Roundtable event discusses the drivers influencing our interior spaces

In October, Sektor Interior Solutions hosted a roundtable with figures from the design and construction community including AHR, IBI Group, MRL Design, Space Group and Travis Perkins. Here we explore what the discussion reported – in particular the drivers influencing the changing shape of our interior spaces and the opportunities that innovation presents.



ith many companies now placing greater investment in achieving standout interior spaces, the more opportunity there is for architects, specifiers, designers and contractors to be innovative in their approach to planning interior design solutions for clients. However, with this chance to be creative comes challenges, such as overcoming risk and working within the constraints of the given brief and budget.

Innovation can mean different things to different people, from as far out as the quirks of Google HQ, to small tweaks that can add value in terms of functionality and performance benefits, but the reality is that innovation in design is fluid and can mean almost anything. From simply utilising a different material or finish, to incorporating new technologies such as automation and controls.

Innovation starts as an idea but without the right tools and development into products the industry would be hard-pressed to truly achieve designs that can offer clever solutions to everyday challenges. For example, making the most of space through the use of moveable and storage walls, to maximising privacy while still retaining a light and open office space by using glass technology that can switch from clear to frosted at the flick of a switch. There is also more potential now than ever to change and experiment with design layouts due to the rise of portable and cloud technology which is changing how we save and access data – removing the need for server rooms and fixed work stations opens up a wealth of extra room and design possibility.

It is clear that the combination of advancements in product development and technology in general – allowing us to live and work more flexibly wherever we are – is changing how we use spaces. There is one all-important factor however that if neglected will halt progress, and that’s meeting the modern priorities of a new generation of end-user.

Priorities of the end-user

Working styles and behaviours have changed a lot in recent years with employers recognising that to attract and retain the best staff, the environment needs to reflect modern methods of working. More than ever flexible working hours, breakout areas and encouraging movement is being used in today’s workplaces in a bid to increase productivity and user enjoyment. It has been established that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to workplace design won’t work and that offering a mixture of both quiet, open-plan and creative spaces will help to cater for different people, which is especially important as not all workers thrive well in the same environment and need diversity.

Industry has a chance to incorporate new technologies to make this vision possible, such as smart glass which can deliver whisper-quiet acoustics and partition areas to give a different kind of work environment. Finishes like magnetic and whiteboard options can also make more use of the walls as a surface to aid group work and creativity too. These options will only grow to include more technology such as surfaces that can be interacted with like a smartphone, or incorporating automation to program the space to fit the intended use, for example setting up a meeting room autonomously using the same premise that already exists for smart heating controls.

It isn’t just the final design but the journey of how we get there, experimenting with new ways to plan, control and collaborate with the client to render a smart visual of what an interior space could look like in 3D, even before building work on the project has started, is bridging the gap. Building Information Modelling (BIM) software is coming to the fore and shaping how we design for the better; reimagining how we understand spaces by giving industry a leaner and entire building life-cycle view, which at the design stages can offer sophisticated visuals. Using BIM at the design stage also helps to eliminate the possible risks often associated with trying new things. Giving clients visual proof at inception should increase confidence in the design and suitability – allowing innovation to be pushed through the process more easily.

Making it happen

Even with the support of new technology, software and products, there is still a job for the interiors industry to start specifying differently and incorporating new and braver design ideas, which will pay off to better meet the needs of the end-user. The rise of pop-ups and temporary retail ventures, in particular, are helping the industry to be able to explore new ideas without the barriers that can be found when creating more permanent solutions.

Inspirational tools, such as Instagram and Pinterest, are also giving rise to a more collaborative design process, not just in the domestic but also commercial sphere too. Both platforms are able to share ideas with clients and vice versa to work together to build things like interesting colour palettes, inspirational layouts and different aesthetics that might otherwise be overlooked. In truth, the social web is connecting people and ideas to bring a more diverse and interesting set of possibilities to the table, which can only mean a good thing when taking design to the next level.

Collaboration across the chain

It isn’t just about being brave at the beginning of a project, but to succeed in driving innovations forward, a more joined-up approach across the industry chain of architects, interiors designers, specifiers and contractors is needed to ensure that ideas make it through to fruition. Having good relationships with manufacturers who can advise on product suitability, bespoke options and meeting the Building Regulations, all helps. BIM is also helping to alleviate problems with product specification before they reach site to ensure that contractors and installers shouldn’t have problems when fitting. With BIM in mind, educators and employers also need to encourage the use of software packages and how they are taught to ensure the best use of technology and skills are being updated and used throughout their careers too.

In summary, behind innovative design is the increasing need to tap into emotion and experience and as long as products are being developed in-line with this, and the industry as a whole works towards bringing happiness and better ways of working to create individual spaces, the future of design will be a more personal and exciting one to be a part of.

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