In 1993-94 at the Smithsonian Castle on the East Coast and at the Salk Institute on the West Coast, a network of 26 regional and national design firms began sharing ideas, benchmarks, and proprietary financial analysis with one another. They brought successful practice strategies into dialogue with the world of client demands, budgets, innovation, technology, and communications. These architects, designers, and thought leaders were seeking to build better futures for their firms in their roles as partners, leaders, and futurists.
Jim Cramer, then a Washington, D.C.-based management consultant, facilitated the sharing of ideas and experiences within this network. A newsletter with information about profitability, tax considerations, business measures, and capital expenditure decisions was circulated as a result.
In the beginning, the group had no name but became much talked about in industry circles, with references to “that design futures network.” Calls came from other leaders and firm principals inquiring how they might get connected. “Seeking new ways to intercept the future” was the phrase of choice during the first year of the group’s involvement.
During this time, Jim was working with other clients allied to the design professions who became enthusiastic about supporting the network. Those clients included Cecil Steward of the University of Nebraska, Doug Parker of Steelcase, Jonas Salk of the Salk Institute, Jerry Hobbs and Paul Curran of BPI/VNU Communications, and Arol Wolford of CMD. In addition, principal leaders from Gensler; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Hammel Green and Abrahamson; Perkins & Will; CommArts; and two dozen other firms provided leadership vision and energy.
The network held meetings in La Jolla, Calif., Washington, D.C., and New York City, solidifying the concept of expanding the group and making the proprietary information available to a broader audience. Jim proposed to BPI/VNU Communications that this information-sharing bulletin be published for a subscription fee and be named DesignIntelligence. The first official issue was published on May 15, 1995 and circulated to more than 500 firms by mail and to an additional 2,000 individuals at industry events and conventions. The response was enthusiastic. Within three months the circulation expanded dramatically.
Shortly thereafter, this leadership network officially became the Design Futures Council. Invitations for programs and sharing of ideas came from the American Institute of Architects, the Consulting Engineers Council, the Industrial Designers Society of America, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the World Futures Society, the International Interior Design Association, the American Society of Interior Designers, the Design-Build Institute, the Design Management Institute, and many colleges and universities. A research agenda was formulated, and future sessions of the group were scheduled.
Support for the publication and the Design Futures Council initially came from Steelcase and the Steelcase Design Partnership, Lee’s Carpets, Architecture magazine, R.S. Means, CMD Group, Autodesk, Coxe Group, and the University of Nebraska. The firms Gensler, Stubbins Associates, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill provided leadership to launch a larger network. Taken together, they created an information and knowledge entity that was innovative and highly relevant to a changing world.
Initial subscribers and supporters of DesignIntelligence media read like a Who’s Who of design leadership. Interest heightened, and the network continued to grow substantially. DesignIntelligence became a sought after source for practical, tangible, leading-edge design management strategies, the makings of better business plans in design, architecture, and construction. Top firms agreed to share the latest information on compensation, benefits, strategic plans, regional trends, and secrets of successful practice that would advance the entire industry. DesignIntelligence Quarterly is current published four times per year to a broad but select audience.
DesignIntelligence has become known worldwide for helping firms become more innovative, profitable, and successful. Inside the journals today is the latest research and thinking on futures invention, financial management strategies, best practices, fee information, profitability, ownership transitions, communications planning, strategic change, and achieving competitive fitness.
DesignIntelligence has been careful to stay independent of any one profession or professional organization and yet to share with all of them. The carefully researched information often provides competitive advantage before it is otherwise commonly known and understood in the marketplace. The annual listings of major trends and forecasts offer more biting commentary than is otherwise available. DesignIntelligence has become a regular information source for, among others, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and NPR’s All Things Considered.