Manufacturers: Want access to exclusive, industry-specific market research?  Learn More →

As a manufacturer, have you ever struggled to connect with the architecture and design community? Is it hard for your sales reps to get their foot in the door for an appointment (especially when selling in a hybrid or virtual world)? Do you want to set or reinforce your thought-leadership position in the marketplace? Are you looking for fresh ways to grow your brand or product awareness on a limited budget?

Cue the commercial interior design CEU.

It’s an ideal way for manufacturers to connect with their A∓D audience. And not just connect – leave a lasting impression with a captivated audience. You could connect at a tradeshow – whoops… they already lost your business card and forgot what floor your showroom was on. You could email them your latest product intro. Oh wait, it went to junk mail.

A CEU, on the other hand, is an accredited 1-hour presentation on a super relevant topic to them, with a great story, compelling visuals, and an amazing presenter to bring it to life – which means you’ve got their full attention, and they’re not likely to forget you after that.

But how do you create an effective CEU that is compelling for architects and designers?

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about developing stand-out CEUs:

  1. What is a CEU and Who are They for
  2. Why Should Manufacturers Invest in CEU Development
  3. The 5 Key Things Every Interior Design CEU needs
  4. How to Develop a Compelling CEU for Architects and Designers
  5. How to Deliver Your Interior Design CEU
  6. How to Promote Your CEU to Architects and Designers
  7. Interior Design CEU Resources

TL;DR | More of a cliffs notes person? The big idea here is this:

Why CEUs Matter to A&D? Keeps them at the top of their design game and in good standing as legally practicing designers and/or with their trade organizations

Why CEUs Matter to Manufacturers? 1 hour of undivided attention in an era when many manufacturers can’t get 15-minutes of face time, on a topic of interest to architects and designers that reinforces your brand’s thought leadership position, and the ability to raise the questions for which your product becomes their natural solution

1. What is a CEU and Who are They for?

The basic overview:

CEU is an acronym for continuing education unit. CEUs were invented by a national task force commissioned by the Department of Education in 1968 (Source: Thoughtco) and serve as a measure used to assist professionals in maintaining their professional license or standing in various organizations.

CEUs are required in many fields, two of which are architecture and design. (Source: Wikipedia)

The basic idea is that you don’t want a doctor operating on you who last honed his skill back in 1985. You want someone who is keeping up on the latest and greatest in their profession, and the CEU becomes one way to help A&D professionals do just that. Think of it as lifelong learning in fields that require its professionals to evolve with the times – and architecture and design are two industries that should constantly be evolving, right? Right.

How are credits calculated? Credits are calculated by clock hours.

1 CEU credit = 60 minutes or 1 hour
1.5 CEU= 90 minutes or 1 and one-half clock hours

So when architects and designers attend 1, 1hr presentation, they earn 1 credit, and need to attend a total of 10, 1 hour presentations to get to 10 hours total, the equivalent of 1 CEU. They are also limited to earning 8 credits per day (we call that the procrastinator clause). (Source: IDCEC)

How many CEUs do designers need to attend per year? Well, it varies by state as well as professional organization. Architects need to keep up their requirements through AIA and designers need to renew theirs by CIDQ (The Council for Interior Design Qualification), which is how they keep up their professional NCIDQ certification, as well as any professional organizations they may choose to participate in, three of the most popular being AIA (The American Institute of Architects), ASID (The American Society of Interior Designers) or IIDA (The International Interior Design Association). Other associations who require continuing education include GBCI, IWBI, NKBA, IDC, and many more.

That said, to put the numbers in some perspective AIA requires 18 hours per year, ASID and IIDA require 10 every 2 years, and NCIDQ requires 6 every 2 years.

Who accredits the CEU? CEUs are approved or denied by an independent 3rd party organization, such as IDCEC, AIA, or GBCI.

Not all CEUs are created equal: While any credit is a good one to give, there are extra designations, like IDCEC’s Health, Safety, and Welfare (HSW) that don’t offer more credits but mean that 75% of the CEU topic covers protection of the public and environment that are more helpful, than say, a CEU on color trends. For that reason, some organizations require that a certain portion of each member’s CEU credits have that designation.

For AIA, that number is 12 out of 18 meaning you’re more likely to get an architect to attend your CEU if it contains the HSW designation, and if it doesn’t, the topic better be pretty compelling to them in some other way.

