Fireside Chat with Cheryl Durst, IIDA: Diversity & Design in 2020 and Beyond

The one thing we know for certain about a post-COVID world is that the world as we know it is changing. Design will change, and indeed it always has. Everywhere we live, work, and play has shifted over time to make experiences more seamless and impactful through the study of human behavior and the adaptation of both “fun” and functional design. As we phase out of the digitally-dominant COVID era and re-enter our regular in-person routines, this sense of place takes becomes ever-important.

Recent weeks have also illuminated racial disparities in the U.S. and how we as designers are at the helm of building the path forward toward a more just and equitable world. As designers, we are committed to dreaming and creating the places where we live, work, and play — and we must work harder to design spaces that are open, inclusive, and safe.

Design illuminates disparity and helps close the gaps — from healthcare and education to public space and urban planning. Design in all its manifestations is a force for change.

A Letter from Cheryl Durst and IIDA

Amid the change, humanity remains the great constant as the foundation for great architecture and design. Simply put: People shape places, and places shape people. How has this period of social distancing given design a heightened importance? What does the next generation of design hold? How can we foster a more inclusive built environment and diverse designer workforce?

Our guest today has been heralded by Interior Design magazine as “an ambassador for innovation and expansion, and a visionary strategist.” She is the Executive Vice President & CEO of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA): the visionary Cheryl Durst. Leading the conversation from Gensler is Jim Williamson, a Principal & Global Design Management Leader with more than 20 years of industry experience.

Cheryl and Jim share advice for aspiring designers in successfully navigating uncertain times: (1) maintain and expand your network — as we shelter in place, people may be able to devote more time to digital mentorship and informational interviews, (2) hone your observational skills and practice your writing and presentation skills —in the next economy, the most valuable skill-set will be the ability to be a clear and coherent communicator, both in written and oral form, and (3) take note of how virtual tours and performances are expanding access to spaces people may not have been able to experience before. How might this lead to a heightened appreciation for shared physical space in the future, and thus, create new design opportunities going forward?

On how people and companies can step forward in being more racially inclusive, Cheryl advises executives and young professionals to become more involved with industry mentorship programs like ACE. She also notes that designers should look to connect more with the Pre-K through 6th grade student cohort to nurture budding designers from young ages, citing research that children start planning what they want to be when they grow up from as early as the 3rd and 4th grades.

It doesn’t have to be this complicated solution to diversity. It’s… as simple as starting conversations with teachers and guidance counselors and going to schools and demonstrating what a designer is and what a designer does.

— Cheryl Durst, IIDA

The pandemic and socio-cultural unrest has drawn attention to challenges around equity in design. To create more equitable, inclusive cities, we must recognize that we’re all a part of something greater than ourselves — and build upon the foundation of design for humanity.

For more from IIDA and Cheryl Durst, check out What Clients Want, Vol. 4 and “IIDA at NeoConnect — Collective D(esign): Women Lead Design The NeoConnect Edition.To read more about Gensler’s strategies against racism, please visit

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As always, thanks for tuning in!



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Gensler Design Exchange Podcast

Gensler Design Exchange Podcast

The Gensler Design Exchange creates a dialogue between design experts, creative trendsetters & thought leaders to discuss how we can shape the future of cities.