IIDA Index Report: An Analysis of Economic Health for the Commercial Design Industry

IIDA launches the IIDA Index Report, a research and resource tool created to provide member firms with more insight into various aspects of current industry trends.

Industry observers see more activity around where data meets design. How these two disparate disciplines can intersect and interact provides a broader understanding of the profession, and to offer these insights, the team at IIDA got creative. With the goal of providing research and resources that would best serve the membership – the IIDA Index Report was developed as an interactive tool the Association’s member firms could subscribe to get a better insight into many aspects of current industry trends. The IIDA Index, developed in collaboration with Designer Pages, was designed to enable commercial design and architecture firms to assess competitive positions, identify market trends, and analyze new business opportunities based on project scale, geography, and market sector. Statistics were pulled from 2016/2017 data, and the full dataset includes information on 11,000 projects from 74 firms throughout the U.S.

“As an analytics business in the commercial interior design industry, I was very excited by the concept and recognized the value for the industry, specifically, transparency into industry contraction/expansion by segment, region and other variables. Further, I recognized that an effort like this should belong to the industry, not a for-profit entity, and there is undoubtedly no better ambassador for the industry than IIDA.” – Jacob L. Slevin, CEO, and co-founder of Designer Pages

As commercial design becomes incredibly complex, with many more stakeholders involved than one might expect, the Index offers participating firms an in-depth base of information that they can reference when making decisions about where new business opportunities may align with how they want to plan their work or approach specific projects.

The IIDA team at work at HQ in Chicago – Photo by Eric Laignel

We wanted to have a better understanding of what was behind the development of the Index and where IIDA plans to go with this groundbreaking effort. Who better than IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO, Cheryl S. Durst, to shed some light on the thinking behind the development of this innovative new tool for the design community?

How was the concept of the report conceived? What were the driving factors to initiate the study?

One of the priorities for the Index was to give IIDA a credible, research-forward means to comment on the overall health of the commercial design industry. The Index is the “tool,” or the “mechanism” that allows us to do that through the gathering of relevant data. IIDA members and their firms are consistently seeking benchmarking information that will enable them to make informed decisions about hiring, staffing, expansion, partnering, and a working familiarity with regional and national trends related to design, architecture, and construction. The Index allows them to make informed economic decisions based on market data.

“Until now, we have only had access to generalized reporting for the construction industry at large, but not specific to our core sector of commercial interior design. The availability of empirical data that’s directly representative of our marketplace will help inform future business decisions.” – Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, AIA, President and CEO, Huntsman Architectural Group

What is the value for subscribing/participating for firms?

The Index is the first of its kind. While the IIDA Index Report is available to all for purchase, access to the in-depth dashboard interface is exclusive to participating firms. These firms have an advantageous look at the first-ever analysis of national project data specifically related to the commercial interior design industry.

Looking at the states with the highest number of projects, followed by the secondary states with activity, what do you think differentiates those states with more opportunities for designers?

I think there are various factors. Work that is happening in the public/municipal sectors, like libraries, airports, and schools, are often dependent on referenda, so the general climate around available public dollars is, of course, a factor. However, also, population shifts – an emphasis on urban growth as opposed to declining building and development in the suburbs – factor into growth as well. The Index can act as a “heat map” to gauge regions that are experiencing growth, as well as define that growth by sector or project type.

Were there any interesting facts comparing the size of a firm and the size of projects? For example, is it only the most prominent firms doing  the very large projects?

The collection of this data and the purpose of the Index was not to analyze the firms from this vantage point, although we are dependent on the firms to give us the information. We wanted to ensure that our data covered an extensive sampling and data from a representative portion of the built and realized projects. The firms that provided data to us range in size and number of offices —the information is not compared by way of providing a “ranking,” but rather provides insight into the breadth of work that is being done.

I am curious about the other states that didn’t show robust activity, yet I know from personal experience, there is excellent design going on in the secondary and tertiary markets. Is there any data that does show what is happening in those locations?

There is significant growth in secondary and tertiary markets, and the next iteration of the Index will illustrate that. So much of the movement in those markets is connected to companies operating in sectors that require knowledge workers establishing a footprint outside of major metropolitan areas, but still in locales that have an educated and available workforce. The corresponding movement of people to those markets seeking viable employment, a reasonable cost of living and quality of life means that these areas will continue to require more workplaces, schools, hospitals, and public spaces, for example.

Our primary focus at WDM, is the workplace, and the numbers indeed show that is the most significant market sector. I’m wondering if there’s any breakdown of what kind of workplace projects are within that number (i.e., large enterprise, co-working, corporate HQ (hello Amazon).

Not yet. The first iteration of the Index isn’t quite that specific, but stay tuned, because that level of project typology specificity is fundamental and is being built into our data collection process moving forward.

“The enthusiasm around the launch of the IIDA Index amongst design professionals and organizations has been palpable, and a new industry precedent for data transparency is being set. This is the first time that specialized reporting has been available for the commercial interior design sector specifically.” – John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, deputy director and senior vice president of IIDA

Learn more about the IIDA Index here

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