Interior design brings to mind a picture of designers sketching plans, playing with colors and textures to produce exciting schemes. Haunting specialist shops to track down unique pieces of furniture, decorative objects and detailing to customize their work. This can all certainly be part of the job, but before the designer can consider any of those creative processes, the pre-design work involves a great deal of information-gathering and methodology around which the project will be based. This process begins with the client relationship.
A dive into the client’s mind
It is clear that the designer’s ability to gain a thorough understanding of the client's requirements is fundamental to the favorable outcome of a project, whether working with a corporate or private client. Many clients have very confused ideas about what they want and are not able to articulate their requirements fully. It is more usual for a client to simply list the problem they have and to put forward a random collection of ideas, rather than to present the designer with a meticulously considered brief. It is therefore the designer's task to create and write a brief as the relationship develops. However, good design is not necessarily related to the actual quality of the client relationship. Some good designers are bad at articulating and conversing with a client, merely insisting that a client 'trust' them, while for others it is important to make the whole process as enjoyable as possible for the client. The client relationship works a number of different levels and there is never a right or wrong approach. In essence, it is a partnership to which both parties contribute, sparking off one another.
In recent years, there have been subtle changes in the relationship between designer and client, with the designer taking on more of a consultative, rater than prescriptive, role. The designer needs to understand the client's needs, personality and style and, in a commercial situation, to appreciate the wider economic context of these aspects. Mutual trust is a vital platform for smooth progression, and to achieve this. The designer needs to be able to speak the client's language and, above all, to listen to the client in order to interpret their ideas. This ability to observe and listen is of paramount importance when dealing with couples. The one who appears more dominant at meeting may not. For example, be the real decision-maker and the situation may be further complicated by the involvement of relatives, friends or domestic staff.
Attracting the tips
Good design is all about keeping a sense of balance and earning the client's respect. The designer needs to work in a cooperative way, adapting to the client's changing circumstances and priorities, responding rapidly to the client's concerns and keeping the client fully informed at every stage. In a commercial situation, although a designer may be liaising directly on a project with a director or committee, it is usually advantageous to take the time to consult fully with key staff to ensure that their requirements are considered wherever possible. Hotel housekeepers, for example, can prove a mime of helpful practical information for the designer as can restaurant staff and managers. When working in school and colleges, designers can glean useful information not only from teaching and administrative staff but also from parents and pupils, and there is every chance that the board of governors will also need to approve everything. All of this requires a designer to adopt a flexible approach.
Collaboration with colleagues and other professionals engaged by the client or brought in to work on the project is a further aspect of the relationship. No one involved in a project will want to face a situation in which work is rejected or the client is disappointed.
Communication is the key to a productive working relationship with client, and one of the most vital aspects of this in regard to commercial work is the programming and phasing of any project. Few companies or hotels, for example, can afford the luxury of completely vacating their premises or else any refurbishment would need to be carried out in carefully planned phases to allow the business to continue at the same time. Good computer system, as well as digital cameras and internet transmission of data, facilitate this area of the designer's work, enabling the entire team to have access to work progress, as well as the means to update a schedule instantly and keep all those involved informed at every stage.
Putting the foot down!
Employing an interior designer does not mean that clients are without ideas of their own-everyone is much more design-aware and informed these days. But it is the designer who can interpret those ideas and develop them to a workable and professional result. A decorative scheme that a client may have seen in a magazine might look wonderful as it appeared in glossy photographs on the pages, but would be unlikely to work successfully if reproduced in a dissimilar architectural setting with different orientation and light. Part of designer's role is to guide clients towards design solutions that will meet their requirements in an aesthetically pleasing and satisfactory way. A designer should not appear domineering or try to live out his or her own dreams at a client's expense.
For many interior designers, the most important thing of all is to try to exceed the client's expectations. Over the last thirty years, the priority for private clients has often been to obtain the cheapest quote, despite the fact that a home is probably the most expensive investment they will make in their lifetime. In this way, they have put the cart before the horse, not understanding that quality design work costs money. The design industry is beginning to speak out more consistently and professionally on this matter.
Hany Saad is one of the rising stars of the Egyptian interior scene. He will reveal his secrets in a monthly column. Mail your inquiries to:
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