contributed by Laura C. Busse, KYCID, IIDA [interior designer / color enthusiast / recycling nut]
Question: What do the following have in common: professionalism, communication, products, clients, marketing, critical thinking, human and material resource management, mission statements, problem solving, and integration of perspectives” Answer: All are found in the dual universes of the business and design worlds. With a few minor alterations, the job description for an interior designer could easily be interpreted as one of numerous other careers, including that of a business professional.
I took a brief detour in business en route to my design career. Many an inquisitive glance is thrust in my direction when I inform people about my brief stint in accounting. After acquiring a four-year accounting degree and working two summers in payroll, I decided to pursue what I deemed to be my passion. Fast forward – through four years of design education and five years as a practicing designer – to the present. I have been surprised by how many business skills and courses from my first life in accounting have assisted me in my chosen career.
Design: Interdisciplinary By Nature
Most design students are unaware of the true nature of career in interior design until after graduation. While the skills secured in design programs are meaningful, applicable, and albeit required for graduation, the real world requires a far more well-rounded graduate. In my daily routine, I utilize spreadsheets, draft letters, prepare budgets, make presentations, and evaluate product options against one another. The role of the designer is ever changing. With new technology, new ways of working, and a greater understanding and appreciation of design from the public, it is less rigid.
Interiors created by design professionals contribute to a company’s ability to be successful. The physical relationships and spatial layout, coupled with a solid understanding of an organization’s mission statement, are integral to the function of a company. Beware! No matter how the creative the concept, an improperly managed project or unrealistic timeline usually leads to an unhappy client. And nobody wants that.
Two Worlds: Design Professional As Business Professional
Designers work within the framework of the business world. Clients are more educated than ever about the solutions we provide them. As designers, we should be more educated as well. The 21st century designer is capable of providing further service rather than basic design expertise. Design is more than just a creative venture. Business expertise adds value to the client and the project, while business savvy adds to the bottom line.
There is the commodity of design… whereby the designer produces a determined, tangible design solution. The less often expressed aspect of design is the context of each project. Becoming increasingly important is how the designer sets the parameters for the project, manages all of the parts and pieces, and finally meets the expectations of the client.
If you want concise, straightforward facts about interior design, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information about the profession as well as lots of other useful tidbits such as average wage rates and cities with the highest earnings and most number of designers per capita.
Design Education Should Not Occur In A Vacuum
The nature of the interior design profession requires lifelong continuous education – and not just to meet the possible requirements of your state legislation or professional organization. Learning occurs in less formal ways every day. The global economy and informational fast track on the Web influences the trends we see here in the U.S., and the lag time from Europe is definitely shorter than it was 10 to 15 years ago. While an interior designer does not need to be an expert in economics, technology, or global competition, awareness is critical. The benefit of broadening one’s academic horizons translates to more than just being able to carry on a conversation at a cocktail party.
Interior design is a multi-faceted profession that relies heavily on the yin and yang of creative, free-flowing thought and technical, tedious details to produce the perfect solution. The blurring of professions creates opportunities in design that did not exist even five years ago. Today, an interior designer with good business skills may act as a strategic consultant, a project manager for a large corporation, a brand consultant, or an environmental expert, as noted in some of the business cards I picked up from last year’s NeoCon tradeshow and conference in Chicago.
Breaking It Down
Designers wear many hats. One of those includes sales. A designer must understand effective sales and the sales tools and apply this knowledge constantly. A successful marketing executive should be able to communicate effectively, coordinate with a team, guide the client by instilling confidence, and be a leader when necessary. But guess what” All of these skills are pertinent to an interior design professional as well.
Excellent communication is required to achieve success in the design world. User groups (employees, executives, clients) vary tremendously – one size does not fit all. The presentation you make to the board of directors differs from the synopsis you might give a mailroom employee. Know your client! The ability to make a fluid presentation and articulate a response to clients’ needs and wants will distinguish the average designer from the true professional. Furthermore, professional writing not only is a must for formal proposals, but is also important for everyday emails. It is okay to have questions about when to use ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ or how to avoid passive voice. Just remember the client is evaluating the designer or the firm in every communication set forth.
Most professional fields require critical thinking skills or decision-making abilities. Reading a case study about business success is very similar to case studies about design success. Organizational hierarchies exist in both the design and business universes. A professional must straddle these often not-so-obvious levels.
BUSINESS + Design = Success
Utilizing an interior designer should be part of a successful business plan. An interior designer’s knowledge of an organization’s mission and purpose is critical for the interior designer to properly research, analyze, and integrate the mission into a finalized result that fulfills the client’s needs.
Interior design is problem solving. Given a set of parameters, how can one best serve the client and conjure up a solution that integrates brand, image, strategies, and goals all in a clearly defined package” The final design solution package should be able to be interpreted by more than the company CEO or board of directors. The true test of the finalized solution: Can the delivery guy asking for a signature on your package understand what the organization is all about in the 60 seconds or less when he steps foot inside”
Last month, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University and Ferris’ College of Business partnered to create the first Master of Business Administration degree in the U.S. with a concentration in Design and Innovation Management. The program was created to produce MBA students who have a greater awareness of design and its role within the world around them. What is required for today’s professional work force is an interdisciplinary approach that includes human and material resource management issues, environmental and social responsibilities, and legal and ethical issues. This kind of collaboration hopefully leads to innovation.
DESIGN + Business = Success
The business world acknowledges the need for design. Should design education acknowledge the need for business concepts” Business professionals are increasingly required to be both creative and innovative. Should not design do the same” Let us create design professionals with business savvy.
In the real world, there are multiple perspectives and personality conflicts. Some days a designer might have to conjure up a solution with very few resources, plan around a really awkward column, or encounter a client who loves only shamrock green. You get the idea! Appreciating another point of view, being able to follow a plan, lead a team, resolve a dispute, or persuade the group to adopt an idea are all integral parts of the design process and business process.
Upon reflection – and a sticky pad full of note-jotting – I have concluded that my business education has supported my growth and success as a design professional just as much, if not more so, than my design education. There are so many skill sets common to both fields:
DESIGN & CREATIVITY: Conceptualizing, problem solving, and marketing.
GENERAL BUSINESS: Evaluating products and materials, making comparisons, performing punch lists and inspections, resolving ethical dilemmas, and acquiring technical computer skills such as Excel, Power Point, and database management systems.
ACCOUNTING: Fee tracking, record keeping, bidding, budgeting, and cost estimating.
PUBLIC INTERACTION: Communicating, presenting, marketing, and branding.
MANAGEMENT: Coordinating projects, supervising employees, understanding assets and liabilities, making thoughtful decisions, and saving the firm (and clients) money.
Meeting Of The Minds
The need for crossover, multi-disciplinary skills is more evident than ever. Interestingly enough, according to the Bureau, a design professional must “formulate design which is practical, aesthetic, and conducive to intended purposes, such as raising productivity, selling merchandise, or improving life style." Even the Bureau acknowledges that the interior design profession is more than being knowledgeable about color, texture, and form. While some intangibles come with age and experience, there are plenty of skills from a university business syllabus that benefit an interior designer.
The design professional and the business professional have one other major source of common ground: they both exist on the strength of client relationships. In joining my two courses of study, my experience and knowledge base for the client is broader. The end result or design solution is most certainly enhanced.
Many students want to study interior design because of the creative nature of the profession, but the most successful designers are not afraid to embrace the left side of their brain along with the right side. Design sense and business sense should not be on opposite sides of the spectrum.