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New study finds commercial design industry in recovery mode

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The past year has been a difficult year for commercial interior designers. As bars, restaurants, hotels and workplaces were abandoned almost overnight, the future looked precarious for those whose livelihoods relied on creating these spaces. But according to a new report released by the International Interior Design Association this week, things could get better.

The IIDA Annual Compensation Report surveys more than 2,000 commercial interior design professionals on salaries and benefits, using demographics such as education, type of business, location and accreditation to assess the health and general direction of the industry. The average annual base salary this year was $ 78,300, a slight increase, given that the number rose from $ 73,300 in 2016 to $ 78,100 in 2018. According to the report, this could be a sign of ‘a plateau, caused by the pandemic and its effects on the economy, or by managers who seek to retain employees rather than attract new talent.

Naturally, this year’s report also had a whole bonus section focused on the effects of the pandemic. According to Cheryl Durst, Executive Vice President and CEO of IIDA, understanding the methodology of the survey is key to making sense of its findings.

Given that participants were surveyed in September 2020, says Durst, the results are a snapshot of that time. The study found that one in 25 respondents had been on leave or laid off in the spring or summer due to the pandemic, but 7% of this group had already returned to work or found a new job by the time the investigation has been carried out. Headlines from the start of the pandemic predicted a much worse situation – a ThinkLab survey in mid-April found that 50% of those surveyed in A&D, manufacturing and distribution companies had adopted some form of layoff, leave or termination. salary reduction. According to Durst, the IIDA report caught the industry at the start of an upward trend.

“In the recovery phase – after the recession, [after] any kind of major chaotic event where the economy is disrupted – usually the trajectory is upward, ”says Durst. “All economic indicators point to the rehiring of people who have been made redundant, and holidays for most in our industry have been cut short.”

After the initial contract industry derailment, conditions last year actually accelerated several pre-COVID trends. Multidisciplinary design, for example, took off in the aftermath of the housing crisis and recession of 2008, as businesses expanded beyond corporate workplaces and into retail, care health and hospitality in order to diversify their activities. In the wake of the pandemic, companies weathered the storm the best – employees at multidisciplinary architecture and design firms reported the highest increases in average salary, up $ 3,600 in salary median compared to 2018.

According to Durst, this diversity is an asset right now, especially as the boundaries between the spaces we inhabit are becoming increasingly blurred. Like multidisciplinary firms, trademarks have burst into the residential arena (for example, West Elm’s collaboration with Steelcase or Patricia urquiolawith Haworth, and pushes office brands Herman Miller and Humanscale to attract home office buyers), and the past year of working from home has only solidified that crossover.

Additionally, Durst says clients are more interested in hiring cutting edge design companies that can design their digital presence in addition to their physical spaces. As the overlap increases between home and work, and in-person and virtual experiences, the need for design is pervasive.

“Companies create studios based on the multiple needs of their clients, and that’s where [versatility] comes in. It’s about thinking about design with a capital D — all aspects of design, ”she says. “Interior designers have been well prepared to be multidisciplinary for over a decade. Instead of looking at just one aspect of a project, interior designers look at the whole experience of a human being in a space.

Another good indicator of the future of the commercial industry is the growing interest in sustainability and well-being, fueled by the importance the pandemic has placed on health and well-being. Design regulations regarding health and environmental impact typically take root in California and the western United States, Durst says, before crossing the country. These additional regulations are causing more designers to seek additional certifications, a minor issue that pays big dividends. According to the survey, CID, NCIDQ or LEED certified commercial designers reported a median salary of $ 17,000 more than those who did not. In general, designers in the western regions recorded the highest rate of salary growth in the country, increasing by 13% from 2016 to 2020, compared to an increase of 4.6% in the Northeast.

Life might have seemed easier when IIDA released its last report, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The pandemic has thrown the industry into a pressure cooker, accelerating trends and making design more complicated, but Durst says these challenges can be a blessing in disguise: “Complexity breeds opportunity. This bodes well for our industry.

Front page photo: © peshkov / Adobe Stock


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