ASID Update: Helping Clients Get the Picture

April 1, 2008

For designers who are struggling to convey the true value of design to their clients, help is close at hand.

By Rita Carson Guest, FASID

Stereotypes-whether positive or hurtful-are hard to overcome. They act as blinders, preventing others from seeing the whole ... even when it is right in front of them.

Although our profession has existed for more than half a century, many of our clients still cling to the stereotype of interior design as the aesthetic enhancement of rooms. Despite our best efforts to educate them, they are not likely to think of us as allies who can help them meet their business goals or attract, protect and motivate their customers and employees. They often are surprised when we ask them questions about technical requirements and their expectations of how people will behave in the space. Because their stereotype limits their ability to imagine the full scope of the services we are capable of providing, they fail to appreciate the true value we have to offer.

A good example of this mindset became evident on a project I recently completed. The clients had merged and were developing a new brand for their new company, including their offices. Coming from their own different brands, they did not know where to start. They each preferred and better understood traditional design, but they wanted something new and fresh. When I met with them to discuss the project, they suggested we start by looking at pictures in magazines to get some ideas about "the look." I suggested instead that they tell me how they wanted people to feel when they entered the space and what the space should say to them about the new business. With a better understanding of their goals and expectations, my design team was able to envision what such a space would look like in three dimensions and created a unique environment for their new brand. The clients are thrilled with the space and plan to throw multiple open house events to show it off.

Of course, our work on the project went well beyond creating a unique branded environment. We made sure that the offices would be safe and function effectively for the employees and the clients. We built in flexibility in anticipation of future growth or other organizational changes. We looked for ways to make the day-to-day operations more cost-effective. We considered issues like privacy, collegiality and communication. We considered their present and future technology needs. In short, we provided a lot of added value beyond their initial request for a new look. It is this side of our business that often gets overlooked when projects are written up for newspapers or magazines and thus remains "hidden" from potential clients.

If we want clients to understand, appreciate and pay for the real value of our design services, we need to show them the whole picture, not just the piece that makes its way into the media. Recognizing this need, ASID has developed several video case studies to help educate clients about the many ways that interior designers contribute and add value to commercial environments. One case study takes the viewer through the different phases of a project-showing how the interior designer adds value at each step of the design process. Another explains the ways that designers help protect the health, safety and welfare of occupants, using an award-winning high school project as a benchmark. A third study features testimony from clients about the unexpected value they received from designers who went well beyond their expectations by thinking strategically about how design could contribute to the clients' business needs. Each video is approximately five to six minutes long and provides a variety of perspectives about the value of the design.

The case studies can be viewed on the ASID Web site. You may find them valuable marketing tools to help you break through the blinders that clients bring to your presentations. Use them to open their eyes to the many facets of professional design-so that they have a fuller appreciation of the services you can offer them and the outcomes you can achieve. Allow them to experience your value, and they will come to value your experience.

ASID president Rita Carson Guest, FASID, is an award-winning interior designer and longtime advocate for the interior design profession. She is president and design director of Carson Guest, a law office and corporate design firm in Atlanta, GA. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at

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