A friend of a friend called to ask if he could meet with me to talk about his interest in pursuing a career in interior design. This 45-year-old mortgage broker, in his words, was having a mid-life crisis and wanted to spend his time in a more creative pursuit.
Many of us are asked to advise those contemplating a career in interior design, and I often wonder how other practitioners explain our profession. I am also curious about the best way to illustrate the complexity of the profession to someone who probably doesn't yet understand it.
This gentleman spoke of recently remodeling his dining room and the elation he felt once he arrived at the perfect color palette after painting 35 color samples on the walls; and the sensual pleasure he derived from touching the shimmering Larsen silk he found for the draperies. He asked, what I thought about television's "Top Design" and this month's Elle Décor cover. Who did I think was doing outstanding design in the area and how could he work for them? How much money could he make and how much product did he have to sell to make a good living?
Based on his conversation and questions, I concluded that his idea of interior design was a business that only involved selecting wonderful products and selling them to clients. The thrill of the hunt was alluring to him. While that can be part of it for some practices, we practitioners know there is so much more.
I started by explaining that interior design was a process of creating environments to support certain behaviors. Products are one of the tools used to create the environment; however, before they are selected it is important to identify with the client the expected outcomes of the design in terms of behavior-such as increased levels of relaxation, communication, productivity or rate of healing, depending on the environment. This exercise sets in motion an approach that is commonly described as the five phases of a project. The approach is so effective for problem solving that some business schools are now modeling their instruction after this method.
Schooling, I explained, is a necessity in the field, even for entry level positions and the competition for jobs is steep. Advancing in the profession minimally involves completing an internship, passing the NCIDQ Exam, registering with the state or jurisdiction where you practice and completing continuing education courses within a prescribed time period. Professional associations like ASID are primed to help emerging practitioners through their professional development and the Association provides the largest network of professionals to mentor them.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a range of starting salaries for interior designers which appears to be lower than some other professions. The broker's notion of basing fees on product sales is a disappearing business model due to the ease of access to products. Interior designers are no longer the only gateway to exclusive products. They are educating their clients about the real service they provide, which extends far beyond supplying products, and are charging fees accordingly. Many businesses that once based fees on products are now basing them on services-or a combination of both. Other businesses are basing fees on measured results.
Because the business is project based, hours can be long when deadlines loom. And for those who own their own business, the hours can grow even longer.
I explained that his background in banking would most likely be more helpful than he imagined for several reasons: He is most likely adept at interviewing people to find out what they need; he can identify the decision maker, even if that person is not at the table; he can facilitate decision making; and he understands basic business principles which are often shortchanged in formal interior design education. In fact, having spent many years in a specific work environment makes him particularly well-suited for specializing in the interior design of financial institutions, because interior design, as first year students learn, can be applied to more than just homes.
I sent my new acquaintance away with some contacts in the interior design department at the local college, the ASID Web site address, and, I hope, a better understanding of the profession. I left reflecting about what other practitioners would have told this man. One thing is certain; every time I talk about interior design to a prospective practitioner I marvel at the capability the profession has to enthrall so many different people with a variety of interests, as well as the potential they possess to make our lives better.
ASID president Suzan Globus, FASID, is an award-winning interior designer who consults on public, educational and museum libraries. She is a principal of Globus Design Associates in Red Bank, NJ. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at www.asid.org.