The pandemic has refocused attention on the vital role played by the interior design industry.

There’s been no shortage of surveys tracking how the business community is coping with the state of work disruption published over the summer. Mostly, however,  these have looked broadly across knowledge-based industries, focusing on roles that require little more than a laptop and Wi-Fi access to function. That’s rarely the case for those working in spatial design, which is why the newly published results from the American Society of Interior Designers’ (ASID) Interior Design Resiliency Report make for interesting reading.

Anxiety for the future remains a universal across industries, of course. Irrespective of the size of firms, interior design businesses have maintained at least a medium level of concern about their business outlook throughout the crisis, with peaks for both the self-employed and the largest practices (100+ employees) around March and April.

This was in part a secondary effect of the headwinds felt by companies in sectors from which design firms would usually draw work, with travel, hospitality and conferences/tradeshows identified as the client groups most affected. However this shared sense of jeopardy also fed into a greater ethos of collaboration. ‘We set up a peer group among our clients that created a safe environment to discuss how they have been addressing COVID issues unique to their industry and their mission,’ Leigh Stringer, lead Asia Pacific managing principle at EYP Architecture and Engineering, told ASID. ‘They have been excited to share ideas and strategies with each other in real time. And because they are all in the same business, they feel this knowledge will help them be more confident in their decision making and in making a business case for trying new things.’

A large proportion of the interior design community started working from home during the crisis, but the challenges of remote work are often greater for those in creative fields

Despite the current adversity, wellbeing levels amongst employees at interior design firms were generally healthy, with respondents’ average physical wellbeing rated at eight on a scale of one to ten and mental well-being at 7.4. At the same time, 73 per cent reported experiencing burnout with some level of frequency. This fits within the outline of an industry that felt it was being ‘sought for our expertise in design focused on health, safety and wellbeing’ during the pandemic. This gives a clue as to why only 6 per cent of respondents currently report being on furlough. Pay cuts are a part of the industry’s current reality, however, with 27 per cent having seen a reduction in wages, rising to 42 per cent amongst those working at firms with 100+ employees.

A large proportion (69 per cent) of the interior design community started working from home during the crisis, but the challenges of remote work are often greater for those in creative fields. As such the impetus to get staff back to the office is high amongst business leaders, who cite operational factors (52 per cent) and access to resources (48 per cent) as the key drivers for reoccupation. Of course designers’ responsibilities often take them away from the HQ, and these client engagement activities have also been impacted, with 73 per cent reporting limitations on site visits, 70 per cent on trips to stores and showrooms, and 45 per cent on project walk-throughs.

These challenges have created new working practices that many believe will remain part of the industry going forward. Chief amongst them are virtual client meetings (60 per cent), consultations (41 per cent) and product demos (30 per cent). Respondents also shared their views on which practice areas would see the most changes going forward, with entertainment venues (84 per cent) and shared living facilities (78 per cent) topping the list. Notably, only 15 per cent predicted a change in residential design. Overall 47 per cent of respondents expect some change and 40 per cent expect major change in the nature of their industry going forward, with some seeing the pandemic as an important moment to course correct.

I keep looking at this as an opportunity for designers to reset our definition of "good design"

‘I keep looking at this as an opportunity for designers to reset our definition of "good design". The challenge to our industry is how do we better address human health and sustainability within the framework of resiliency, and create spaces that reinforce the better social habits we now know we need,’ Scott Briduea, studio principal at Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, told ASID. ‘How this crisis changes our paradigm and impacts building codes is going to be very interesting.’

Hero image: Architectural modelling by Hong Kong-based practice MLKK. Photo: Jocelyn Tam