As a new generation of clients comes of age, and technology continues to seep its way into every corner of a decidedly old-school profession, it’s likely that design won’t be exactly the same in 2030 as it is in 2020. What will it be like? And just as importantly, what will it be worth? We asked three futurists to find out.
These days, who has time to even get to the bottom of their inbox, let alone think long-term about the future of the industry? While no one wants to believe they’ve got their head in the sand, most of us have a hard time imagining that interior design will be that different in 10 years. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: the “end-of-history illusion.” It’s the universally shared psychological delusion that convinces us all that we—and the world around us—won’t change.
Change does come, of course, and you only have to take a quick glance back to realize how radical it can be. A hundred years ago, interior design was an extremely rarefied profession, the province of a tiny handful of ultrawealthy clients. Now, there are far more interior designers in America than coal miners, a reality that would have been unimaginable in 1920. Luckily, most of the change the industry has undergone over the last century has been positive for designers. But who’s to say that trend will continue?
Most of us plot our lives a few weeks in advance. The well-organized think in months, and the truly exceptional can make (and actually stick to) a five-year plan. There are, however, professionals whose entire job it is to think about the future. These consultants study big-picture trends and put together predictions to help their clients stay ahead of the curve. When looking into the future of interior design, it only made sense to start with the people who do it for a living.
Our crystal-ball gazers are Brian David Johnson, the futurist-in-residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination; Dror Poleg, a consultant and the author of Rethinking Real Estate: A Roadmap to Technology’s Impact on the World’s Largest Asset Class; and Piers Fawkes, an innovation consultant and the founder and president of consumer research agency PSFK.
This is the first installment of a three-part exploration of what the future holds for the design industry. What will interior design be worth in 2030? We also asked two historians and a travel agent.
What do you think homes will look like in 10 years?
Brian David Johnson: The dirty secret is that in 10 years, homes are going to look a lot like they do today. That’s not a bad thing. That’s understanding that we as humans like things that are comfortable and have history. I tell my students that if you walk out your front door and it looks like it did on The Jetsons, that’s a nightmare. We don’t want our homes to change all that much.
Piers Fawkes: A luxury brand wanted me to do a project about the home of the future. Every conversation was them saying, “When are you going to come up with this list of big TVs and massive sound systems?” And I would reply, “That’s not what the research is showing.” I occasionally visit the home of an ultrawealthy person, and they absolutely don’t want to live in Tony Stark’s home—partly because of data concerns and privacy. People now buy old Sonos speakers that don’t have Alexa in them, just for privacy. The project never happened, because the brand just didn’t believe me. What are the big forces that will change the nature of interior design and home in general?
Dror Poleg: More and more, the way a property looks online is much more important than what it looks like offline. Whether it’s an office space or residence, increasingly, you attract buyers through digital channels, and only then do they visit the actual building. So you’re seeing people design spaces to look better online, because that’s the visibility that matters. That’s only going to continue.
Fawkes: More people are going to be living in urban areas, and are going to have Uber-type jobs, where the work is fractional. That’s going to create more demand for co-living, where there’s only a certain amount of private space. The manipulation of space will become more important, and furniture will get more and more multifunctional. Do you think interior design will have more value in the future, or less?
Poleg: Let’s take the personal computer industry as a lesson. In the beginning, IBM had to build every piece themselves. But once PCs became popular, other companies came along that could build computers—maybe not as good as IBM, but good enough. At that point, the value shifted from the physical product to other aspects of the product, like the design, usability, [the after-sales] service, and the sales experience.
You can see an analogy in the world of real estate and design. If you look at ads for apartment buildings and offices in the 1950s or ’60s, you see them focus on the physical characteristics of the building: windows, air conditioning, elevators, fire sprinklers. In 2020, apartments and office buildings have those things at a level that is “good enough.” So in a world like this, the ability to capture more profit shifts to the design of a space, the sales experience, the unique components, all of that. Long story short: Interior design is becoming increasingly a driver of the value of a building, and that will continue to be the case.
What about the actual profession? Are we headed for design done by AI?
Johnson: Interior design isn’t really just about designing the interior of a home. It’s about people and solving their problems. People like people, especially when you’re in their home. Yes, computers will play more of a role. If you talk to architects now—modeling the substrata of weatherproofing and waterproofing that they used to do on paper, now most of it is handled by a computer, and that’s OK. But [interior design] isn’t going to be done by robots and artificial intelligence.
Fawkes: The profession will still exist, but I think interior designers may need to develop another layer of technical sophistication to understand what people’s desires are for their homes. They may need to go from “This is wallpaper that looks nice” to “This is wallpaper that looks nice and blocks Wi-Fi signals and protects digital privacy.”
A young person asks you, “Is there a future in being an interior designer?” What do you say?
Poleg: Someone who handles the creative side and establishes differentiating aspects for property—that’s going to grow in importance, and there is value in that. But I think in the future, designers who are really good will make tons of money, and everyone else will be commodities. The notion of just being average and having a nice stable job is not going to work anymore.
Johnson: Absolutely. A profession I wouldn’t recommend going into? Being a CPA. That’s going to be done by algorithms.
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