“Say it loud and if you already have one, wear it proud.”
At High Point Market in October Jackie and I were deeply honored to receive a Genius button from Mary Knackstedt as part of her Genius Project. So when we spoke with Mary at HP about the Genius Project we were all in. Not only is she an industry icon who we admire greatly; but we champion her cause. We have to admit after receiving the buttons to award to someone in our circles we felt a huge responsibility in making sure that who we chose met the criteria that is the Genius Project’s vision. It was daunting, but also liberating- making us step back, reflect and look for the geniuses among us.
After working in the soft furnishings and window covering niches successfully for decades my mantra has been Specialize and Collaborate- You can’t be all things to all people. Not to mention, as design educators we also believe like Mary that accreditation needs to be reviewed and brought into the 21st century. The design landscape is changing dramatically and we must change along with it. Here is the story behind the Genius Project in Mary’s own words from this month’s Design Today’s From the Ranks column. It’s so worth the few minutes it takes to read.
In the early 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright was essentially a world famous, but unemployed architect. His career trajectory altered for the better only when he began working in concert with skilled apprentices. There is an important lesson here for interior designers today.The field of interior design has become so extensive that one person simply cannot know it all. Yet our clients expect us to know it all and be responsible for everything that we do. This is a very tall order, and in order to fulfill it, we need to collaborate closely with other knowledgeable professionals. The fact is, if we expect to work with excellence, we just can’t do it alone. This means that it is becoming more vital than ever to identify the geniuses among us and to create relationships that will enable each of us to raise the level of our profession. At the recently concluded High Point Market, you may have noticed people wearing small black buttons with the word “Genius” printed in white. Or, you may have been given one to wear yourself. At many Market events, the buttons were instant conversation- starters, either between people wearing them, or people questioning those who were wearing them what it was all about.
Here’s the scoop: I created the genius button concept because I believe it is imperative to get to know the home furnishings industry’s best and brightest, the experts in every field, if we are to move forward. I had a limited number of genius buttons produced, and I shared half of them with a well-connected industry friend just as Market was about to begin. Together, we set about awarding buttons to individuals across all categories and specialties who we know to be exceptional in what they do and bring to our industry. To each of these people, we gave two buttons: One to wear, and one to award to someone else in their circle of influence, since it takes one to know one. Think of the genius button project as old-school social media that very quickly went viral. I launched the concept because so many companies today are using licensed names, stars of television or other media, to represent their products. That’s fine from a consumer standpoint, but unfortunately, these “names” mean nothing to the professional designer. We need to know the people—often behind the scenes— who really know their company’s products.
Frankly, I think we need to focus on the work. In seminar after seminar, I hear so much about personal branding, but I really believe that our individual brands are developed by the quality of the work we do, not just by mastering the art of marketing and publicity. Rather than focusing on self-promotion, to be truly successful in the field, I believe designers must:
1.) Figure out our strengths.
2) Determine the market that is appropriate for our abilities
3.) Create a system for presenting our special ability.
When we have an area in which we are truly experts, we are very happy to take full responsibility for what we do, but it is really frightening when clients expect a designer to be totally responsible for a project, and the designer does not have a full spectrum of the knowledge required, or the supporting team that is required to get the job done right.
If we are to be creative and try new things as designers, we must make certain we’re using new products appropriately. Otherwise, we can get into a lot of trouble. Additionally, as designer will tell you, clients expect us to know how to fix all the problems. So it is imperative that we develop resources that will work with us and above all ensure that we are using their products appropriately. These resources must also be willing to partner with us on the responsibility regarding the use of those products.
Enter the genius button. Awarded to those who care deeply about their craft and who are really passionate about what they do. Have you got yours yet? Our clients today want to know much more about the products they purchase. They want more technical information. By presenting this technical information to them, they realize that our recommendations are not just our personal preferences, but that there are substantive reasons behind each of the selections. In essence, clients today are buying the stories behind the products. They want to hear about the personalities who have sacrificed and exerted exceptional effort to create the products that will become a part of their environments. They want to know what inspired them. Presenting these stories well creates excitement, and affords our clients the ability to share the stories with their family and friends.
For many years I have talked to ASID and anyone else who would listen about the fact that our field needs to have more specialized categories. Instead of just taking the general NCIDQ qualifying exam, we need to be tested and accredited in individual specialties. Imagine, for example, kitchen specialists, lighting specialists, medical facilities specialists, technical laboratories, residential specialists, work environments specialists, and on and on. This type of advanced interior design accreditation would make a tremendous difference in the organization, and also the level of practice within each category. It would also be an excellent opportunity to introduce the specialists within each of the product categories to each other. Until then, we have the genius button. Awarded to those who care deeply about their craft and who are really passionate about what they do. Now, when you see someone wearing one, you’ll know to ask them about their special genius. And you can tell them about yours.
We’ll be keeping the project going next week at Design and Construction Week- the perfect storm of shows and markets. Look for us and our Genius buttons.
Mary’s article from Design Today From the Ranks column, January 2015.