Design for me is about making space that provides beauty and utility in equal measure. It is a celebration of life, a veiled tool that supports the way we live and work. As designers we juggle many complicated tasks in order to successfully deliver to our clients a solution that appears both simple and seamless, and ideally, is flexible enough to accommodate most future scenarios. During this strange time of disruption, the landscape in which we design is transforming radically and quickly. The process by which we carry out our jobs is changing constantly to meet these shifting demands. The future scenarios we are now designing for are filled with entirely different and still unanswered questions. In one short season I have seen more discussion of change than I have in over 25 years of creating interiors. How can we keep up individually, and how can we help our clients to stay ahead?

As offices around the country plan various forms of return to the workplace, the big question underpinning these decisions is: do we need to be together physically to do our jobs effectively? Remote presenting has long been a part of our profession, but there is always the moment when we pack it all up, get on a plane or train and present in person. We are in a room with people where we can read the body language, intuit what is being left unsaid, and can engage with the physicality of materials and models. The tactile nature of what we do is lost when we are virtual. While I have been amazed at how smoothly the design review process has been while we are all remote, I am also reminded of the importance of the human connection to design and how it drives what I do.

We were completing design development for a non-profit client when New York City announced it was going on PAUSE. As our client was deemed an essential service provider offering much needed help to the community, we were able to proceed with the process. The COVID-19 crisis prompted a reassessment of what components of the design should be changed in response. We talked through multiple scenarios with the client, but ultimately determined that in fact, very little needed to be changed to accommodate the new safety protocols. We had already created a highly flexible environment which allowed for easy workstation reconfiguration and separation. The plan was spacious enough to support social distancing measures, and outdoor social space was a part of the original design. But importantly, it became clear that some of the key design features now took on a greater importance for them. As a 24/7 operation, the idea of security, well-being and nourishment were key drivers. Blending the comforts of home with the efficiency of the office, creating a haven, a second home that might be better in some ways than home, was the objective. It reminded me that, while many things are changing, the core tenets that make for a successful interior space have not changed, and in fact, are more important than ever and that designing for flexibility, regardless of the program, will always be important.

As so many of us have spent so much more time indoors recently, living with our interior spaces in new ways, looking at them with fresh eyes, and depending on them for so many more functions than we might have before, it is a reminder of the value proposition of what we do. As we move through this period in history, designers have an opportunity to explore change in a new way, and to adapt through good design. Through research driven data gathering we can provide holistic solutions to the challenges facing our clients and our own practices. Through COVID-19 and its resultant isolation, I have come to understand even more deeply how the elements surrounding us impact how we feel. We as designers are obligated to provide spaces that balance comfort, safety and humanity. Our design solutions must provide our clients with strategies for resiliency, as change is the only constant.

My silver lining in all of this is a renewed understanding that the social aspect of creating together is an integral part of the design process and produces the greatest results. The energy we derive from others inspires, motivates and encourages us to move beyond our present circumstances. I feel reinvigorated by the strength and spirit of design and designers. Our world is ever changing, but designers love a challenge. We cannot know where life is going, but we can be certain the design community, working with the clients we serve, will meet the changes with thoughtful and inventive solutions.

Image: Aislinn Weidele / Ennead Architects