Editor's note: The University of Kentucky will host a symposium exploring a topic that many of us might not have thought much about: interior design's history and future. The public conference is most attractive to design professionals, but a professor in the School of Interior Design, Joseph A. Rey-Barreau, shares some information and thoughts that are interesting to all design enthusiasts.
Humans have had an interest in designing interiors as far back as the cave paintings drawn 17,000 years ago in what is now France, but the profession of interior design is relatively new as it is practiced today in the United States.
During the past 40 years, interior design has evolved from a focus on residential work to one that now draws on many disciplines to enhance the function, safety and aesthetics of all types of interior spaces. To explore the changes that have occurred in the profession, and to look at the field's next 40 years, the University of Kentucky School of Interior Design will host a conference next weekend called "40+: Rethinking Design." The symposium, open to the public but most attractive to design professionals, will consider the rapidly changing context in which interior design is practiced and analyze the role the profession will play in the future.
Experts from a variety of disciplines will discuss how interior design has evolved as a result of increasingly complex modern buildings. The design of structures is now a multidisciplinary process in which architects, interior designers, landscape architects, engineers and other consultants work together to achieve successful solutions to meet a client's needs. As a part of this team, interior designers provide professional expertise in the most effective use of spaces and in how to create interior environments that provide for the well-being of their occupants.
The core of the work in the modern practice of interior design focuses on schools, offices, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, airport terminals and retail stores. In all of these building types, the core objective of professional interior designers is to create environments that support and sustain human beings psychologically, physically and emotionally.
The uniqueness of interior design is that it positions the users of spaces as the central focus of the design. Research has now clearly shown that interior design's focus on users supports the corporate objectives of clients and contributes to making institutions and companies more efficient and more user-friendly.
Emphasis on aesthetics remains an important priority, but interior designers also must focus on the health, safety and welfare of building occupants. To achieve their professional expertise, interior designers are professionally trained in university programs accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. UK's School of Interior Design was one of the first programs to earn CIDA accreditation, about 40 years ago. The profession is now regulated in 29 states, including Kentucky, and the District of Columbia.
Interior design also has been influenced by environmental research, which is demonstrating how well-designed spaces can boost employee morale, increase productivity, increase sales, attract and maintain the brightest and best employees, and contribute to healing in a health care environment.
The profession has been affected by the growth of the global economy, and the growing complexity of modern businesses and building technology. Forty years ago, it was not unusual for an architectural firm to handle limited interior design services, or the architects would contract with outside interior design consultants. As building construction expanded in the 1980s and '90s, these architectural firms began to add interior design professionals to their staffs. The number of interior design firms specializing in commercial work also began to grow rapidly.
There also has been expansion in the number of multidisciplinary design firms that began to offer interior design as a unique and distinctive service apart from architectural and engineering work. The interior design expertise offered by these firms brings a sustained emphasis on the physical, psychological and emotional needs of the client while emphasizing how these priorities can support the client's goals and objectives.
For example, it is now common for corporations to be constantly evolving in terms of their needs for space. As companies grow and transform, each instance of change results in a need for professional expertise to define how the corporation's space needs will need to be different, too. It also is common for hotels, stores and health care environments to change their interior spaces regularly to address evolution in the marketplace.
The product of the interior designer's work is environments that support the client's image and identity while benefiting recruiting and retention, and promoting the company's financial gain and success. The objective of the work is to positively affect the human response to the built environment. Design is where creativity merges with research and design thinking to form beautiful and inspiring environments that address the user's needs. All of these issues will be part of the discussions at the "40+: Rethinking Design" conference.
Joseph A. Rey-Barreau is an associate professor in UK's College of Design.