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5 Design Industry Trends to Stay Ahead of in 2023

Part two of this ThinkLab series explores the industry shifts to focus on to ensure your business thrives this year.

ThinkLab kicks off each new year by looking at the 10 biggest shifts affecting the future of the contract interiors industry. Whether you are a design firm, manufacturer, or distributor, this annual exploration summarizes where we’re headed, and how we can prepare our organizations to stay competitive.   

Part 1 of this two-part series explored the five foundational shifts you should make now to avoid falling behind in 2023. Here, we share the remaining five shifts to focus on to get ahead this year.  

6. A Shift from Physical–Digital to Digital–Physical 

Just because you throw a fish in the air doesn’t make it a bird. All too often, as our analog industry attempts to go digital, we take what worked in the physical realm and simply do the same thing digitally.  

Forrester research on overall B2B evolution says that what once took 1 to 2 decision-makers to handle now takes as many as 14. And at times, those multiple decision-makers can have conflicting priorities, fragmented budgets, and varying levels of understanding about your brand and what problems you solve for them in their role.  

The companies that get ahead in 2023 will be those that:  

  1. Simplify messaging to deliver more punch to an increasingly broad array of B2B decision-makers 
  1. Leverage the digital realm for broad reach to get the message out 
  1. Reinforce brand messages with newly reimagined IRL experiences 

Here’s the bottom line:

Simply shifting physical tools directly to the digital realm can create awkward, less-than-desirable experiences. Leading brands will leverage the reach of the digital-first world to entice interest with key messaging, then optimize experiences in physical space to make brand messages come to life. 

One action you can take today:

Check out this 3-minute inspirational video from Gartner. Or, for in-industry inspiration, check out these new videos from two in-industry companies who are simplifying their messaging to deliver more punch: Geniant and NextGen Workspace

A thinklab graphic showing what was versus is now

7. A Shift from Region-Defined to Function-Aligned 

In today’s globally connected era, chances are key decision-makers don’t all live in the same place. For the industry’s largest firms, design teams are often formed wherever the best talent can be found, regardless of geographic proximity.  

For purposes of illustration, we’ll explore how this translates to the physical firm library. Whether you’re a designer trying to reimagine how your firm library can connect your project teams or a manufacturer trying to reimagine your sales strategy with less in-person time, here are some of the innovative approaches we’re hearing about: 

A thinklab graphic featuring the logos of major architecture firms

Here’s the bottom line:

A new breed of decision-maker with an expectation of digital and geographic fluidity will force traditional geographic-based models to evolve. Today’s design teams are formed around the best talent for the job, with less emphasis than ever on physical location. Tomorrow’s comp plans and distribution models will need to align. 

One action you can take today:

Listen in to this podcast about the Future of A&D firm libraries, or to dive deeper, check out this article about IA’s unique approach.  

8. A Shift from Standardized to Personalized 

Our industry has operated a certain way for a long time. But, accelerated by forced digitization amidst a global pandemic, new generations of digitally native individuals, and more decision-makers than ever, today a one-size-fits-all customer journey doesn’t fit all. According to ThinkLab research, 70 percent of survey respondents feel they can be served by a remote team just as well as they can by a local team.  

While the consumer realm frequently leverages personas, our industry has not historically had access to that type of data. ThinkLab has created the industry’s first-ever persona study, covering product selectors whether they work at a traditional A&D firm, distributor, commercial real estate firm, or even for an end user. This study’s data allows those in our industry to understand and connect with their “consumers” using a very personalized view, one that helps them develop new phygital journeys for their brands. 

Here’s the bottom line:

While many brands have long-focused on streamlining the experience with a brand, today’s buyers exist along a spectrum of “digital eagerness” that requires unique and personalized journeys that integrate the online–offline–online experience.   

One action you can take today:

Check out our new digital course exploring the design industry’s first-ever persona study. Or have a listen to this podcast episode about why personas matter

a thinklab graphic of buyer personas

9. A Shift from Generational Stereotypes to Gen Z as Prototypes 

Millennials were the first generation to possess skill sets that their predecessors did not. As these digital natives entered the workforce, they were met with many uncomfortable stereotypes about millennials that made generational differences much more fraught. And no one hates this kind of stereotyping more than Gen Zers. But the tendency to group people by age and perspective consistently shows up in ThinkLab data as a clear “trend line” into the future. And the “ripple-up effect”—prompted by millennials who had to change the way all older generations worked—will likely only intensify as Gen Z enters the workforce.  
The first members of Gen Z graduated just before the pandemic, which made their entrée into the working world (and our industry) shockingly different from any of their predecessors. Yet they are quickly making their presence felt. By 2025, Gen Zers will make up 27 percent of the workforce. By exploring their perspective and engaging them in thoughtful problem-solving, we can look at old problems in new ways. 

Here’s the bottom line:

“A ‘this is always how we’ve done it’ mindset is a slippery slope to irrelevance. One of the best ways to get unstuck and spot blind spots that every industry and every organization has is to lean into the emerging generations because they have a fresh perspective that is the key to what that next approach should be.” –Ryan Jenkins, ThinkLab 2023 Hackathon keynote 

One action you can take today:

We are excited to announce that Gen Z is the topic for ThinkLab’s 2023 Hackathon. You can sign up to hear Ryan Jenkins’ January keynote here. Or, in the meantime, listen to our interview with him in this podcast episode. 

a thinklab graph of what percentage of the workforce is made up of gen-z people

10. A Shift from Web2 to Web3 

Web3, metaverse, Bitcoin, NFT. If any of these terms spark confusion, overwhelm, or even an eye roll, you’re not alone. This humorous TikTok video contrasts the immense forward strides of technology with the harsh realities of today making us question how close this “digital future” really is. But technology is evolving faster and faster, and to stay ahead, we must begin to explore the possibilities as these new futures emerge.  
Take, for example, one recent podcast interviewee who asked us to imagine a future where every brand has a “Go to my metaverse” button on their website. If we don’t understand the technologies, we can’t leverage them for our benefit.  

Here’s the bottom line:

“Web3 is all about autonomy, authenticity, ownership, and engagement—and the new opportunities afforded to us by the associated technologies. If you’re not starting to get curious here, you’re going to start playing from behind soon. Those at the forefront are starting to already activate around, or at the very least explore.” —Bobby Bonett, executive vice president of digital, SANDOW Design Group  

One action you can take today:

Follow SANDOW Design Group’s new podcast Barriers to Entry, which will interview the innovators and connectors exploring Web3 in our industry, helping you to make new connections on LinkedIn so that you can be at the forefront of this exploration. 

Want to dive even deeper into these trends? Our new complimentary digital course explores each trend with even more detailed evidence, shares statistics to help you create internal buy-in, translates implications to our industry (and your business), and inspires with motivating stories from companies we’ve identified as ahead of the curve.  

a thinklab graphic of the global web3 market

Want to dive deeper into each of these trends? Our new complimentary digital course explores each trend with even more detailed evidence, shares statistics to help you create internal buy-in, translates implications to our industry (and your business), and inspires with motivating stories from companies we’ve identified as ahead of the curve.  

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

a graphic from thinklab showing the progression along trend, evidence, implication, inspiration, and action

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