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Integrated Design Teams

Celebration of an integrated design team supporting the planet.
Image Credit: Getty Images/RF

The Role of the Interior Designer

For me, being an interior designer is about my “project community.” Clients ask us into their lives on an incredibly intimate level and then generously invite us to bring their dreams to fruition. We connect with their family members, ask questions about their lifestyles, and learn their daily habits. They take us into their bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets as they open their lives to us.

This level of trust compels us to achieve the clients’ goals with the highest standards.

What is an “integrated design approach”?

Traditionally, architecture and design have been compartmentalized by disciplines and responsibilities. Designers work closely with the client and, at best, alongside the architect, lighting designer, contractor, trades, suppliers, and showrooms.

An integrated design approach, on the other hand, means inviting everyone that contributes and executes the design, detailing, construction, installation, and maintenance of a project to the same table. This quickly forms a group of highly engaged team players working toward common goals. Everyone’s input is valued and respected, and the goals are in constant focus.

The sustainable, high-performing projects that I work on are successful because of this integrated approach. On a successful project, goals and objectives are identified early in the design process. The interdisciplinary team has collective input toward the development of the plan, and everyone ultimately buys into the project objectives, hopefully before too much work begins.

Creating a sense of “team”

There are several key elements toward hitting a home run. First, an interactive approach to the design process brings about a higher consciousness and greater respect among team members, which leads to a heightened collective wisdom. Then, because of the close interaction throughout the project, team members begin to more fully understand one others’ issues and concerns. This is where the magic happens, as the “project community” starts integrating the cumulative vision.

Problem solving becomes an interactive, synergistic exchange of ideas and concepts that quickly lead to integrated solutions.

What is a “design charrette”?

This is where the fun begins and the team’s culture is nurtured! A design charrette is a deep collaboration and brainstorming where all team members come to the design table as equals. Ideally the first charrette is held at the beginning of a project, encouraging a balanced dialogue and sharing of ideas and information.

Integrated design solutions quickly take form because of the cross fertilization and interdisciplinary sharing among team members. I love it when I can learn about the HVAC system from the mechanical engineers while they listen to my concerns about indoor air quality and daylighting.

The whole process becomes greater than the sum of its parts — the individual team members themselves — as interdependent design issues are discussed, analyzed, and implemented throughout the project’s life.

What is the interior designer’s role? To empower ourselves and the other team members by actively engaging in the collaborative design process. What an amazing opportunity to spread our wings! We help to set the tone on the project with creative, out-of-the-box thinking and problem solving, both key components of the team dynamic.

Our expertise as designers — our concern for the health, safety, and welfare of our clients as well as the essential balance between sustainability, aesthetics, and function — is a key component of a project.

I relish the diversity of working with each and every discipline, and I learn something new every day! On one recent project, the project team met with each trade to ensure that our green specifications were being followed and to invite them into the discussion of eco-friendly solutions. While on a job-site walk-through with the countertop supplier, I took a bit of time to explain the project goals and the focus on sustainability and green design/construction strategies. Prior to any work being done, we asked him to confirm that the substrates, adhesives, and finishes met or exceeded the green specifications. The supplier turned to me and quietly said, “Oh, are the clients ‘greenies’?” I proudly answered, “Actually, we all are.” He first blushed, then graciously recognized the depth of the team’s commitment and became our biggest advocate and an integral part of the team!

Recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate good ideas, regardless of their source. Leaving your ego at the door encourages others to do the same. By turning the traditional, vertical hierarchy on its head, we create a capacity to engage all the disciplines and work together as a cohesive, highly functioning team. By nurturing the team’s collective wisdom, we inspire inclusiveness, which is vital to the integrated design process.

“Community is the only thing in my experience that is sustainable. A common set of values is needed to live together sustainably on the land.” — Winona LaDuke, Native American organizer


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