Describing interior design as a profession presents its defining paradox: On one hand, it is the absolute self expression of an artist. On the other, it is the unwavering deliverance of client service. Successful interior designers are those who develop a tried-and-true formula to solve this challenging equation and achieve equilibrium. This article will outline how an interior designer can determine their clients’ stylistic expectations and deliver a final result that doesn’t compromise the designer’s signature aesthetic.
Brand integrity is a cornerstone of a successful interior design business. Developing a signature style is a large part of building a brand, and you’ll want to apply that vision to every project you’re working on, while simultaneously incorporating the client’s taste and desires. This will be impossible if a designer has a drastically different vision from what their clients are envisioning.
For this reason, designers should determine a prospective client’s style at the first meeting, before either party decides to move forward. Of course, a client and designer will rarely have the exact same vision to begin with, and working with clients who have a different style is to be expected, especially at the beginning of one’s interior design career. But it is important to make these discoveries at the beginning of the design process so that all parties can establish clear communication and a plan for addressing all expectations.
Suss Out Your Clients’ Style
How does a designer suss out their clients’ taste? One method is to bring a design exercise to the first meeting, such as this:
- Assemble images that represent three fundamentally different styles, one of which represents your signature aesthetic.
- Ask the clients to choose which they like the most.
- Encourage a discussion around their answer to understand why they like that style, and what in particular they are gravitating towards in the favored image.
- If the client does not choose the image depicting your aesthetic as their favorite, ask them what they think of that image and what they like and don’t like about it.
It helps if you can bring a laptop or iPad to the meeting and come prepared with ideas that ultimately represent your signature aesthetic, but can lend themselves to the other styles you have shown them. For example, let’s say your signature style is modern/eclectic, but your prospective client has gravitated towards an image in this exercise that represents a traditional style. And say the client particularly likes the floral print sofa. Be prepared to call up an image of a pattern-print sofa that matches your style, so you can get your client’s reaction. Also, if color schemes are a dominant part of your design aesthetic, bring color palettes and see which your client gravitates towards – for example, bold primary colors versus neutrals.
By the end of the first meeting with the prospective client, the designer must be confident that the clients’ expectations can be met without discarding the designer’s signature aesthetic. Of course, compromise is a normal part of the design process, but the key to maintaining brand integrity is to find the individual components that the clients love, but that can also come together to represent an extension of the designer’s signature aesthetic. If there truly is no common ground, there is no reason for either the designer or the client to move forward together. Either the client will be unhappy, which stymies the ever-important flow of referrals, or the designer will be unhappy, left with a project that does not fit into his or her portfolio.
Stay on the Same Page
As an interior designer, if you choose to move forward with clients who gravitate toward a style that is different from your own, it is imperative that you do not take liberties in the design process. You’ll need to get their buy-in every step of the way, meaning, before the client sees a specific item on a proposal, you should have already discussed and secured their enthusiasm.
How can you get a client excited about a piece that doesn't fit their initial stylistic expectations? One way to avoid having to cajole and convince your clients about every individual piece is to present your ideas as a whole. Show how all of the individual components work together.
Meeting in person is helpful when working with clients who are not starting the project as your devoted design disciples. You can explain in your own words how the composition works as an interpretation of their initial stylistic vision. Showing your clients photo-realistic renderings, and even bringing 3-D models on a laptop or iPad to explore together can go a long way in helping clients visualize how the designs will actually work in their space. Before these meetings, know what you as the designer are willing to change about your proposal, and what you must defend as integral to your signature aesthetic. Bringing along inspiration images that show how your proposed design conventions work in other spaces can also help quell clients’ nervous ambivalence.
When communicating with clients, it’s always a good idea to be as clear and precise as possible. Present them with proposals, budgets, and invoices that are clear and easy to read; this will help keep everyone calm and the process moving along on schedule.
Design Manager, the project management and accounting software made specifically for interior designers, is a great tool for producing professional client documents. The program pulls the data used for documents directly from the profiles that the interior design users create to manage the project, which drastically reduces the opportunity for errors on manually created proposals, budgets, or invoices. Additionally, the Design Manager documents use images for all line items, so clients can see a picture of what they are formally agreeing to purchase, reinforcing a sense of confidence on their part and providing the opportunity to make last minute changes before the process moves any further.
Becoming a successful interior designer is all about balance. A designer who knows her brand can find a way to achieve her signature aesthetic while working with clients who have different styles and tastes, as long as she can find where the expectations are aligned and build on those commonalities, while communicating clearly, instilling confidence, and building enthusiasm along the way.