2019 is the 25th Anniversary of DesignIntelligence/Design Futures Council. To celebrate this milestone, we wanted to honor Jim Cramer, the organization’s founder, and Dave Gilmore, the organization’s president and CEO. In this piece, we’re talking with Dave about what drew him to DesignIntelligence, how he got involved, his vision for the future, and some new initiatives.
DesignIntelligence (DI): What drew you to DesignIntelligence and the Design Futures Council?
Dave Gilmore (DG): I had attended several AIA events over the years. I was intrigued by the industry and all that the industry was trying to do, and I wanted more, but I couldn’t get it through those events because they’re just so big. I wanted something more meaningful.
I was interested in what the design community had to say about some of the world’s biggest problems. Not design challenges per se, or even construction challenges, but social and global issues around economics, population, the environment, food scarcity and distribution. It seemed that DesignIntelligence published quite a bit about these things and convened their Design Futures Council as a rallying point for diverse thinkers to gather around ideas, possible solutions, and maybe start creating collaborative relationships, even among competitors.
DI: How did you get involved initially with DesignIntelligence and Design Futures Council?
DG: I began attending DFC leadership summits so that I could get the publications. These were intense events; they lasted a day and a half, and we were not just sitting in a seat listening to lectures. We were challenged at a table to deal with a problem together, and there was interaction—six or eight people arguing in a positive way through issues to find solutions. They were all C-suite executives—managing partners, chief operating officers, chief financial officers. That was in and of itself intriguing to me, because you usually don’t find context where C-suite people roll up their sleeves collaboratively and work through problems. That resonated with me.
DI: How have you seen the organization grow and change over the years since you’ve been involved?
DG: Jim Cramer had been leading this organization for more than 20 years, and Jim, like me, is a road warrior. He put in thousands upon thousands of miles every year traveling the world for this. And he was looking to pass the baton. So we began to spend more time together, and it made sense.
Three and half years ago I was invited in and made an investment that would allow the organization to continue its work, its mission. I saw DesignIntelligence as a powerful organization, and its power was in its influence. I really felt it was under-optimized, because it was still a smaller voice in a very large industry. I had aspirations to make it a very loud, large voice in a large industry.
I would say that over the last three years, we’ve dramatically expanded the influence of DesignIntelligence by formalizing our focus. We’ve done that through creating four distinct yet interdependent entities, and we call them the Design Futures Council, which of course has always been in place. Then we formalized DesignIntelligence Research, DesignIntelligence Media, and DesignIntelligence Strategic Advisors. These four entities are very distinct but interdependent in how they serve the architecture/engineering/construction industry, affectionately referred to as A/E/C.
We are making inroads to move Design Futures Council’s influence from a smaller elite group to a larger leadership group. We’ve increased our membership categories and the types of members. We’ve also expanded the membership categories beyond just architects to engineers and construction professionals, and we are moving into the building owner space and the developer space. In combination, I would say that today across our membership, we now represent more than 450,000 people across the U.S. in A/E/C. That’s an exponential growth of representation. We established DesignIntelligence Australia, and it’s growing at a rapid pace, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time in the UK with firms who have become members of the North American Design Futures Council. Canada is also home to several of our most prominent members, and we’re honored to have their contributions and exceptional perspectives. So, the Design Futures Council has grown dramatically because we want to magnify the voice and the influence that goes through them. I am honored and humbled to stand on the foundation that Jim Cramer has built through DesignIntelligence and the Design Futures Council.
DI: How have you invested of yourself into the organization?
DG: It really has to do with this idea of significance. There’s a book by Bob Buford called Halftime. Bob talks about how in the first half of our life, we strive for success, and we do everything we can to achieve whatever we define as success. When you finally achieve that success, you think, “Really? Is that it?” Then you start to look to the other side of life and decide you want your life to count for something. You want all of your effort to leave a legacy that’s positive and good in a way that has merit to it.
