We may look back a few years from now and remember 2015 as the tipping point when virtual interior design went mainstream. Dozens of new services came online in the last year, and many designers are now integrating virtual design into their traditional practice to meet client demand.
It’s one more example of the profound changes taking place in our industry. Mobile technology, changing lifestyles and consumer attitudes, and the cyber economy are transforming how people buy and use services. Interior design is no exception.
1) Clients take control
Increasingly clients are wresting the project leader role from the designer. Not only are they doing their own product research, shopping online and sometimes creating their own preliminary layouts using design software, they are now also basically dictating terms and conditions, telling designers what they’ll pay for services and how they will pay. Fees have become a major area of contention. Clients are negotiating hard these days, looking to lock down costs as much as possible. They are asking for flat fees or to restrict the number of hours a designer can charge to complete a project. With so many online providers offering package deals, is it any wonder clients perceive design as a turnkey operation? Designers are going to have to work twice as hard to demonstrate their value and find creative ways to protect their margins.
Two trends were born of the post-recession economy: minimalist consumption and the sharing economy. This along with the vast amount of free information available on the Internet have created a perfect storm for DIY decorating and design. Millennials especially aren’t willing to spend as much these days on housing or in many cases are renting and buying from IKEA. They are not looking for the quality that other generations are interested in. Having created the sharing economy that gave rise to AirBnb, Uber and Lyft, they also have a different attitude toward consumption and ownership. Many clients are living in urban environments in smaller spaces, so they have no need for a lot of furniture or accessories. They do, however, value good design along with the experience and expertise designers can provide. In most cases, they are not interested in or able to pay for full design services. Instead, they want to engage designers as consultants or curators of the best products. I suggest that forward-thinking designers devise a model for some form of micropayment that makes it easy for them and the client to purchase time to request some advice or sourcing leads.
3) Cyber Payments
Some designers are already using mobile payment services like Square to process client credit card payments. I expect it will not be long before clients will want to use cyber services like Apple Pay or Google Wallet that don’t involve a physical credit card or other form of payment. From paying for their morning coffee to purchasing airline tickets, many consumers prefer to swipe their smart phones in lieu of cash or credit cards. Designers need to become knowledgeable about these new forms of payment.
4) Cloud design
As more and more business and communication occurs in the Cloud, new types of connectivity and synergies are possible. This year, DesignersAxis, a new service from the creators of Studio Webware and Studio IT, proposes to take the custom purchasing process from the design concept all the way through managing the purchasing process and communicating directly with the vendor and the designer, thereby streamlining a once onerous process. This is just one more logical and inevitable step in the consolidation we see going on throughout the industry.
5) Back Office Outsourcing
Managing the back office is very time consuming and costly, and many firms are struggling to streamline the process in a messy industry. There are good software programs available, but they are expensive for smaller firms and require a considerable learning curve. This is a function ripe for a niche business. I think we will see firms choosing to outsource back office management to specialized providers. As nearly all records, documents and payments are in digital format now anyway, outsourcing is more manageable now than in the past.
How are designers to survive and thrive in the midst of all this change? I think it is about tailoring your services to your ideal client profile and getting your marketing message aligned with what the client wants and is willing to pay for. Set your own limits for fees and profitability, and then be willing to give up a bit of control for the sake of a better client experience.
Are you a designer? Join the conversation!
Gail is one of Designers Today's most prominent contributors - focusing specifically on the business side of interior design.