Harmon-Vaughan is director of interior architecture at Gould Evans Goodman Associates, Kansas City, MO, where she works exclusively on commercial interior designs for large corporate and institutional projects. Now in her 20th year of practice, she also is an assistant professor in the College of Architecture at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.
As the 1990s draw to a close, Harmon-Vaughan sees the role of designers becoming more significant to a growing customer base. "I think the market is, in fact, expanding because Americans are starting to look more at value rather than at disposability -- and I think design is a part of that," she says. "A European family may very well invest in a leather sofa because they know the sofa will be around for many years and it's built to last. Whereas an American family might buy for fashion knowing that in five years they may throw the sofa away.
"Products now are more expensive, and we are more sensitive about being a disposable society and look to buy things that have more longevity to them. As we start to see that idea become more prominent, we will see the role of the designer actually expand," Harmon-Vaughan says.
This change in attitude, Harmon-Vaughan says, also has affected the commercial market where design decisions are becoming critical business decisions. "We are seeing articles on the front covers of consumer business magazines that talk about the way the workplace is changing and how the way we work is changing. That's causing CEOs and CFOs of companies to start thinking about their real estate in a little different way than they have before. There are a lot of implications in that for interiors and the way they function," she says.
D&WC: What will be the most important societal and environmental issues facing interior designers heading into the next century?
Harmon-Vaughan: I think one of the biggest changes is in the way we work and in the way we perceive work. Most families today are two-income households or single parents trying to raise children, so there are a bunch of issues in life that are driving the way we work.
Fortunately, technology is helping us overcome some of these issues through workplace flexibility. We don't necessarily all have to be at work every day, and we don't necessarily all have to be at work at the same time everyday, in order to work very effectively for our companies and be very productive. It means we're working at home more, and the way we are working at the office is different. I think designers need to be very aware -- whether they are working residentially or on the commercial side -- that there are a lot of implications to the way we design space that should help support the way we are living and using space today.
One of the things my research and my practice tell me almost every day and from virtually every client I work with is that the interiors of buildings are more transient than ever before, and buildings need to be planned and built for a lot of potentially different applications in the future. The agility or the flexibility of buildings and the interiors we design is very important.
One example is in the design of work stations. Twenty or 30 years ago we may have tried to use a number of different size panels and components to make a variety -- maybe a dozen different types -- of work stations for a company. Today it's not uncommon for a corporation to have adopted or be moving toward a single size work station with a menu of components that work inside that station and make it very easy to quickly move or change so it can be adapted for a number of different uses.
Another whole area is the globalization of society and the fact that we are working in a very global economy. Interior designers need to be aware of the fact that they can access products and services from all over the world and the world can access our expertise. So we may be working far away from our own personal backyards.
I think the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) probably is going to change the way designers in the United States work. They will have opportunities to work in Canada and Mexico much more easily than they have in the past and to be on teams with colleagues that may not have been considerations before.
D&WC: How big of a role will "green design" play in the future of interior design?
Harmon-Vaughan: Green design will become more and more important. In fact, I think it's entirely possible that five years from now we won't make it a separate issue.
Many times today when we're doing design work, we talk about green issues almost as a separate body of information we need to bring to a project. Soon, green design is going to become so integrated into the design process it will no longer be a separate issue, and it will be one that most designers not only are aware of but are fairly well educated in.
D&WC: Are customers more or less knowledgeable about interior design than in the past?
Harmon-Vaughan: I think they are pretty educated about a lot of interior design issues, and those who don't have specific technical knowledge know there are designs that can help their workforce be more productive or healthier. They ask very smart questions.
Clients also have very high expectations for the performance of the interiors once the projects are complete. I'm not so sure we really saw that 15 or even 10 years ago. If they had an expectation it was that their interior was going to be an aesthetically pleasing place to be. Now there are bona fide performance issues attached to design.
D&WC: What are some of the current contract style trends?
Harmon-Vaughan: One of the things that is changing is the way commercial office space is being used. We are seeing facilities used more hours in a day and work stations used by more than one person. Just the flexibility of the work environment is becoming a really important issue.
