I was lucky enough to visit London Design Week 2012 and attended a professional practice seminar called ‘Trade Secrets – The Lightbulb Moment’. It was a debate with three prominent interior designers, Monika Apponyi, Martin Hulbert and Suzy Hoodless, in discussion with Sarah Stewart-Smith about running a successful design business.
I was really looking forward to this talk, as I was intrigued to see if what I have learnt so far on the KLC course and my own personal experiences were inline with that of the experienced interior designers on the panel.
The first thing that was discussed was the initial Designer-Client relationship and I got the impression, from all of the designers, that it’s very instinct led, not using a formal questionnaire but tailoring questions to each client at the first meeting. It’s ironic that after spending months perfecting a questionnaire for part of my KLC coursework that in reality designers might not use them. Although I suppose thinking about the questions helps to prepare you for the information you need to find out from the client, however you decide to do it in the end.
When asked about helping the client visualise their proposed scheme, Moika said that she draws sketches to get the idea across, but employs an artist if more detailed images are required. Martin likes to draw ‘crazy’ (his words) sketches and prefers pulling samples out of a bag one at a time to traditional source boards, as he finds that some clients are overwhelmed by seeing everything at once. Interestingly all three of the panel said that they find computerised drawings flat and lifeless and that they can be misleading as the light levels are rarely right. Note to self – must work on drawing…
All of the designers have small teams, Suzy believes that if she had any more employees that she would become a people manager rather than a designer. It must be very difficult to weigh up expanding your company whilst ensuring you do not become too far removed from the creative process. The panel all said that they find hiring difficult as it is practically impossible to gauge a person in the interview. Suzy incorporates tests into her recruitment process and many of the audience seemed shocked by this, but actually it’s a wonderful idea because along with giving the interviewer an insight into the candidates work , it also gives the applicant a chance to really excel, especially those who struggle in an interview situation.
Unfortunately getting a fledgling design practice off the ground wasn’t discussed as all of the pannel are in the enviable position that they get work by recommendations or repeat business. I thought that this was a real shame as I would have liked to hear how they all started out.
By the end of the seminar, it was quite clear that being an Interior Designer is not the easy and glamorous job that many people think. Sourcing shopping trips were described as ‘fast paced’ and ‘stressful’, definitely not something you take the client along to (and if you do, they will only ask to come once!) A successful project takes hard work and a lot of project management, especially when you have multiple projects running at the same time. As a web developer I found it suprising that not one of them mentioned any kind of software apart from excel, especially as project management and chasing suppliers etc seemed to be the most disliked part of the job (after trying to conceal wires :) ).
Overall, the talk was very informative and Chelsea Harbour Design Centre is well worth a visit.