Making space(s) for inspiration

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“Inspiration”—it’s one of those words most of us are drawn to but can’t easily define.

Of course, if you look up the word in a dictionary or on the Internet, you will find definitions, but they might prompt more questions than answers.

For instance, is inspiration rooted internally or externally? Is it a pull or a push?

Can you impact inspiration, or only be open and wait for it?

And does inspiration work the same way for all of us, or is it an individualized experience?

Dictionaries don’t answer these questions, yet somehow when we encounter inspiration we know it—without a doubt. And the effects of being inspired seem mostly universal: Our minds start buzzing, energy levels spike, and time seems to stand still. We’re able to be more creative, more productive, and more focused.

In other words, the feeling is great, and so is the outcome. We’d all love to be under inspiration’s magic spell every day. So what can we do to get more of it?

An informal survey around the izzy+ office and on Twitter revealed two factors that seem to consistently impact how inspired we are: people and places. Our interactions with others, and the spaces we live, work and relax in, play important roles in how inspired we are.

Since all our interactions with others happen in spaces (and since we at izzy+ happen know a thing or two about spaces), it seems safe to boil it down to this truth: Our environments play an important role in inspiration.

Just think about the spaces you gravitated to as a child: A nook under the stairs, a window seat in an alcove, a fort in the branches of a tree. As adults, we might have a favorite table at a coffee shop, a chair on a porch, or a bar in the kitchen where everyone seems to gather at every party. Each favorite space may be somewhat unique to us, but the characteristics often overlap: People are drawn to spaces that are cozy, intriguing, out of the ordinary and fresh, yet familiar. We want alternatives to our typical office-and-desk settings.

“Even as adults, you still need a space to get away and change your point of view in,” says interior designer and izzy+ consultant, Allison Roon. “Different scenery and different people can inspire you, and help you stay engaged in whatever you’re doing.”

The recent article “Purpose: A Discussion on the Future of Office Design” also links creativity and inspiration directly to the design of spaces:

“Instead of seeking space to simply house workers, companies are now seeking spaces capable of serving and fostering communities of creative problem solvers.… In place of a generic working environment the new workforce is looking for spaces that are authentic and personal.”

Today’s workers and learners clearly want spaces that go beyond utilitarian purposes.

trellis_forum

This year’s annual Valentine’s promotion at izzy+ is all about inspiration—finding and sharing more of it as a key way to be Better Together. And the new products we’re featuring, the Nemo Bar and Trellis, are all about creating spaces that inspire, much like the tree fort of our childhood did—spaces that are cozy, intriguing, out of the ordinary
and fresh, yet familiar.

“When I was a kid, we built a fort in a stand of big trees and kept expanding it,” says izzy+ founder and CEO, Chuck Saylor. “All the guys in the neighborhood hung out there—it was a gathering place.”

That favorite childhood space definitely played a role in inspiring the idea of the Nemo Trellis, Saylor says.

“Trellis gives you that sense of going outdoors while you’re indoors, this space within a space. And when you see it, in the midst of this sea of sameness, all of the sudden you’re attracted to it and your tendency is to immediately go and explore—and hopefully to be inspired.”

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What spaces inspire you? What design elements make spaces more inspiring? We love hearing what YOU think!

Be sure to visit our Valentine’s mini-site to hear more stories about what inspires izzy+ designers, to find out more about the Nemo Bar & Trellis, and to enter our Trellis design competition. There’s also information about registering to win gift cards or a giving-back adventure to Nicaragua.

Nemoisland

The Nemo Bar and Trellis set up as a recharge/refresh station on the first floor of the Merchandise Mart at NeoCon 2012.
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A design industry give-away that gives back

As everyone in the Architecture and Design world knows, swag and give-aways are fool-proof ways to catch your market’s eye. But what would happen if the give-away was also a give-back?

This was a question izzy+ started asking a year ago as we made plans for our annual Valentine’s Day promotion, which introduces a new izzy+ product to nearly 5,000 interior designers each February. Sure, the event should include colorful izzy+ bags and custom-made chocolates (it is Valentine’s Day, after all), but what if instead of doing a drawing for something flashy, like plane tickets to anywhere in the world or the newest Apple gear, we gave away something that would support our corporate values around giving back?

“The big prizes we had done the last couple of years were flashy, but there’s no substance,” says Brandon Reame, izzy+’s Market Development Strategist and learning expert. “We wanted to promote the ideas we care about most, like giving back, supporting relationships, and offering opportunities for unexpected learning.”

So, during February of 2012, members of the interior design community were given not just chocolate and other goodies, but also a chance to go on an izzy+-sponsored trip to Nicaragua. Over 1,700 designers indicated interest in the promotion, 80 of whom later followed up by filling out a questionnaire about themselves and their interest in the trip. On November 1, six interior designers from around the U.S. flew to Nicaragua, joining Brandon and Jill Horning of the izzy+ team, along with two members of the Grand Valley State University Applied Global Innovation Initiative, which played a key role in planning and laying the groundwork for the trip. The group just returned from their giving-back adventure on November 6.

