole issue of sustainability-and not just sustainability in the traditional sense of product and environment, but sustainability for our cities and our communities and sustainability for our values about family structure and the broader spectrum-is part of our concern. I don't think that we as a society can afford to be caught by surprise. We need to prepare ourselves for this subject.
To me sustainability deals with our concern for the environment as well as our concern for cultural goals and community-based planning ideals. To me it's a very important subject, the conditions of what we do as it involves the environment around us and the appropriateness of what we do one to another.
There has been a profound change in our world with the advent of the computer, and it's much greater than just the ability to crunch numbers. It has given us access to information we never had before and, in gaining access to that information, we've become much more culturally aware because information now is coming from different sources. The ethnographic impact of it is that it is absolutely a change in the way we're going to be doing things.
In terms of international markets, what was interesting about the economic shift in North America, when there was somewhat of a financial moratorium on building new projects, is that the North American design community went abroad and applied its trade. So what you find now is probably the most sophisticated and sociologically inventive projects have been done off-shore. For the first time probably since the Industrial Revolution, North Americans are being led by information from the global community. The buildings that were done in Asia, for example, are some of the most state-of-the-art, most sophisticated buildings. Suddenly, the benchmark or comparison for what we are doing in North America is coming from this crop of buildings that was done in Asia over this past 10- to 12-year period.
When we look at the social aspects-housing for the aged, health care facilities, educational facilities, the office environment-the models are coming from overseas now. To some degree the North American designers were a part of that. During this same period of time, their counterparts-the designers from the countries we were asked to work in-were quick learners. They were ready. So now we have world-class design coming from all over the world.
D&WC: Does this mean designers will have to change their thinking or the ways they work in order to address these issues?
Frankel: I definitely think so. To begin with, just consider access to information. The World Wide Web and the Internet have provided even small firm practitioners with the same resources the large firms have, so now you have small firms working with the same clients large firms are working with. Everything is accessible. Before, what differentiated one firm from another firm doing design work was their proprietary information. Now that information is accessible.
It is tremendously influencing our thinking and the way we work. People can do modeling-and I'm thinking about window coverings particularly-people can do modeling of light penetrations and do analysis of solar effects that we never could do before.
D&WC: How can designers prepare themselves for success in the next millennium and beyond?
Frankel: There's a real need to bring the education of design current. In our design schools we continue to think of design in sort of the beaux arts tradition. Today's young designers need to be equipped with information to enable them to deal strategically with clients-to be able to deal with the economics, not only the economics of the project but the client's economic base, to be able to understand the business plans of their clients.
Design education lacks the depth and the broadness of the relationship that exists between the designer and the client today. In order to be effective with your client you have to be able to sit at that boardroom table and be able to carry on the conversation in terms of your client's business objectives, not just the objectives of the design assignment. We're talking about work process, change management and all the cultural notions that drive successful corporations and institutions today, and the designer currently isn't equipped to do that.
Another thing that I think is extremely critical is that the design community must learn how to do research, not just gather information, but research about client requirements and aspirations. At IIDA we are going to hold a major research practitioner summit this year to bring together people who are doing valued research-not just research within the profession, but social research-and talk about how the connection can be made and how the design community can access this research and team with people who are doing research. Our goal is to make this information one of the tools in the designer's tool box.
This to me is an exciting frontier for the design community, the ability of the practitioner to qualify and quantify the result of design, to be able to demonstrate what you get from design in a way you can substantiate. You and I could probably agree that people would work better if they were in a better environment, or kids would learn better if they were in a more conducive school environment. We intuitively think that. I think it's necessary for the design community to actually measure that performance.
D&WC: What changes or trends in contract designs do you see occurring?
Frankel: The whole issue of effectiveness and productivity and also the social side of the workplace is absolutely important. As we move toward the ability of a great number of people working in a virtual way in remote locations, the nature of what the office workplace will be is changing, and as it changes we are learning the value of consensus thinking and that collectively teams can accomplish more than the sum total of what individuals can accomplish.
My client base and the client base of designers is asking the design community to be able to support that kind of thinking. They do want spaces that look different. The client base is saying collaborative settings ought to look different than the individual work settings.
We're now beginning to see the appeal of taking on different characteristics in our designs. The most obvious example is, can we take these collaborative settings in the workplace and make them more conducive to relaxed interaction? It's not as simple as saying, "OK, I'm going to make this thing look like my living room." But it is looking for the attributes that make conversation- and interchange-provoking spaces more effective.
D&WC: Will companies then spend more on interior design?
Frankel: I think so. If the reason companies spent money on design before was because of image, vanity or making a statement, compare that to spending money now on productivity, increased quality and contributing to the competitiveness of the company. Clearly, the second set of circumstances has the greatest return on investment.
D&WC: Are clients more or less knowledgeable about interior design than in the past?
Frankel: There is so much information about design that is accessible to everyone today. With shelter magazines and newspaper magazine supplements, the subject of design is in a much better place than it once was. Also there is better accessibility to product. We're beginning to see a lot of alternatives in the marketplace to the high-end retailer. Design no longer has the same kind of elitism that it had before.
So there's a much more aware client base out there. I even think that people who choose to do their own design at home as opposed to having a professional designer help-who elect to do it because it will be fun to do-are doing a better job of it.
On the other side, really well trained designers-well trained educationally and culturally to do this work-could make the design experience even more memorable for customers. The design community's challenge is to demonstrate that they are value-added-that it's not a question of elitism and that the designer is only for a very high-end application. There's both a public relations and an educational opportunity here for the design community to start identifying its value to the consumer market.
Frankel + Coleman, 727 S. Dearborn, 412; Chicago, IL; (312) 697-1620; fax: (312) 697-1622; e-mail: email@example.com.
IIDA headquarters is located at 341 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL; (312) 467-1950; fax: (312) 467-0779; www.iida.com.
Neil Frankel, FIIDA, AIA, is raising money for design education, a subject that is uppermost in his thoughts as president of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), principal along with wife Cindy Coleman in Frankel + Coleman and as the first Fitzhugh Scott Distinguished Critic at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.