ASID Update: What is Good Interior Design Worth to the Bottom Line?

Oct. 1, 2007
The easier A&D professionals are able to articulate the true value of their services, they easier they will be able to justify appropriate compensation.

By Rita Carson Guest, FASID 

Most interior designers I know would agree that, compared with many other professional services, interior design is under-valued in today's market. Many clients regard design services as a commodity to be bought at the best price; not as value-added professional services where the true value lies in the talent, knowledge and experience of the professional hired to deliver them. I believe the key to receiving fees equal to the true value of our interior design services is educating our clients about the bottom line benefits we provide.

To start with, examine how you are currently marketing your design services. Do you promise a good price or value-added benefits? Do you discuss time and materials, or do you provide special insights to clients who look at the world through a different lens than designers do and help them see the connection between good design and their business objectives?

Design and the design process are among the hottest topics in business today. Leading universities are teaching "design thinking" in their MBA programs. Design thinking includes curiosity and multi-dimensional thinking with an
end-user focus. Design thinking allows room for "wild ideas," which often lead to the most creative solutions for difficult challenges. Design thinking is always linked to an improved future. Critical thinking, the typical method of study in many business programs, is a process of analysis that relies upon the "breaking down" of ideas. The creative process is formed around the "building up" of ideas. Linear, analytic thinking often does not lead to the creative or innovative solutions that make design thinking a highly sought-after competency in rapidly changing industries.

Good interior designers, as we know, use design thinking to transform existing spaces into inspired environments and better places for clients to live, work, learn, heal and play. We need to help our clients see that what we do is what they are trying to do in their own businesses.

  • Designers translate business leaders' visions into three-dimensional marketing statements that increase the success of their companies.
  • Designers produce environments that help employees work more efficiently, safely and productively, while helping clients solve business challenges.
  • Designers create beautiful, functional and creative spaces that help attract and retain talented people.
  • Designers take their clients' ideas, expressed in business terms and needs, and create spaces that help them realize their aspirations. They give them form and make them reality. More often than not, our clients could not envision these solutions on their own.

During programming exercises for the design of a new office facility, I conducted focus groups of all departments in a large corporation, and one employee told me that he was thrilled to get the opportunity to interview with this company, and then his heart sank when he walked in the door. The image of the space did not fit his idea of the business, and he almost walked out. He could not believe the corporate offices were so different from the successful brand he knew. Ultimately, he did accept the job and was part of the team to help us, as designers, understand the functional needs of the space as well as the brand image of the business. The new environment we designed supported both. I'm happy to say that the employees now feel better about themselves and about coming to work everyday. The corporation continues to grow, and profits are at an all-time high. How much of the success of the business is related to the new environment? If we only had a formula to assess the value that the newly designed space brings to the business bottom line, we could all sell our services differently.

A survey conducted by ASID indicated that 41 percent of employees base their decision to accept a position based upon the physical workspace-second only to pay. The study also revealed that 51 percent of the respondents indicated that the physical workplace would impact their decision to leave.

Well-design offices can lead to:

  • Easier recruitment
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced turnover
  • Improved morale and customer service
  • Higher productivity
  • Increased profit

We also need qualitative methods to evaluate people's experiences within interior spaces as part of the measure of their value. What is it worth to learn, work, convalesce or play in a space that supports, inspires, transforms, delights and heals?

Within interior design research, we need to explore the occupant side of design. Human beings spend 90 percent of their lives indoors. We need to develop means and methods to measure how an interior space affects the people in it. Various studies have shown:

  • Well-designed retail stores can increase sales by more than 300 percent.
  • Well-designed hospital rooms can reduce patients' recovery time.
  • Well-designed schools help students learn.
  • Well-designed homes support and nurture the inhabitants — physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Designers are some of the hardest working people I've known. They work with passion to transform interior environments into better places. Designers should be well compensated for the value they deliver.

Most of you have probably experienced a client who has questioned how your work added value to his/her business. The American Society of Interior Designers is committed to showing the value of interior design to all. The Society invites you to join them in building the body of work that defines our contribution. E-mail your stories to [email protected] and work with ASID to collect the body of evidence to prove the true value of our work.

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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