The Power of Pro Bono Discussed at ASID’s Go Pro

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) held a successful GO PRO: NYC, October 4-5. The two day-event for emerging interior design professionals featured expert panels and events that focus on professional advancement, project development, and pro bono work.

In the panel on pro bono work held at Teknion’s New York showroom, speakers Amy Ress of Public Architecture and Filippo Soave and Gisela Garrett of the New York office of Perkins + Will showed how excellent design projects can be completed on a pro bono basis. The speakers then turned to the audience to have small-group discussions about pro bono work. Garrett shares with Contract readers the concluding thoughts arrived at through real-time “trend spotting” based on the audience’s comments:

1. Sharing is caring. Whether it was sharing books with other riders on the subway, establishing community gardens, or creating (and promoting) a database of pro bono projects – the attendees were really enthusiastic about the concept of sharing.

2. The best projects result in everybody winning. Another way to say this is that pro bono work involves a huge number of beneficiaries, ranging from the client to the community to the designer, both now and in the future. For example: growing fruits and vegetables in your office helps improve your employees’ health and wellbeing, and teaching employees’ children how to do the growing expands that impact exponentially.

3a. True sustainability is multifaceted. One group mentioned how public interest design should look to LEED as a model, in part because greater impact is achieved when environmental and social efforts are combined. Also, ASID EVP/CEO Randy Fiser mentioned how an organization’s values need to be linked to its business plan, which helped drive home the idea of the triple bottom line: people, planet, AND profit.

3b. An emphasis on play. There was also a pattern amongst the groups to emphasize play; one group emphasized making building egresses more fun for children to engage with, in the hopes that it would draw them outside, and increase their exposure to natural light and outdoor activity. Similarly, another group considered adding counters to building stairs, in the hopes that different buildings would compete for how active their occupants were. This made me wonder about the idea of Delight being some kind of a fourth bottom line, since the designs that bring people joy are the ones most likely to be used and preserved in the long-run, which is a characteristic of the most sustainable projects.

4. We need to take care of our own. This is especially true because you can’t truly help others if you aren’t supporting your own wellbeing. A few groups mentioned programs or initiatives that would help employees of a design firm, including growing fresh fruits and vegetables in the office, requiring lunch breaks, and offering free gym memberships. Being happy and healthy increases your capacity, and (as a result) improves your business outcomes.

5. Interior designers can improve social outcomes. We should all celebrate work that does this (through storytelling, publications, databases, and more) and it’s important that each of us takes initiative to further advance these outcomes.



From left: Filippo Soave, Amy Ress, and Gisela Garrett discuss pro bono work at ASID’s Go Pro in New York.


Emerging designers in the ASID Go Pro audience view the presentation about pro bono design.

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