How is a CEU delivered? Traditionally in a 1hour presentation, done in PowerPoint or other presentation software, with sources cited, bibliography included, and interactive participation with the audience allowed but not required. That said, there are other options as well including a panel discussion, on-demand video, or on-demand print as well.

Who can deliver CEUs? Not just anybody with a good idea, computer, and their best intentions. Presentations need to be accredited through various boards, such as IDCEC or AIA in our industry. Presenters (commonly called Instructors) also need to apply, be vetted and approved. Whoever wants to host their CEU needs to register as a provider with their selected organizations (which are most commonly IDCEC and AIA).

Where can Architects and Designers find CEUs they want to attend?
Outside of manufacturer sales reps who often promote CEU topics directly to the A&D firms they service, there are many ways for architects and designers to browse on their own.

The most popular places to browse and register for CEUs are websites of the organizations who help accredit and promote them. IDCEC has a calendar of events and course search (including the ability for A&D to view the top 10 CEUs taken), AEC Daily, AIAU, and more! The best way to start – google. You thought it would be harder, didn’t you?

How long does a CEU last? CEUs have a two-year shelf life, at which point they can be refreshed and resubmitted with an updated bibliography for approval again, if the topic is still relevant to the audience or your brand objectives.

2. Why Should Manufacturers Invest in CEU Development?

Simply put, architects and designers are busy and CEUs help you reach them.

  • Don’t call on A&D directly?
  • Wondering about who matters most in the decision-making ecosystem today?
  • Not sure where to focus your efforts, or if you should refocus them?

Here’s why you should care about A&D:

The average designer has 26x as much specification power as the average American has buying power. That number can be up to 111x for Interior Design Giants of Design specifiers. (Source: 2020 U.S. Design Industry Hot Market Growth Report) so even if you aren’t directly calling on those in the A&D community, they are the trend influencers that drive direction for product design.

And they’re busy (we’ll say it again). Time is money and they’re protective of it. So, it’s hard to get an audience with them without giving them something they want before trying to get something you want from them.

A&D Specifying Power

Be a giver. Many firms might not open the doors to see your latest light fixture (sorry), but they will let you in for a CEU.

So if you can give the A&D community your time on a topic they care about, for credits they need, in a way that captures their attention and thirst for industry knowledge, what you’ll get in return is a loyal group of specifiers who turn to you when they need something and want to reach out to someone they respect, trust as a credible source, and find inspiring.

 

Why are CEUs a great tool for manufacturers?

  1. CEUs position your brand as an expert in whatever subject matter you are presenting.
    • Are you a thought-leader on a specific topic pertinent to your brand?
    • Do you have cutting edge technology or materials, or are you known for your niche custom business in a specific vertical market?
    • Do you have the market cornered on ________________?

  2. Recent ThinkLab research confirms that CEUs continue to be at the top of what designers say they like to consume virtually in this post-lockdown world.

  3. ThinkLab’s efforts to measure appetite for sales connections in this digital world revealed 47% of designers surveyed say their consumption of CEUs is still increasing.
Designer CEU Preferences

3. The 5 Key Things Every Interior Design CEU Needs

  • An uber compelling topic: 101 ways to upgrade a building’s HVAC system is a surefire way to never get an audience. Designers are design-y by nature. They love art history, trends, future-state anything, business topics that help them market, communicate, and network smarter, and help with the hard stuff, like understanding the differences between types of solid surfaces in a way that doesn’t bore them to death.

  • Captivating storytelling + visuals: no design professional wants to sit through black text on a white background. If it looks like anyone could do it or your images are from 1992, they’ll doze off. And if you’re not poised and ready to speak design, don’t try to fake it (cue an instant loss of credibility). Go get your best storyteller and bring it!

  • Easy to navigate presentation method: Don’t talk in circles. You’ll lose them. An hour is a long time to talk about anything, so organize your presentation both in script as well as visuals to help people know what part of the presentation is done, and how much longer they have until the end.

  • Accreditation: Your CEU is only as good as the organization who says so. Get on websites like IDCEC and AIA to learn the ins and outs of what your CEU needs to do to get approved. Need somewhere to start? Here is IDCEC’s Training Manual and FAQ that help a lot.

  • Return on investment: The most successful CEUs raise the questions for which your product becomes the natural solution. While you can’t sell your product directly in a CEU, when done right, you pitch your product at the end, and walk away with leads you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to make possible

That said – the CEU is not your silver bullet. It’s the springboard that leads to stronger relationships, deeper conversations, and more credibility. So, the critical point in capitalizing on your ROI is to think proactively about how to continue to leverage the topic and your relationships once the presentation is complete.

