50% of Designers Have NEVER Worked with Integrators

First-ever Design + Tech Connection networking event unites integrators with designers and architects to elevate technology awareness.

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50% of Designers Have NEVER Worked with Integrators

More than 175 integrators and designers met in NYC to discuss ways to forge better business relationships to serve their clients more effectively.

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The design space might truly fit the definition of an “untapped opportunity.” Speaking at the inaugural Design + Tech Connection event held in New York City in December, Bill Darcy, CEO of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), noted a shocking statistic: “50% of all design professionals have NEVER worked with an integrator.”

It was an amazing revelation, especially given that so many integrators, along with CEDIA itself, have made a focus of the past decade to forge better trade relationships with interior designers.

So with that large gap in linking designers with integrators together, the NKBA held the first-ever Design + Tech Connection event in New York City on December 11. More than 175 professionals, mostly designers, met at the swanky Convene conference center just steps from Times Square.

Darcy set the stage for the event by saying, “Two-thirds of all people on earth have a mobile smartphone. Where do we spend most of our time in our homes?” he asked rhetorically. “In our kitchens and baths. So as the control of our world in many ways is driven by handheld and countertop devices, we clearly need our homes—primarily our kitchens and baths—to have a harmonious relationship with technology.

“NKBA has worked hard to be a leader in our industry, beginning with a relationship I formed many years ago with an industry relations manager at CEDIA. Later that relationship allowed us to create a pavilion with CEDIA at Design & Construction Week. NKBA then conducted its first Kitchen Technology Awareness and Usage Study in 2018, and we followed that up by introducing the first Bathroom Tech Study in 2019. We also hosted our first-ever Thought Leadership Summit at CEDIA for certified NKBA designers.”

Darcy continues, “Among the results of our studies we discovered that half of our designers have never worked with a tech contractor or consultant, even though the majority of designers create training and education in tech areas. Homeowners already know about many of the smart and connected devices they would love to see in their homes; therefore, it is imperative for designers to be well versed on this topic so they can speak with their customers about this topic with confidence and authority.

“The bottom line is there is a lot to learn in this field, and we at NKBA want to help facilitate a dialog among all the players, from designer and remodeler to the tech systems specialist and installer. We hope to foster enhanced communication and make the design + tech connection.”

“We are excited to launch what we think is a unique platform in a somewhat unfamiliar space,” says Darcy.

Lighting, Biophilia Key Topics

The event featured a full day of presentations and networking. Architect Don Ruggles of Ruggles Mabe Studio kicked it off with a presentation that delved into universal design concepts that emote the word “beauty.”

“Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder,” Ruggles said, “but beauty is driven by instinctual emotions. It is a neurological reaction to patterns that we recognize as approachable. Thus, design can help a client’s well being and health.”

Ruggles specifically noted that the 3X3 pattern is seen as approachable and pleasurable to humans. He cited famous landmarks in architecture, such as the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal, as 3X3 structures. Also, the Mona Lisa is based on 3X3 patterns.

Does that mean integrators should be creating interface GUIs based on 3X3 designs? Probably.

Next, technology design/consultant David VanWert of VanWert Technology Design, and lighting designer Stephen Marguilies of One Lux Studio, discussed how lighting design and lighting control are the keys to expanding your lighting business. VanWert recommends integrators become lighting designers and specifiers, which will put them in a stronger position with clients versus just being the installation company.

CE Pro founding editor Julie Jacobson followed with a session on wellness and biophilia. The crux of her discussion centered on the fact that it is bred into human DNA over thousands of years to live 90% of your time outdoors, but only in the past 200 years have we changed to spend 90% of our time indoors. Thus, our DNA is still engrained to want to be outside, which is why human-centric lighting is so important.

Forging Design + Tech Connection Business Relationship

After a networking session during lunch, a panel discussion ensued with top integrators and their design and architectural partners. Ed Gilmore of Gilmore’s Sound Advice and Kim Michels of Electronic Environments discussed how they have formulated business relationships with the design trades. Carl Shenton of Shenton Architects, Thomas McMahon of McMahon-Baek Architecture, and Kathryn Eisberg of KE Design shared their success stories.

Among the key takeaways from the panel are:

  • There is no “cookie-cutter” business relationship between architects/designers and integrators. Improvisation is often required.
  • Integrators prefer to have a direct relationship/contract with the client
  • Integrators will be on the project for a prolonged time
  • Vital to get integrators involved EARLY in the project
  • Let the integrator provide the small-scale and large-scale budget range directly to the client
  • Budgets vary widely for technology and it is often not beneficial for designers or architects to try to ballpark a budget number
  • Work closely with the integrator to determine the overall scope and budget that will be meaningful to the client

The final session of the day was a presentation by Rob Krug of Avast discussing cybersecurity and the smart home. He advised all designers to not allow any device without two-factor authentication to avoid hacking potential.

Sponsors of the event were: Control4, Savant, Kohler, Rev-A-Shelf, Access Networks, Crestron, Barco, Autokitchen Software, Basalte, Leon, Wolf/Subzero/Cove and Miele.