What Does The Future Of The Firm Library Look Like? 

The design industry’s next generation shares solutions for optimizing this A&D office staple amid physical and digital shifts.

Everyone wants to know what the future holds for the architecture and design (A&D) library: Firms are trying to make optimal use of space and resources, manufacturers are gauging investments in physical and digital marketing materials, and reps and service providers are navigating new norms for schedules and presentations. 

ThinkLab recently explored the evolution of the A&D library with global design firm IA Interior Architects (to hear from other firms on the topic, tune in to “The Future of the A&D Firm Library,” part of season 3 of our Design Nerds Anonymous podcast). Run by two Gen Z designers in the firm’s Chicago office, Grace Gadow and Catherine O’Brien, IA Interior Architects’ revamped Chicago library is a response to today’s hybrid work models. Here are some key components to their new approach: 


Gadow and O’Brien joined IA Interior Architects in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the first day they were physically at IA Interior Architects’ Chicago office, they were recruited to run the library. Gadow recalls, “The office was truly open to our take: What should stay? How do we reopen and leverage this as a tool to help our teams connect?”

image showing an architecture firm's material library

They set out to expand accessibility to what O’Brien calls “community knowledge” held within the firm library in order to make it easily grabbable. “We have grown up with tech as Gen Z,” O’Brien says. “Information is really accessible and easy to compare. Our industry still feels so tedious. We want to find a better way.” 


The Chicago office is the home of one of IA Interior Architects’ largest libraries, and owing to rep staffing, the office is also more physically connected to the local culture. “Looking at that through a post-COVID-19 lens,” Gadow explains, “we asked ourselves, ‘How can we leverage this to connect even more? How do we connect with the other IA library leaders?’ ” 

Gadow and O’Brien facilitate communication across IA Interior Architects’ offices, meeting with local reps, scheduling (typically hybrid) internal events/presentations, updating their internal digital information database, and sharing it through a companywide newsletter.

Both designers are very aware of the current structure around rep territories, but they challenge that manufacturers may need to rethink it as our world becomes increasingly connected. “If a brand has a big presence in L.A., that’s not lost on us,” Gadow shares. “We have big offices out there. We have team members that are connected from other offices. Making the experience more equitable is our end goal.”


The duo’s priority is creating a hybrid library that works for everyone. “We have designers that are fully remote. How do we make sure we are not leaving them out?” O’Brien asks. Their current solution is a digital database in Miro, featuring a chronological catalog of new releases with links organized by product vertical that is easily accessible any time of day in-office and remotely. “Gone are the days where we order 100 samples,” Gadow says. “We leverage digital tools to filter first.”


O’Brien shares that one of the duo’s main goals was to streamline approaches across the board: “What is the best way to get this information across? Is a quick morning presentation enough, or do we need a longer lunch-hour presentation? How do we make sure reps give our studio the best information in ways that save our designers time?” 

Their solution was to give reps more autonomy by leveraging an electronic tool called Microsoft Bookings. Gadow continues: “We made a conscious effort to put the ball in the reps’ court. We send the link, and they book their own slot based on what is open.” As a result, O’Brien has “noticed a new, refreshing take that is more informal.”


O’Brien finds it both challenging and exciting “to see how we can push ourselves, our studio, and our reps to create the best-functioning library.” Gadow adds, “We have to keep our innovative hat on. How do we streamline more?” Their approach involves adopting a beta test mindset of constant analysis, testing, reframing, and testing again. 

Gadow believes that members of her generation have certain advantages: “We have grown up problem-solving in practical ways. We are in a good position to innovate. Who knows where the world will be in five years, but I hope we are putting in foundational pieces to move us forward. This is a change moment for a lot of things in the world.”

Amanda Schneider is president of ThinkLab, the research division of SANDOW Design Group. Join in to explore what’s next at thinklab.design/join-in.

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