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How Do Interior Designers Stay Current? An Interview with officeinsight magazine Editor-in-Chief Rob Kirkbride

The commercial interiors design industry is vibrant and ever-changing. Whether designers are creating spaces for office interiors or healthcare settings, it’s imperative they stay current with trends, insights and news. But where and how do interior designers stay current today? And what exactly are they looking for and interested in?

We reached out to officeinsight, a venerable voice of the office interiors community for more than 30 years. We wanted to get the publication’s insights (no pun intended) on what they see, and how they are evolving to meet their readers’ dynamic needs.

Edited for brevity, here is Spaulding Communications President Matt Spaulding’s conversation with officeinsight Editor-in-Chief Rob Kirkbride.

Matt:  Not to date ourselves, but you and I are from a time when print magazines were the primary medium for getting trade news and inspiration. But that’s not the world we live in now. People are now online nearly all the time it seems. And there are so many different ways for people, including designers, to find what they need. So how is officeinsight evolving to meet the needs of its readers and to compete with all the other ways designers can get what they want online today?

Rob:  As a publisher, I need to meet my readers where they are. With younger readers, they are digitally native. They are very comfortable with social media and videos and consuming content digitally. We’ve switched from a static PDF magazine format that is emailed every week to a digital flip-book, which is easier and prettier to read and allows us to embed links. We’ll soon be embedding video in each issue. We’ve come a long way in this area, but it continues to be a work in progress.

“Our readers want content that is authentic and speaks to where they’re at…. we’re adding new voices and ways for people to find value in what we’re offering them.”

I also strongly believe in giving voice to the people our readers want to hear from. We need to have more voices that resonate with our readers. They don’t necessarily need to hear from me; I’m a journalist and an editor.  That’s why we’ve added new writers like Jennifer Levinsen, a designer and Maria VanDeman, NCIDQ, IIDA, another designer and advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our readers want content that is authentic and speaks to where they’re at. I want people to engage with us, so we’re adding new voices and ways for people to find value in what we’re offering them.

Matt: What have been the results you’ve seen since you’ve made the changes to make the publication more interactive?  

Rob: A lot of the results are still relatively new. We just made some of these changes within the past year. But it’s really amazing the number of people who tell me what they like about the new changes. For example, we now offer an easy way for people to listen to an article. People have told me how important that is because it gives them the chance to listen to the article while doing something else. Maybe they’re on a train coming into the office while checking their email. Or maybe they’re on a walk. They can multitask while still getting our content.

“This is where publications get into trouble: doing the same thing over and over and not listening to their readers.”

I want to give people quality content that is easy to digest. My role is really like a conductor. I need to make sure everything comes together, and that it looks good, and feels good and is of value.  I also think it’s important to be fluid. If I hear people want more articles on wall coverings, then I’ll give them that. This is where publications get into trouble: doing the same thing over and over and not listening to their readers.

Matt:  How are you attracting the younger generation of readers and showing them the importance of your magazine?

Rob: To me, there is joy in picking up a magazine and investing time in it. I find so many things of interest that I never expected to find by reading a magazine or a newspaper. This is what I want to share and communicate with the younger generation who may not have that same experience as me. Young professionals today need to keep up with the industry; that’s their job and that’s really important. Officeinsight is the place where they can find breaking news, unique perspectives and other things that can actually help them in their professional career.

One of things we’re working on is to pare down the size of each issue and each article. We know our readers, and especially the younger ones, aren’t going to read a weekly magazine that runs 40-plus pages. We also know they’re not likely to read a 1,500-word article. So, we’re working on getting our content more streamlined and tailored to what they want.

Matt:  Every business needs to grow. How are you working to grow your readership?

Rob: I’ve spent almost the entire time I’ve been at officeinsight (about a year) working on this. We’ve grown our readership in three key ways. One, we created a partnership with INDEAL so that officeinsight is now distributed to 400 of the top furniture dealers throughout the country, and it goes to all their principles and employees; several thousand people. We also developed a partnership with IIDA. We’re really happy about this because IIDA recognized that officeinsight is a valuable resource for designers. Every new member of IIDA automatically gets a subscription to the magazine as part of their membership; it’s a value-add they can offer to their members. It’s a stamp of approval from a highly respected association.

“We are upfront and honest about our readership…I believe all publications need to be doing this and be transparent.”

The third thing we’re doing is being honest and transparent to our advertisers. We are upfront and honest about our readership. We’re not trying to be the New York Times. Our readership is at about 35,000 readers. We can give our advertisers that number and back it up. We can show who our readers are and how they are engaging with our publication. Our advertisers are asking for this information, and they deserve it. And I believe all publications need to be doing this and be transparent.  If I can tell you (an advertiser) that I have 35,000 readers and they are the people you want to be in front of, then I’m providing value to you.

I also want to encourage our advertisers to take advantage of what we can offer them. We can tell them lots of metrics, such as how much time people spend on an article, how many page views an article gets and the number of clicks on an ad. But there is so much more they can be doing to make sure they engage with our readers.

Matt:  Designers make up about 70% of your readership. What kind of content do they want? What interests and engages them?  

Rob: What they want is authority without opinion. They want someone to sort out the news of what’s happening and help them make sense of it in any easy-to-understand way, but without an axe to grind. They don’t want opinion pieces. They want “explanatory” pieces; articles that will provide some analysis while helping them understand what it actually means for them.

“My goal is to have quality journalism and quality reporting on important topics and help our readers see how it might help them do their job better.”

Of course, we’ll always have a place for new product coverage and breaking industry news.  But really, what we’re talking about are large topics that are difficult – like Work-from-Home or the future of AI. We want to inform and guide. We want to help a designer who says, “OK, I understand this, but what does it actually mean for me?” My goal is to have quality journalism and quality reporting on important topics and help our readers see how it might help them do their job better.

Matt: That sounds great, and a perfect way to end our conversation. Everyone in the industry should definitely be reading and keeping up with you and officeinsight. Thank you so much for your time!

Note:  Spaulding Communications will have more conversations with editors of industry publications. Sign up for our newsletter or check back frequently to read more articles and interviews. 

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