Three Ways the Generation Gap Affects the Design Industry
On Wednesday, July 20th, the Steelcase WorkLife Center at Columbus Circle was packed with designers eager to discuss the industry’s generation gap at a forum hosted by the International Interior Design Association’s (IIDA) New York Chapter. At ICONNECT: The Generation Gap, attendees gained perspective from a panel representing three of the most talked about generations: Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
Discussing everything from social media to work expectations, the panelists explored the different styles and attitudes of each of the generations. Some key points of conversation centered on:
Differing Work Styles Between Millennials and Baby Boomers: “I see a tension sometimes between the baby boomers and millennials,” said Gen Xer Addy Madorsky of Switzer Group, “I’ve had principals come in and comment that people on my team are arriving at 9:15 AM, but to me that matters less than dedication to the work.”
How Technology Has Changed Client Expectations: As software improves, the demand intensity and desired turnaround speed has increased — an expectation that weighs heavily on all designers, despite age. “It’s more important to get the story right, but you have to be ready to present anytime, all the time,” stated Barry Richards, a baby boomer from the Rockwell Group. “Sometimes you need to go ‘the sketch is what it’s going to be,’ and I need to tell the story right based on that.”
The Role of Pinterest and Social Media Platforms: Opinions varied across generations from its use as a communication tool to a reservoir for creativity. “It’s like fine dining. You’re creating a meal, and sometimes we fall into the Pinterest pool and it’s just fast food design,” remarked millennial designer Dehne Sibbernsen of HOK.
Millennials were represented by Dehne Sibbernsen of HOK and Christina Skowronski of Gensler; Gen Xers were represented by Addy Madorsky of Switzer Group and Suraj Bhatia of HLW; and Baby Boomers were represented by Barry Richards of Rockwell Group and former IIDA NY Chapter President Randy Fahey of Gensler. Moderated by Laura Huggins, Contract Specialist at Shaw Contract Group, and Tayler Jones, a millennial designer at Gensler, the discussion centered on the different strengths and weaknesses of each generation within the design field, as well as how the industry has evolved over time.
Technology’s impact was a hot topic of the night, with banter rife as each of the generations joked about their respective usage and knowledge. While the real-world experience of older generations was deemed invaluable, as noted by the younger designers, the lack of technological know-how at times leads to the misconception that technology is simple to maneuver.
Discussion of Pinterest came into play as well, with opinions varied as to its role in design, from its use as a communication tool to a reservoir for creativity. “Technology can be both great and evil. I think if you rely on it for your ideas, it’s really negative because you’re basically copying what you see as opposed to using it as another source of information, but I think inspiration comes from everywhere,” remarked Bhatia. “It’s bringing a lot of the world closer to you than you may have access to, so I think if you use it that way it’s a positive thing.”
Talk turned to contemporary client expectations, with the consensus being that the intensity of demand and desired speed of deliverable turnaround has increased due to technological advances.
Generational work style differences were addressed, with millennials valuing flexibility over a traditionally structured office environment. “Our generation is surrounded by a lot of people who work for tech and start-up companies, so that’s the type of lifestyle they have,” said Skowronski, “and a lot of millennials will strive to get that, too. And if they don’t have that they will possibly think about changing industries.”
“I see a tension sometimes between the baby boomers and millennials,” said Madorsky, “I’ve had principals come in and comment that people on my team are arriving at 9:15 AM, but to me that matters less than dedication to the work.”
“The people that I work with, if they’re bringing it, I don’t care,” said Fahey. “If you need to go walk, if that’s part of your process, I’m fine with it — but then there is confusion [from millennials] in my unhappiness if you’re not doing your job.”
Ultimately, more consensus was found between generations than discord, with all agreeing that face-to-face discussion was integral to the design process—no matter the age. “ I know a lot of my peers are used to working at home, but for me, it doesn’t work because the conversation isn’t there,” remarked Sibbernsen, whose creative process includes exploring the city.
“We’re not only creative people, we’re people who produce things, and we produce things in groups, so it demands face time, and we need to be there at the same time together,“ said Richards.
Observed Bhatia, “I think overall, the fact that we are in a creative industry, we need to remember that we work in different ways and we produce in different ways and we come up with ideas in different ways.”
Attendees left the event buzzing with insights into the different generations and how their collaboration can lead to innovative design.
About IIDA NY
The IIDA New York Chapter is a professional networking and educational association of more than 800 Members in ten specialty Forums. IIDA NY provides members with the resources to reach expertise, knowledge and contacts. Networking events allow professionals and industry members to connect on more personal terms that encourage trust, collaboration, and innovation.
For more information on IIDA NY, contact:
IIDA NY Executive Director