What is the most disturbing trend in interior design today?

In anticipation of the 30th
Annual Interiors Awards Breakfast on January 30 (
tickets available now),
Contract asked past Designers of the Year (or, as we affectionately dub them,
our DOYs) for their thoughts on a selection of industry-related questions. Each
Thursday leading up to the Interiors Awards, check back in for their thoughts
on the latest topic and give us your thoughts on the question of the week.

Last week we asked about the most exhilarating trends in design so for this week's question, we ask the opposite: What do you find to be the most disturbing trend or development in the design industry today?

Carol Groh
Carol A. Groh Design; Greenwich, Conn.; DOY 1987

The lack of workmanship in
all areas of manufacturing and construction is becoming much worse throughout
the world. We must find a way to correct this trend and restore quality and
visual excellence.

Karen Daroff
Daroff Design Inc., Philadelphia; DOY 1990

While the great majority of our projects are for “repeat” clients with negotiated fee agreements, we still get our share of random and unsolicited RFP’s. I can certainly understand clients asking design firms, of about equal capabilities and experience, to “bid” on a well defined scope of services as part of a comprehensive selection process; however, I am disturbed when I receive a "Dear Designer" Request for Proposal from a prospective client who doesn’t include a face-to-face meeting as part of their selection criteria, and who distributes their RFP to a long list of not pre-qualified design firms. 
I am equally disturbed when potential clients or their project managers cavalierly ask for free up-front services, (unpaid) design competitions. Perhaps the most disturbing trend is when a potential client's project representative, has not obtained the required corporate approvals and financing to undertake the project, yet uses the RFP process and an unpaid design competition to gain funding or authorization to proceed with the project. 
Recently, we have seen competing firms and/or teams of firms, submitting absurdly “low ball” fees, in what appears to be a desperate effort to “win” projects during this challenging economic recession.  We’ve been practicing for 35 years and have been through three recessionary periods. During these challenging economic conditions, I encourage design firms to use good business practices i.e.: right sizing and lowering overhead expenses, rather than “giving away” or “low balling” fee proposals. While slashing fees might seem like good short-term solutions, I believe it is ultimately a recipe for disaster. If together, we can maintain good professional practices, we and our clients stand a better chance of successfully riding out economic downturns.

Debra Lehman Smith
Founding Partner, 
Lehman Smith McLeish; Washington, DC; DOY 1995

Firms that aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity
to reach for the highest level of design. I’m afraid that “commoditization” and
the desire for growth and profits can often prevent us from reaching our
potential as a profession.


Neville Lewis, FIIDA
Consultant/educator; New York; DOY 1997

Not enough
conceptual thinking and too many "Me" designers who seem more
interested in press coverage.


David Rockwell
Founder and CEO, Rockwell Group;
New York, with satellite offices in Madrid and Dubai; DOY 1998

Well, the economy is
obviously affecting every industry, including design. There is no question that
developers and consumers are responding in kind, but people are still investing
in well-designed spaces and products. There is certainly less impulsive
spending, and everyone is being more cautious, but I think that this will just
insure that our clients will be conscious of having more timeless spaces that
will not need to be re-designed any time soon.


William McDonough
Principal, William McDonough + Partners and MBDC; Charlottesville, VA; DOY 1999

I am very disturbed about
the thoughtless use of dangerous or questionable materials for the sake of
novelty in design. Science is telling us to beware of many products and yet we
persist in using them.


Shashi Caan
The Collective; New York City; DOY 2004

A majority focus on the "trend," "cool" or "branding/lifestyle," as opposed to design advocating and showcasing values,
integrity, well-being (true well-being as in full, intentional, and sensitive
support of people in their constructed environment) and uplifting of the human
A lack of significant
research and deeper probing—by designers for design—to understand the
profundity of satisfaction and contentment shaped by the human senses and the
fundamental design elements of light, color and form.


Ken Wilson
Principal, Envision; Washington, DC; DOY 2005

The pure excess I see in the designs that are showing up in places like the
United Arab Emirates and China. An unusual building form makes a good
conversation piece, but why not take the money required to do that and design a
building that creates its own energy, harvests its own water, and creates no
waste? With goals like that, you could surely design an interesting form with a
greater purpose.


Mark Harbick, AIA, IIDA 
Vice President/Director of Design, Huntsman Architectural Group; New York; 
DOY 2006

Overcoming the myth that
“Design” is expensive to achieve.


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