The outcome of the last presidential election changed the way many of us approach decision-making in both our personal and professional lives. For numerous business owners in the interior design and architecture community, the election impacted the way they run their practices, especially in terms of how they relate to their employees and clients on the topic of politics. This year, the pandemic further impacted the livelihoods of everyone in the industry and has called for additional adjustments. With Election Day quickly approaching, designers are reflecting on how they can carry the lessons they’ve learned over the past four years into November.
“My team and I have been far more engaged in political issues since the breakdown of 2016,” explains Rafael de Cárdenas, the AD100 designer and Architecture at Large studio founder. “I am quite vocal in my day-to-day life about the issues and causes I support—and don’t—and have become more so over the years.”
This year, some design firms are offering paid days off for voting or volunteering at the polls. “We are offering our employees paid time off if they work the polls or volunteer in any way on Election Day,” says Annie Chu, a founding principal of Chu + Gooding Architects. “Polling places will need additional support this year due to COVID-19, and we support any of our employees who wish to give their time to that vital cause.”
“I started giving people paid time off to vote three elections ago,” says Tyler Hays, founder of BDDW, the design and fabrication company. “This year, if employees volunteer for the polls, they’ll also get a paid day off.”
As a business owner, Hays realizes his employees’ political views vary, and while there’s a desire to stay completely bipartisan, he’s made some business decisions that align with his personal beliefs. Over the last decade, Hays has held online auctions offering clients an array of designer items—from prototypes and one-of-a-kind pieces to collectibles—as a way to have some fun and increase revenue. “Last week we held our 17th online auction and raised $85,000 for the Biden-Harris campaign—which I recognize may seem a bit controversial,” he says, noting that there was some early backlash on his company’s social media accounts.
De Cárdenas is also encouraging employees to get involved in the election through a number of measures. “This election, our studio is planning to phone bank to speak to undecided voters in the week leading up to November 3,” says de Cárdenas. “We will not be working on Election Day, except at polling stations—those of us who feel comfortable doing so—and by reaching out to people and urging them to vote.” The designer adds that even beyond November, he hopes his team—and the industry at large—will continue to fight for important causes. “With or without the urgency of a federal election, we’ll continue to be vocal on political issues that have great importance to our democracy.”
As for AD100 designer Ken Fulk, the 2016 election underscored the importance of voting. “Every one of us simply must vote,” he says. “No matter your party affiliation or candidate of choice, your vote matters.” The designer also notes the effects COVID-19 have had on morale this election year. “We’ve seen how ineffective things can be when we’re so bitterly divided, and while the last six months have brought much stress, destruction, and even death to far too many, it’s also shown that we are all human—for the first time in my life the whole world essentially stopped moving for its own survival.”
Chu’s team has made efforts to support communities in need. “After the 2016 election, we [became] more aware of the need to support those who are underserved,” says Chu. “We were organizing packages of hygiene supplies for our local homeless women support organization before COVID-19 hit.” And since the pandemic, Chu explains that her team has dedicated time each week to foster the spirit of community within the practice and exchange and share ideas—including on politics. “We believe that our clients share similar values [to] ours, and we have been free to discuss current issues with them, share views on social media, and support their efforts to bring on change,” she says.
For Fulk and his staff, it’s still the small things that really matter, this election season and beyond: “The importance of simple kindness and a bit of understanding is paramount—and family and home are paramount above all else.” That’s something we contend the design community has known all along.