A great example of that is to have a 10-minute sizzle reel presentation of your latest product introduction, some of your best brochures, a white paper on the topic, a product off to the side ready to introduce that fits with the theme of your CEU. While you can’t sell during the CEU, you can sell after it’s done – so don’t lose the opportunity to take it a few steps further.

4. How to develop a CEU for Architects and Designers

Option 1: DIY it

Rules for development:

  1. You cannot ‘sell’ in a CEU. We just said it but it’s worth repeating because this is a place manufacturers get tripped up. If you have a great height adjustable table to promote, your subject could be “Why Movement in the Workplace Matters”, and you could include height adjustability in your story, but this is not a 1-hour product pitch. You can pitch your product after the CEU presentation is complete.

  2. You must have at least 4 learning objectives.These must be worded properly and have proper learning objective verbs such as understand, identify, define, recognize.

    Ex: Attendees will understand the rich heritage of Scandinavian design and identify its leading influencers.

  3. You must include a full script, bibliography, and outline for submission. Script the story in the notes section of the PowerPoint, go channel your APA or MLA skills and write what you never thought you’d need again – a bibliography, and develop an outline, which breaks down each topic in 15-minute increments to give the review committee an idea about the flow at a glance.

  4. Your research sources (primary or secondary) must be reliable and cited. The more bias you include, the trickier it becomes. Your own whitepaper on a topic that directly ties to your bottom line isn’t going to cut it. Make sure you cite unbiased primary research (if you have it), and/or credible secondary sources.

  5. You cannot include your logo with the exception of the first and last slide. Again, you’re not there to sell, you’re there to provide industry-neutral thought leadership.

For a full list of all the rules for one of the most common accreditors (IDCEC), go here.

The pros of a DIY CEU

  • Saves money
  • Provides flexibility in content, project management, and scheduling
  • Gives sense of control over the end result
  • Allows for use of internal resources
  • Allows internal people to dive deep into the research and content throughout the development process, aiding in their ability to present the information later

The cons of a DIY CEU

  • Time consuming to develop if you’re new to the game or out of practice
  • Consumes large portion of bandwidth of internal resources who may be maxed out
  • Can fall to the bottom of the list due to competing priorities
  • Steep learning curve of the rules and accreditation process
  • Inability to fully understand what designers want to know about

Want to DIY it? Watch our on-demand digital seminar, CEU 101: The How-to Guide for Creating a CEU. This 1-hour course designed for manufacturers, independent reps and dealers will walk you through the process of creating a CEU.

Digital Seminar CEU 101: The How-To Guide for Creating a CEU

Option 2: Hire a CEU specialist to develop a personalized CEU for your brand

Let’s face it, taking the time to develop a CEU in addition to your day job can be a challenge. The research process takes time, the storytelling needs finesse, and the audience is tough to impress. Sometimes, it’s just best to call in the pros to ensure your CEU is one with infectious popularity and leads to more ROI.

A seasoned interior design CEU specialist will help you:

  • Choose a compelling topic that is engaging to the audience and relevant to your brand. Specialists live and breathe this world, they’re connected to the recipient of the content, and they know what it takes to ensure your topic is relevant and on point.
  • Fully script a rich story. The good ones even write it for you (with your input, of course). They know how to mix in just the right amount of personality to soften all the research that can otherwise feel to heavy, and weave in all the little nuggets they know the A&D community loves to hear.
  • Bring your presentation from blah to beautiful graphically. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? And even though you need the rules, you lose the audience with a lack luster presentation. Don’t go it alone. Don’t steal google images. Rely on your specialist to craft a visual message that is just as engaging as the words being delivered.
  • Eliminate the guesswork involved with the registration process. Registration is a nerve-wracking process, unless you’re one of those people who likes to comb through copious amounts of rules and regulations. Nix the learning curve with a CEU specialist and have them do it for you.
  • Cater your CEU to your preferred delivery method. In person, virtual, or on demand, a specialist understands how to curate the best result depending on the delivery method, or in some cases, methods.
  • Help you promote and host your CEU to gain a bigger audience. Sometimes, you can’t afford to send someone around the country delivering one-off presentations and need to cast a wider net or bring people to you. Specialists are well connected in A&D world and you can lean on their expertise when it’s time to find a crowd.