Office space being used as learning centers and opportunities for groups of workers to come together to team a project are trends that have already begun. I think we're going to see them become even more dynamic in the future because we can team virtually as well as in person.
Lighting is an important trend because we have such intensely automated facilities now. Lighting for computerized office space is a major driving force in how those facilities are designed.
We're also seeing windows and views to the outside becoming very important. Northern Europeans have really taken the lead in this issue and in some cases have legislated that workers be so many feet from an exterior view.
D&WC: What are the current trends in contract window treatments?
Harmon-Vaughan: Vertical blinds are economical and functional. People like them. But we're also seeing other kinds of window coverings. In my office we use a shade that offers protection from the sun and from glare, but lets a lot of natural light filter in. I think we will see more and more options to the window coverings used in the past.
D&WC: What are the contract color trends for the remainder of the decade?
Harmon-Vaughan: Colors are driven so much by the culture of the client. In some cases we're seeing wonderful, colorful, interesting interiors. But we're also seeing interiors in which color isn't necessarily the driving force, instead it's the materials, texture and the application.
The green movement has given us a whole new palette of color, but it has been around now for a while.
D&WC: How will designers have to change their thinking in order to accommodate the aging of the population?
Harmon-Vaughan: I think some really wonderful things that come out of designing for an older population are really good for society in general. It makes buildings more accessible and safer, and that doesn't necessarily mean they do not have to be aesthetically pleasing places to be either.
For many years we thought too often of designing for an older population as designing spaces that were not very interesting or were old fashioned. I see some very smart designs being developed today as designers become sensitive to and clever about how they can design wonderful spaces that still are very much accessible.
D&WC: What percentage of projects are new versus those that are renovations?
Harmon-Vaughan: We're seeing a lot of renovation. As a society we did so much building in the later part of the 1980s that a lot of cities are just now to the point that they've absorbed that office space. We still had new buildings built for specific purposes -- theaters, stadiums and schools -- but we're just now looking at seeing some movement in new office and commercial building. We'll start to see the commercial market grow over the next four or five years.
D&WC: With an undergraduate degree in interior design from the University of Missouri and a graduate degree in business, which includes administration, marketing and management, you've earned the equivalent of an MBA on top of a design degree. How important is a business education to designers?
Harmon-Vaughan: If they want to practice commercially it could be tremendously valuable to have a business education background because designers will start to understand design issues in terms of their business impact. A business education can make a designer a much more effective communicator with business people who are making business decisions rather than aesthetic decisions. Designers can present their designs and concepts in ways that are going to make sense to them.
D&WC: What will be the keys to success for interior designers over the next several years?
Harmon-Vaughan: I think training and education really are big issues, and not just technical or design training but interpersonal skills and facilitation and communication skills. Projects and building are becoming more complex and the teams that are putting those projects together are becoming more complex. Interior designers have a really great opportunity to become facilitators of very multi-disciplined teams to put projects together. It doesn't matter if it is a commercial or residential project. If interior designers bring these kinds of skills along with design training to the table, they will have every opportunity to take leadership positions in projects of the future.
That will make a for bright future for interior design.
D&WC: What is IIDA?
Harmon-Vaughan: Founded in 1994, the International Interior Design Association's objective is to enhance the quality of life through excellence in interior design and to advance interior design through knowledge.
IIDA serves the interior design profession through seven specialty practice groups called Forums. Forums have been established for commercial, government, residential, retail, health care, hospitality, and education and research. IIDA also distributes important information unavailable elsewhere to advance the industry.
D&WC: What does IIDA do for its members?
Harmon-Vaughan: IIDA represents more than 8,000 members networking in 33 chapters throughout the world at professional, associate, affiliate, industry and student membership levels. The IIDA mandate is to support the design services marketplace through continuing education and to uphold the industry's highest standards of professionalism.
IIDA represents its members before local, state and national government. IIDA's global network provides a conduit for the exchange of knowledge and resources among interior designers and architects and presents a unique opportunity for partnering. IIDA is dedicated to servicing the diverse needs or practice specialties of designers through its worldwide network of professional designers and others allied to the industry by providing information and programming. Specialties of practice are recognized as a natural segmentation that identifies members' needs and guarantees responsiveness to these needs.