The main goal in Nicaragua, Brandon says, was helping a group of teachers in the North Central town of Esteli design and build learning toolkits for young students. The izzy+ group had to think through the interior and exterior designs of the kits and how the curriculum could best be organized.

“We’re trying to make the learning experience more inspiring and engaging for the students,” Brandon says. “Designers have great skills and an understanding for what sparks people’s curiosity and engagement. Watching these designers work side-by-side with elementary teachers who make one or two dollars a day—it was just amazing to see everyone work together to really make a difference in such a short amount of time.”

The available resources for most teachers in Nicaragua are so limited, Brandon adds, saying that many schools are little more than metal shacks with dirt floors. Students often have to bring their own chairs from home.

The izzy+ group also contributed to the design of a building that is being converted into a new learning center in Esteli. Leveraging the skills of the designers, Brandon says they reviewed architects’ construction plans then focused on providing recommendations for one aspect of the interior—creating an entrance that would be welcoming and inspiring.

In addition to the design work they did, the izzy+ group toured other schools, visited local markets and a sustainable coffee farming community, experienced cultural traditions like the holiday known as Day of the Saints, and shared meals with many local business people, leaders, teachers and university administrators.

Karin Dax, a designer from Boston, said the trip was an “amazing experience.”

“As soon as I heard about the trip I thought ‘I definitely want to do that,’” says Karin, who is an avid traveler and a fluent Spanish speaker. Helping to design the learning kits was a highlight, she says. “Once we started to understand our role and our goals, and we began talking to the teachers more about what they needed, it was really easy to contribute—we just had to dive in and use our skills to help make their vision a reality.”

And the positive effects of this trip will continue to ripple out—not only for the communities in Nicaragua the izzy+ team visited, but also for the designers back home.

“I think a trip like this puts our everyday lives into perspective,” Karin says. “In Nicaragua, the questions are, ‘Do they have running water and food? Are they able to learn what they need to learn to have a sustainable future?’ Then you come home and a client is upset about a paint color not being quite right. It makes you take a step back and realize all that we have. You reevaluate what’s important, what matters most, and what kind of work you want to be doing.”

As far as izzy+ is concerned, these types of giving-back trips are definitely a part of the company’s future.

“Giving back is a core value that runs deep at izzy+—all the way to our parent company, JSJ,” says Brandon. “And this trip reminded me of an important lesson: Bringing together a creative group of people to help support meaningful causes is extremely addicting. I cannot wait to host a similar trip again.”

Chocolate, love, and…learning?

Roses, chocolates, romantic candle-lit dinners—sounds like the perfect setting for a business to stay out of, right?

Well, it depends how you frame Valentine’s Day.

While the romantic take on February 14 is still plenty popular, many others—especially younger couples and singles—are opting to simply ignore what’s often thought of as a “Hallmark holiday.” But what if we thought of Valentine’s Day, instead, as an opportunity to celebrate relationships of all kinds—a day that’s all about not being an island, but being Better Together?

At izzy+, we’ve been working to reframe Valentine’s Day since 2006, when Harter began its annual February promotional. What we’ve discovered along the way is that the traditional aspect of giving at this time of year is still essential—we like to substitute the roses with the giving of time and ideas, but some of the other goodies stay (especially the chocolate!). We also think it’s important to add a second component to the giving: learning.

So Valentine’s Day can be about giving, sharing, and learning? Yes!

Learning and sharing, after all, go hand-in-hand. Learning to share is one of the first social skills we develop as children. As adults, we tend to be good at sharing things, but we often overlook how important it is to share ideas, stories, and our time.

When you flip the sentence—sharing to learn—you get to the heart of why sharing can be so powerful. When someone else shares their perspective, it stretches us outside of our comfort zones, helping us see a problem from a new angle and learn in ways we couldn’t have on our own. It’s what being Better Together is all about.

Let’s take all of that sharing and learning to another country!

Lately we’ve been thinking a lot about how, as a company, we can facilitate even more giving, sharing and learning, and tie it all into Valentine’s Day. Our annual holiday event traditionally involves giving back. This year, not only are we sharing the love by making donations to the children’s literacy organization RIF, we’re also giving our customers an opportunity to join members of the izzy+ team on the ultimate learning and giving adventure—in Nicaragua! In addition to learning about another culture together, we’ll spend some time giving to others in need, through service-oriented work. It’s just one more way to bring people together to share and learn.

What are your thoughts about reframing Valentine’s Day and demonstrating Better Together in new ways? However you go about it, we’re glad you’re out there sharing the love! Happy Valentine’s Day!