The pros of a SPECIALIST-LED CEU

  • You are partnering with an expert in this niche realm
  • You are guaranteed to be on the right track and don’t have to worry about getting to the end only to find your CEU denied
  • You save internal resources and time
  • You have industry-neutral perspective to help guide your decision making
  • You have confidence that your end-result will appeal to your A&D audience
Source International Quote

The cons of a SPECIALIST-LED CEU

  • You give up some control, even though you still have final say
  • It requires more trust in the process
  • You save internal resources and time
  • 11th hour changes in direction might not be as easy to pull off with an external partner
  • You may not know where to find the right partner. Not all specialists are created equal

5. How to Deliver Your CEU

There are 3 ways you can deliver a CEU:

  1. In-person instruction in front of an audience with your presentation on a screen and interactive portions (break-out groups, live role play, etc.) encouraged but not required. Typically scheduled by a local rep, who is often in attendance but not always the presenter unless they know how to speak design.

    Tips to make these shine: Bring lunch or do them over happy hour. Include an icebreaker. Get people talking! Make sure you have a Rockstar presenter.
  2. Virtual presented live via Zoom with participation and feedback generated through the online chat function.

    Tips to make these shine: Activate that chat so people stay engaged. Embed video into the presentation. Co-present to keep the energy high.
  3. On Demand in one of two ways, either recorded and uploaded to an industry website where participants consume it on their own time or produced as an article that you can read and take a quiz to obtain credit.

    Tips to make these shine:

    On Demand Video The most compelling content, visual interest, and presenter with one of those James Earl Jones voices. With no interaction in these presentations your other elements need to work even harder to keep participants engaged.

    On Demand Print Equally compelling content, visual interest, and a writing tone that makes people want to read on, not doze off.
  4. Panel Style Grab the best and brightest minds on a hot industry topic and host a discussion. The back-and-forth dialogue and mix of industry voices really helps bring different points-of-view to the conversation.

    Tips to make these shine: A dynamic mix of panelists who have been well prepped and a practice round prior to the conversation.

We asked designers (because we’re researchers after all)…what makes the best CEUs so great? Here’s what they had to say.

what makes the best CEUs so great

6. How to Promote Your CEU to Architects and Designers

You can promote your CEU in a variety of places. Your social media channels are a great place to start. Dedicated e-blasts to design firms work well too. As mentioned, there are also a lot of websites that can promote or host on-demand CEUs for you too. (Refer to section 01 for resources)

One of the most highly recommended ways to market your CEU is to partner with associations and professional organizations on local or national events.

Some organizations, like ThinkLab, also have the opportunity for wide, targeted promotion across SANDOW media sites such as Interior Design and Metropolis and can help curate a broad audience or even host your event.

Why you should consider partnering with a trusted industry organization:

  • You cast a wider net than you would using your channels alone. The beauty of partnership is leveraging other networks to capture more attention.
  • You grow brand awareness. Engaging other audiences increases your chances of attracting new architects and designers to your brand, thought-leadership positions, and ultimately your products.
  • You get the right audience. By finding a trusted 3rd party partner to help promote your CEU, you increase your chances to be where your most heavy-hitting clients are. It does you little good to present a CEU about education trends to a group of corporate-focused designers, so a 3rd party firm who know the industry well will help guide you to the specifiers most hungry for the CEU content you deliver.

We think it’s best to have a multi-faceted approach. There may be strategic times where a large event makes sense, and there are other times when presenting to an intimate group of heavy-hitting specifiers makes more sense. This isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. Experiment and see what works best for you.

7. CEU Resources

To Wrap Things Up

As a manufacturer, it’s never been a more important time to engage with the specifiers who have the greatest ability to widely promote your brand – and that’s the architecture and design community.

Their world is changing rapidly as they navigate hybrid work and virtual client meetings and miss the in-person learning that came from serendipitous interactions in the office. And while some of that is coming back in various forms, you have the ability to bring thought-leadership, inspiration, and learning to them that helps them do their jobs…better. And that is what they appreciate.

Remember, we said – be a giver and you’ll get. There’s something in this for you too. And having walked in the shoes of both designers at firms and sales reps knocking on doors trying to get an audience, we can confidently attest to the power a compelling CEU will have as your lead in to deep, rich industry connections and brand awareness.

Want to learn more about partnering with ThinkLab on CEU development? We’d love to chat.

What does a ThinkLab CEU include? Let’s find out.

10 Best Practices for Delivering a Virtual CEU