What’s New? A Conversation With Cheryl Durst

IIDA Executive Vice President, Cheryl Durst reflects on her 25-year tenure at IIDA and gives us a sneak peek at several new initiatives both personally and for the organization.

Cheryl Durst
Clarissa Bonet Photography

A conversation with Cheryl Durst, Executive Vice President and CEO, International Interior Design Association (IIDA) is always interesting. Literally catching her ‘on the fly’, we recently chatted over the phone while on her way from the airport in Los Angeles to an event.

With Cheryl finally free to roam the planet again post COVID, we were able to talk about her reflections on her 25-year tenure at IIDA and gain a sneak peek at several new initiatives both personally and for the organization. The conversation touched on an ambitious NeoCon conference, including programs curated for emerging interior design students, keynote events highlighting the symbiotic relationship between art and design, as well as the most relevant societal influences that are prompting the industry to have robust discussions around equity in the design world.

Here are the highlights of our conversation.

WDM: Looking back on your twenty-five years at the helm of IIDA, think back to the early years, and where IIDA is now. What are you most proud of?

Cheryl Durst: I have tried to meet the challenges of the times…temperature check at various moments… and ask “What has changed? What are the new conversations taking place?” Developing and coordinating the Industry Round Tables for example is a great pulse check on the industry as a whole.

In the last two decades, IIDA has become integral to the global conversation about design. Design as it exists as a multidisciplinary practice. Our connection to, and relevance in worldwide firms, has reinforced that IIDA has both a meaningful local and international presence.

I am also proud of our work with chapter advocates across our geographies, who work to support the advancement of design excellence, legislation, leadership, accreditation, and community outreach to increase the value and understanding of interior design. IIDA exists to advance, support and reinforce the value of interior design and interior designers. We successfully do that in a multiplicity of ways including the celebration of design in over a dozen respected international design competitions, advocating for recognition of design and protection of the practice of design in state and local jurisdictions. In doing this, we aim to expand the conversation of design beyond our profession and into the client and consumer communities.

The IIDA Equity Roundtable, at NeoCon, June 2022

WDM: What are the most prominent issues you think the design world needs to be talking about? Anything that you’re trying to steer IIDA to focus on?

Cheryl Durst: My thoughts:

We consistently have to present the manifesto around the value of interior design and consider the changing face of design to confront the challenges of today’s times. Through a continued focus on how equity, diversity, and inclusion impact workplace culture, we are empowered to deliver initiatives that increase the representation of identified historically underrepresented design professionals. It’s about celebrating what makes us unique individuals while instilling an essence of oneness.

Climate change and sustainability – Our industry and the entities that support it are large contributors. We need to coalesce with others around ensuring design does its part to support efforts to be positive influences and conscientious consumers of energy and resources.

WDM: Where do you see IIDA heading in the next 25 years? Where you see design practices changing? The generational turnover is driving the train from my perspective. I actually think that’s a good thing, what do you think?

Cheryl Durst: We are at the midpoint of changing demographics. There are still too many conversations where people say they are the only, lonely “other” in the class or the firm. The pool of those teaching in architecture and design programs is changing. Younger designers are more like avid activists. Attracting new people and talent (with different perspectives and life experiences) will be the lifeblood of our evolving profession.

The design charette at NeoCon is one way IIDA student members engages future designers.

Our outreach and involvement with the individual chapters includes reaching out to firms and their senior leaders to help them understand how to support younger staff. The firm owners and studio principals are concerned about what their staff may be missing. We see that newer designers sometimes don’t think of themselves as connected. Younger designers are becoming client facing earlier on and managing client expectations is not taught in design schools.

We also want to encourage designers to become savvy public speakers and have more robust presentation skills. We are seeing that the younger designers are concerned with quality of life, especially how that affects women and family life. Many design programs offer little or no business, soft sciences, or opportunity for economic or entrepreneurial experience – all of value in today’s changing world. It is necessary that designers are seeing and interpreting the world as their clients do – and shifts in what comprises a design curriculum is necessary.

WDM: IIDA has put forward some new initiatives to reach out to a broader spectrum of potential designers. Can you give our readers an overview of these programs?

Cheryl Durst: We are fully engaged in our Design Your World Program that is active in both Miami and Chicago. This summer we completed the second annual session in Chicago and added a new location with our program in Miami. The goal of the program is to open a window into the possibilities of a design career to students who may not be aware of the opportunities in architecture and interior design, thus encouraging a more diverse pool of new talent to invigorate the design community.

This summer’s Chicago program met at IIDA HQ and featured speakers and workshops introducing the design profession to 20 students over four weeks.

WDM: What have you learned from your shepherding and being involved in this program, and how do you think it will benefit IIDA?

Cheryl Durst: Design Your World isn’t about benefiting IIDA. It has been designed to create access and exposure to a career in design for many who have not traditionally seen interior design as a career path. Diversity and inclusion benefits all – not just those enrolled in our program, but ultimately the profession as a whole.

Cheryl Durst

WDM: Switching gears a bit, let’s talk about your other new project! You have joined the podcast world – tell us a little bit about that.

Cheryl Durst: We are collaborating with OFS and Imagine a Place Productions to launch our podcast, The Skill Set with Cheryl Durst.

WDM: Tell us how you chose that name for the podcast and why.

Cheryl Durst: The concept meshes with my overall interests in enriching the design community from many angles. While “Design Your World” focuses on bringing new minds and talents into the design professions, the podcast is more of a discussion around the many ways people have landed their careers, and the personal attributes they have that contribute to their success. My discussions with successful people from a variety of professions is illuminating. I have the privilege of learning what they think are their hidden skills and intangible personal qualities that inform their drive and ability to do their best work. The Skill Set will feature guests whose lives and professions might be wildly different—but who share a fascinating skill set not readily evident on traditional resumes or in job descriptions.

Coming out of a corporate environment, the term “skill set” had many connotations. Some were good, some not so good, sometimes used positively, sometimes not (I’m just saying)!

“Not only is it crucial to recognize the skills we all possess as professionals and as human beings, but it is also important to investigate how those intrinsic, under-the-radar qualities make us successful at what we do. In working closely with design leaders, I’ve seen how often the keys to success for brilliant, creative people are these unexpected skills. This podcast gives me the chance to explore that idea in the design world and beyond—and frankly, it taps into my lifelong love of a great back story. I can’t wait to share my guests’ stories with listeners.”

– Cheryl Durst

WDM: What are you most looking forward to in the next few months?

Cheryl Durst: While I can’t release too many details, we are continuing to look for new locations to expand our Design Your World education program and are in the final stages of confirming our 2023 location launch. We will also be debuting a unique “takeaway” if you will that reflects on the program thus far in a fun way in early 2023. More to come, but it’s something we’re very proud and excited to share.

Additionally, IIDA is gearing up for Collective Design and the Leaders Breakfast series, which will take place in Toronto, Dallas, Atlanta and other cities across the country as well as the 2023 Industry Roundtable conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico in January. Believe it or not, we’re also already talking about the next iteration of NeoCon…the fun never stops!

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