IFI President’s Update

In the aftermath of the terrible devastation in Haiti, many of us feel moved to action; to make contributions personally and professionally to the best extent we can. Now is also a time for reflection. No matter how fast we react or how large or small our contribution, in the context of lives lost, our efforts seem to remain inadequate. The reported suffering and dire living conditions are difficult to come to terms with, and raise the question of how humanity can be better prepared to handle disaster in our 21st Century global community. As designers of the Built Environment, we know how to plan against and cope with disasters, literal and metaphorical.  We also recognize that trying to think strategically with a raging fire in progress is not likely to be very productive. Taking this into account, at IFI, we think that in addition to immediate assistance, we can show our support by taking note of important lessons for the future.

While every individual has a contribution to make, the strongest contribution is the one which we can make collectively. The Interiors discipline understands the creation and constant improvement of shelter, as well as the associated human experiences – qualities of safety, security and well being. As such, we are required to be at the very forefront of rehabilitation efforts alongside the survival essentials provided by search teams, medical crews and food aid.

Intrinsic to the design process, ideally the designer’s role is to proactively, rather than reactively, seek solutions to the issues facing humanity and in doing so, pave the way to an improved future. We will be raising this at the upcoming Board meeting, and would like to hear your comments and suggestions.


During each board term, the IFI Executive Board reviews the strategic plan and identifies specific expertise required for the fulfillment of IFI mandates. With clear criteria in hand, and at the discretion of the Board, design leaders and highly acknowledged experts from the Interiors global arena are invited to serve alongside the elected members of the IFI Executive Board. Co-opted board members are considered to be integral to the Board, with the single exception that they are non-voting board members. For this 2009-2011 term, we have selected four co-opts, resulting in a full board slate of 11 individuals. Over the following months and through these President’s Updates you will have the opportunity to get to know each of these members.

Co-opted Board Member 2009-2011
VSI, Zurich, Switzerland

Bridging cultures with her Swiss/Thai heritage and with a background in Law as well as Interiors, Iria Degen brings a unique and invaluable perspective to the Board. She will act as Board Representative, working closely with Chairman, Mr. Alain Dufour, in the Articles Review Committee. The following provide an insight into Iria and her thinking:

1. With your multicultural background, how would you describe design’s potential to improve quality of life?

“I believe that design stays in constant dialogue with culture, and that design necessarily reflects the cultural background of the designer. Having experienced different cultures allows me to easily adapt to new environments and to introduce the particularities of another culture playfully in my interior design work. Being professionally active in diverse countries, I need to respect the cultural heritage wherever a project may be located. Being sensitive in that respect means automatically to better understand the people who live there. This is very important for a project and its ultimate result: improving quality of life. Good design affects people, wether they are aware or unaware of it. Therefore our profession has a social responsibility for the wellbeing of individuals and for human design.“

2. In your experience working with Andrée Putman and now as the Principal of your own firm, what three vital criteria do you practice to optimally impact people and business within the built environment?

“From Andrée Putman I learned that Interior Design is much more about attitude and interaction of people than about good taste or style. I have rarely met a person with her aura and I am truly grateful to have been able to work closely with her for many years.

One of my criteria is simply to listen to people and their ideas, including clients as well as my own team. Open and transparent communication is important and enriching. Seeking dialogues and constructive arguments, I try to reflect my ideas through discussions. In doing so, the people involved can follow a decision-making process and support the outcome themselves. Another aim is to stay curious and to be daring. What is there to loose if we don’t try? Very often in my life I have been able to jump on interesting opportunities and dare to take a chance. Finally, I always focus on creative and tailor-made solutions regarding our projects. Copy/paste or standard solutions are not options – to the benefit of our clients and our own imaginative minds.”

3. Over the next ten years, how would you like to see our profession evolve and lead by example?

“Interior designers should visibly enjoy what they do and spread this passion. We need to become better team players with other creative specialists in planning and construction teams in order to be accepted and well respected. Let’s share more of best practices on both regional and global levels. Personally, I would like to use more of our global networking possibilities for such an open exchange between professionals.

Also, environmental responsibility must be highly valued, not only by a few leaders but in all countries. I would appreciate more guidance and support by governments regarding this subject.”

4. How must IFI grow in order to support this vision?

“IFI can help on a global level to strengthen the design community and to protect the designers’ intellectual property. When members get the chance to meet informally, friendship can can grow and the networking plays naturally. As a worldwide organisation it is certainly right to expand, though challenging it will be to stay focused on the quality of IFI’s origins and the tradition of the IFI family. IFI can secure high educational standards and must be attractive also to young individuals. With IFI’s upcoming 50th anniversary, it is important to be able to show that the organisation is mature but staying relevant to the young.The provision of real benefits to members can probably still be improved. It will also be a great task to secure the funding and finances to be able to go further in a healthy way.”

Please remember to send IFI your thoughts and suggestions regarding designers making a meaningful contribution to Haiti and future global disaster relief.