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Trade Talk: 5 Tips for Designers Navigating Digital Disruption


Disruption interior design

E-commerce.  Disruption.  Transparency.  If these words scare you, you are not alone.  The interior design industry is going through a cataclysmic shift right now and the landscape as we know it will be changed forever. 

Interior design is an art.  A beautiful, creative, and passionate art that should be appreciated and celebrated.  Interior design changes how we live and work and touches us constantly throughout our day.  However, it has hardly been taken seriously as a profession and largely been cast aside as an industry.  Until now.  Until technology giants decided to shine their large, venture capital backed spotlights over the interior design business model.  They went to work breaking it down and rebuilding; over and over again until the model was unrecognizable, yet efficient.  But efficient to who?  The end consumer or the designer?   Previously, designers worked with their clients for months, but now that process has been boiled down to just a few hours online. 


The comfort of knowing you, as an interior designer, had the only access to rare product is gone.  You can buy and sell all things on the internet now, even large, hard-to-ship, high-end furniture.  Yes, even that category, which interior designers had previously thought was untouchable by Silicon Valley.


The wave is coming and can't be stopped...Amazon, Wayfair, Houzz, Restoration Hardware, etc.  Marketplace after marketplace popping up everyday.  They are coming for your clients' furniture purchases and they are coming hard.  With $77.95B worth of products specified annually by interior designers, according to the 2017 Universe Study of the Interior Design Profession; they see big opportunity.


Here's the reality though, you don't have to be pushed out of the profession you love.  You are a smart, business-savvy interior designer who has tackled working in a complex industry and turned a profit in one of the most complicated business models to date.  Use your confidence, follow these 5 tips, and you will thrive in the new interior design landscape.

  1. Get on-board. 

    From marketplaces to e-design services to virtual reality, everywhere you look you will find interior design becoming more digital.  You need to welcome it with open arms and find places for the different technologies in your business.  Whether you use virtual reality to show your designs to your clients or decrease your sourcing time by using a great marketplace, examine where these tools fit best and start developing an implementation strategy.  

  2. Strengthen your strengths.

    Whatever your differentiators are, build on them!  It's more important in the digital world to define your target audience and spend time honing your strengths then it is to spend time trying to fix your weaknesses. The qualities that have set you apart in the past will continue to lead you through disruption and beyond.  The digital world is an overload of information and you need to stand out.  For example, if you are great at pulling everything together and providing seamless service, hone those skills and then promote them properly.

  3. Knowledge is power.

    Just like your visibility in the interior design world comes from a good story, the products that you present to your clients all have back stories as well.  Some great examples are Maiden Home, Consort, Elegant Mosaics and there are so many more.  Geek out about the new lines, new collections, new brands, and new materials.  Stay up all night reading and diving into their stories, what their differentiators are and why they exist.  Visit markets, dig into podcasts, and travel to stay inspired and informed because the best way to communicate value to your clients is through stories.

  4. Be an educator.

    Quality products with good stories will rise to the top and it is your job to no longer view yourself only as a designer, but also an educator.  Consumers are bombarded with information overload and it's your job to navigate them through the sea of information.  Opening their eyes to quality product that is affordable, sustainable, and of course beautiful will demonstrate your value.  More than ever they need experts to save them time, money, and stress. 

  5. Innovate. 

    There are so many new avenues available to reinvent your design firm and adapt to the digital disruption within the industry.  Think outside the box and build your brand as a blogger, social media personality, or podcaster.  If that isn't who you are, consider a new design niche.  Some segments of the market will go away, but other segments will emerge as design continues to go digital.  VRBO and AirBnB are perfect examples of this where designers can work with property owners or management companies to create new revenue streams for their businesses.  

In my 11 years at Design Manager, I have dedicated my time to listening to interior designers.  I have learned everything from how they set up their businesses, to how they bill, to how they struggle to find the balance between creative thinking and the bottom line.  What I want above anything else is for designers to run wildly successful companies where they are able to focus on their creativity while technology takes care of the rest.  

Please keep the conversation going in the comments below and share your thoughts on disruption in the design industry.

Lindsay Paoli
Lindsay Paoli
Lindsay is in charge of the Sales and Marketing team at Design Manager and has enjoyed growing the DM company for the past 10 years. In her spare time though, you can find her taking care of her two adorably demanding little rugrats, traveling, enjoying new restaurants or cheering on her beloved Philadelphia sports teams with her friends and family.

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