Michael Alin, Hon. FASID, executive director of American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), announced early this year that he will retire on Oct. 1, 2011, after serving the ASID for more than 20 years with the Society. Here, the industry veteran shares with Contract some of his experience, industry expertise, and retirement plans.
1. What do you feel has been your greatest success in serving with the ASID?
What is not always transparent, from the outside looking in, is the need to plan strategically and then stick to the plan over time. This has been my main preoccupation over the past 20 years. The ASID used to have a “one year of leadership and out” mentality. The end result was a lot of one year initiatives that were never completed. What a terrible waste of resources including volunteer and staff time!
Strategic planning isn’t very sexy, but it is critical if you want to achieve certain objectives and move the organization and profession forward. And it means nurturing a volunteer and staff leadership that believes in, what I call, the “continuity of leadership.” It is the responsibility of future leaders to respect the hard work and vision of their predecessors; to build upon their vision and make it better over time.
2. What has been your greatest personal challenge in building membership with the ASID?
ASID has sought to be and is the voice of the interior design profession. What sometimes gets lost is that well over 80 percent of interior designers in the U.S. (and I believe in Canada, too) primarily are focused on residential design. This is a fact. Some in the profession undervalue the work of residential interior. They wittingly, or unwittingly, have created a belief that “some designers are better than others,” due to what they practice. This is nonsense and a disservice to all who practice interior design.
ASID has tried to be as inclusive as possible in accepting prospective members, but sometimes even we get caught up in the delicate balance. The reality, for me, is that we are competing in the marketplace and should represent the full spectrum of interior design. The other reality, often misunderstood within the profession and industry, is that ASID’s interior design membership includes more commercial members than any other interior design association, and includes a significant number of dual members with other design associations.
3. What is the greatest lesson you have learned in your 20-plus years of service?
Never underestimate the need to share information, policies, and planning material with your national and chapter volunteer leaders. Do not assume that there has been a sharing of this information between your incoming and outgoing leaders. You need to state your objectives and goals, remind people how these were created, and encourage them to participate in the “continuity of leadership.”
4. You’ve seen the A&D industry change and evolve throughout your career. What has been the greatest change you’ve witnessed?
That interior design is about the business of design. When I first joined ASID, we used to talk about a young profession striving to grow out of its “teen” years to take its rightful place among other professions in the built environment. There was an overriding concern with being treated as a “professional” by colleagues in other design professions. To be professional is as much about how you act, communicate, set up your business practice, and treat your clients as it is about the “credentials” you possess. The most successful designers I know are good business people and creative, effective designers who meet their clients’ expectations and solve their clients’ design problems.
5. What items will you focus on as you prepare for retirement? Any remaining goals?
The hardest thing for most people is to just let go. I don’t want to be someone who is hell-bent to accomplish something in an unrealistic time frame just because that is the amount of time remaining in my position. As the wonderful members and staff with whom I have worked these past 20 years look back at my time with ASID, I would like to believe that they will reflect that whatever I did was done with integrity and in the best interests of the Society and its members.
6. What do you most look forward to in your retirement?
I hope to find the right balance between the leisure time one expects and finding something useful to do that helps others. I also think that I will enjoy waking up most days without the alarm clock.
7. What advice would you give to the next generation of designers?
Find the time in your education to understand and learn about the business matters that are most likely to determine your success as an interior designer. And like any other profession, start your career by always seeking to keep up with change, not just in terms of design but in terms of what is impacting your prospective client base. You can never know too much about what is driving your clients’ needs and their aspirations.
8. Why do you feel design is an important part of our lives and society? What greater issues can it address?
I think that management gurus have been reinventing the wheel about what drives human behavior for far too long. Just go back to Maslow and his “hierarchy of needs” and you’ll find the basic motivations for almost, if not all, human behavior. Humans desire some type of order and design in their lives, even if it is not your idea of what constitutes order and effective design.