Audiovisual Integration and Interior Design

Audiovisual Integration and Interior Design – a topic that most concerns me since I’d like to design for a company that utilizes my Audio/Video background. The final project in my “Current Issues in Interior Design” course was a presentation on a topic regarding, of course, Interior Design. The following is my paper:

They are used everyday – our TV’s, our radios, our iPods and our computers…all a part of our exposure to the audiovisual world. So, now that multimedia is part of our everyday life, how are Audiovisual Integrators and Interior Designers working to match our digital lifestyle with our environment? I will identify the major similarities and differences between audiovisual integration and interior design and discuss the different ways the two can, and are, bridging the gaps.

We live in an information age, an age that is based on quick communication. Says Lisa Bottom, a principal of Bottom Duvivier, “We are raising an entire generation of fast movers and slow readers who have to be able to work quickly and visually.” How we communicate has changed drastically with improved technological trends. Think about it – what audio or video communication have you had this week?

Terminal Information Displays at the airport
Department Store paging and music systems
Movie Theater sights and sounds

All of these are examples of services that the audiovisual industry designs and installs. InfoComm International defines the audiovisual industry as audio, video, display and environment technology. This definition covers a range of specializations in the residential and commercial markets.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs contends that following food, water and air, the next basic human need is security – a need to seek shelter to protect from harm. The Interior Design industry reinforces this need by enhancing the function, safety and quality of interior spaces. Think about the room you woke up in today or the classroom or office you went to last week. Did you feel safe? Could you easily navigate the building and not feel lost? Chances are a professional Interior Designer played a role in planning that space.

Electronic infrastructure, as defined by Jeff Goldstein of Sony, is “the art of integrating electronic systems into a homeowner’s lifestyle and environment”. The definition holds true for audiovisual integration and includes work and educational environments. Home theaters, Conference Rooms and Lecture Halls are all examples of typical audiovisual integration.
When designing a space, Interior Designers formulate a solution based on “client needs, goals and life & safety requirements” while incorporating creative design. Homes, Hotels and Office buildings are only a few examples where Interior Design solutions are used.

Audiovisual and Interior Design share three major similarities. Both have parallel processes, environmental considerations and can be customized to the clients liking. The process of audiovisual integration begins with a consultation with the potential client. The Audiovisual Consultant listens to the client and in some cases will conduct a preliminary survey of the site. After listening to the clients’ needs and wants, the Audiovisual Consultant will carefully plan and present the design of the audiovisual system(s). The Audiovisual Consultant will then draw up a formal quote for the cost of the equipment, wiring, programming and installation of the system and if the client approves, they will then begin the build-out of the system.

The Interior Designer’s process is spread out over six stages. As summarized from the International Interior Design Association, they are as follows:

Programming is the stage where the clients’ needs and goals are identified and evaluated against existing conditions and documentation. The project resources and code requirements are gathered and planning of budgets and work plans are developed.

Conceptual Design is the stage where the preliminary design is presented to the client for discussion purposes.

The Design Development stage is when the final design is presented along with detailed interior specifics, such as furnishings, fixtures and finishes. Also, the budgets are finalized and the entire project is submitted for client approval.

In Contract Administration, the permits have been acquired and the build out has begun. Additionally, there is a constant monitoring of contractors and supplier timeliness.

During and after the build, the Evaluation stage is used to review progress as a representative of the client.

As referenced in the beginning of this text, Audiovisual Integration also includes environmental technology, i.e. – lighting control and security systems. In the residential market, this environmental technology is also known as home automation. Typically, Audiovisual Integrators can build in remote control systems for business use as well – controlling lighting for Videoconferencing is a major issue; poorly lit rooms can distort images and distract participants from the meeting content. Interior Design’s environmental considerations encompass physical safety and psychological influences in the space. An Interior Designer must adhere to building and safety codes when designing a space. In the case of both disciplines, they each provide solutions for control over an interior environment.

Customization is the center of both Interior Design and Audiovisual Integration. Every individual, business or organization has a different need. Customization in Audiovisual Integration provides different solutions to these varied needs. Steve Segall, owner of Audio Video Concepts and Design, customizes audiovisual systems for yacht owners. The same holds true for Interior Designers, who design spaces around their client’s lifestyle. Companies who target the Interior Design market are supplying the means to make personalization possible. Take Carnegie Fabric’s new Tattoo line. Based on a target 18-25 year old market, the fabric can be customized with six different designs for furniture upholstery jobs.

For two industries that work in the same markets, there are glaring differences that exist between the two. While Interior Design is a more established industry, Audiovisual Integration still exists as an afterthought. Audiovisual consultants are trained and developed to engineer audio and video systems, large and small, yet they are often called in at the middle of a build because the initial knowledge to design a space for an audiovisual system was misunderstood or undervalued. Jennifer Barnes, director of RTKL Associates says “Audio-visual design should be like a good waiter – you should barely notice the technology until you need it. In the past a lack of understanding and communication between interior designers and AV consultants could lead to the awkward placement of AV equipment, poor performance, and generally inelegant solutions”. In some cases, the client is clear about wanting audiovisual systems in their designs, but designers shy away from it. Chuck Wilson, executive director of the National Systems Contractors Association, states, “When we were talking about how cool our [audiovisual] systems are, what they [designers] were hearing was how many things could go wrong. They feared having a risk exposure that wasn’t worth it in view of the amount of money involved. Quite often they would do whatever they could to design around any sort of technology”. Basically, designers would turn audiovisual systems into a “furnished by owner” item, neglecting the fact that many audiovisual systems require specific ventilation for their heat-generating hardware. Roseanne Bell, an interior designer with expertise in designing for technology, insists that “The main thing designers need to know – and if they’d learn this it would solve an awful lot of problems – is to get the A/V Consultant or systems integrator onboard at the very beginning of a project”.

So how are the two bridging these gaps? Through education, business development and cross networking both industries are seeking common links. Infocomm International and the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association offer several courses for Interior Designers and Architects. The Interior Design Continuing Education Council recently approved Kayye Consulting, an audiovisual marketing and consulting firm, to provide continuing education services to interior designers – they have also received the same approval from the American Institute of Architects. The seminars will enable interior designers and architects to plan for integration of audiovisual systems into their commercial projects.

Some Interior Design firms are also starting to add Audiovisual-specific departments to their business operation. RTKL Associates, an architecture and design firm located in Baltimore, Maryland, recently added an audiovisual design department to their setup. Tony Warner, the lead Audiovisual Consultant with the firm, says, “Bringing AV design services inside an architectural firm represents a milestone for AV consulting. For years, architectural firms have incorporated engineering divisions, but AV design was generally an orphaned cousin to the rest of the design team.”

Additionally, audiovisual and interior design associations are increasingly providing more opportunities for professionals to “cross-network”. CEDIA’s 2006 Electronic Lifestyles® Forum is aimed at solidifying the relationships between audiovisual integrators, interior designers and architects. The Forum will include discussion panels as well as outreach education sessions.

Overall, audiovisual integrators and interior designers, being similar in process and familiar with customization, are beginning to work together to address our technology needs. Through education, business development and cross networking, the audiovisual industry is reaching out to the design industry in order to unite our way of living with our environment.

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