As I got involved in DesignIntelligence, I found my place of significance. I’ve been very successful in my career in multiple dimensions. Yet careers come and go, and people can’t remember the name of the guy who ran the company or made the great deal. People don’t remember any of that “success.” What people do remember is, did you change the world? Did you create relationships that were lasting and sustainable? Did you make a mark on God’s earth that was really what you were supposed to do in the first place? So, I found that through DesignIntelligence, I now had a platform to make a significant mark on the world that would sustain and would be good for all. That’s why I have put a ridiculous amount of time and effort into this. The last two years alone, I’ve flown more than 200,000 air miles each year, traveling the globe sharing everything that we have in order to raise the bar for the industry.
DI: How do you think DesignIntelligence can change the world?
DG: We gather leaders and people of consequence together at the Design Futures Council. When we’re there, we have a collective mind around, “What are the real problems we’re trying to solve? What are the authentic challenges that need to be met?” That collective mind is the first domino drop. The second is through our DI Research; we’re able to dive into some of those major topics and peel them back to understand even deeper. From that, we apply insight that is life-changing. Through our media, we’re able to get that word out and distribute it across a very large audience to make an influence in people’s lives. So it’s one thing to think about it, but it’s another thing to write about it and to get it out to people.
Like almost everything in life, we can know a lot about something, but we don’t particularly understand it. That’s why we put DesignIntelligence Strategic Advisors in place, to come alongside the firms across the industry and say, “Here’s how you apply this. Here’s what it means to you, to your clients, and to your community. Here’s how you deal with any one topic of this large inventory of problems and solutions.” So by combination, those four things create not a pebble in a pond, but a boulder in the pond to splash across the industry of influence.
DI: What is your vision for DesignIntelligence and Design Futures Council moving forward?
DG: Our vision is perhaps audacious to some who would be reading this, but it is to become the most trusted source for insight, foresight, and advisory support across the A/E/C industry. That doesn’t mean we have all the answers. But our voice, through those combined and interdependent entities I just described, creates a compelling force of influence. We want to continue to expand our reach of influence so the industry can not only be better in and of itself, but the output of the industry, which is the built and lived-in environment of humanity, can change and be better.
DI: Can you tell us about any upcoming key initiatives?
DG: We have three pretty big initiatives in the process of being developed and released in the coming days. The first is the Design Futures Institute. This is a nonprofit organization that will be funded through the industry and matched by other large foundations to have a bearing on how legislatures and regulators approach and conclude on the direction for the built environment when it comes to environmental responsibility. The Design Futures Institute will take on many different facets, but it is intended to become a cross-organizational, cross-industry vehicle for the passage of environmentally responsible legislation. Measurable legislation can change how we’ve been dealing with the world’s environment without being repressive or oppressive to business.
The second initiative that will roll out this spring is a new application—it’s a software app called “Design Schools 4U.” The app is a new way to match students to their best fit architecture and design schools. It is built on an algorithm (like an advanced dating app) that allows a student user to input both the objective factors and the subjective factors— like the emotion that motivates a student around the selection of a school—that are important to him or her. It creates an alignment of those emotions with the cultural and emotional dynamic of the school, along with all of the objective factors, like tuition, class size, and certifications. We’re very excited about 4U because we believe it will be the most effective place for candidate students to find the right fit for them optimally.
The third initiative is what we’re calling “Catalyst for Reinvention.” The A/E/C industry is broken but it doesn’t need to remain that way. It can change, and it will require wholesale reinvention—for example, in the way our contracts are put together, the way our teams are assembled and oriented, the way we think about procurement and supply chains, the way we think about the manufacturing and design process, and more. DesignIntelligence is launching into 2019 and 2020 to be a catalyst for reinvention through our thought leadership and influence. We’re excited to see what that will yield in the coming years.
The role and vision of DesignIntelligence is to partner with A/E/C, to come alongside firms, universities, organizations, owners—all who are involved in this amazing industry that has so much influence around the globe and frankly, has so much to give. When we are postured with our arms wide and our hands open, we are ready to both give and receive. The posture of DesignIntelligence is to give everything it’s got to see and foster a better world. But it’s also poised to receive the perspectives and input from others and that allows what we give to be even better. It is the professional structure of our firm—every one of us stands with arms open. We invite other influencers in the industry to talk with us in this open dynamic. Through that, we can literally change the industry … and the world.
Dave Gilmore is the president & CEO of DesignIntelligence.
This article is excerpted from the 1Q 2019 issue of DesignIntelligence Quarterly. Read more!