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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Interiors & Sources just introduced a new feature blog written by “Debbie Designer” that is dedicated to calling out bad design in the world. It’s a great idea, on the whole, but I’ve got some issues with how it is presented. “Debbie” leads off with a scathing commentary about Kelly Wearstler.

While I am really not a fan of Kelly Wearstler’s, and quite agree that there’s a lot of bad design out in the world in general, much of which is getting a lot of press due to better marketing than many of the truly best designers do, I can’t agree that there’s anything inherently wrong with promoting one’s own self, products, and business, no matter how dreadful others may think it is. It would be nice on one level if we could all live in a society where everything was tastefully designed, but a) we live in a free country and everyone has the right to their own preferences – and professions, b) who would get to decide what is good and what isn’t?, and c) how boring life would be if everything were always perfect, and there was no room for differences in taste!

Frankly, I’m surprised that magazine of I&S’s caliber is putting up a feature with this nasty an edge. Yes, we all snark about others at times, but whatever happened to common courtesy? And how is an attack of this nature useful to anyone?

The reason there is bad design is because not everyone trying to do it is equally talented. And not everyone hiring bad designers knows the difference. It really is all about marketing, in the end – and the fact that many people just don’t have good taste, and/or have never been exposed to anything better, or learned the differences. There’s no great mystery or sociological higher reason why we “allow” bad design to exist – and allow bad designers to stay in business. The reality is that neither of these is anyone else’s call, other than the parties directly involved in the transactions and projects.

If you want to talk about bad design, I’d suggest that it would be far more productive, useful, mature, and *professional* to do it as a proper critique of exactly what does and does not work about a particular object, space, or body of work. It would not only provide more useful content to designers, particularly those at the start of their careers, but it would frankly look better to the public who stumble in there as well. Their perception of designers as nasty, stuck up, and unreasonably demanding is bad enough, and is already fed by many sources. Let’s not make it worse in professional publications like this.

There’s plenty of room for snark in that kind of presentation as well, but I’d like to see things kept basically respectful – and educational, at least the post put up by the magazine. Please see James Swan’s hilarious “100 Things I Hate About Your House” on Facebook for some superb examples in which both humor, snark, and real education and professional discussion merge beautifully. When he snarks, it actually is funny. This post, unfortunately was not.

It’s also one thing for commenters to snark in their responses, but quite another for someone representing a major professional magazine to do so in his or her original posts.

I also find it quite disturbing that this new feature is written by someone who isn’t putting her own name on the line, who is unwilling to own her own words publicly. It’s obvious why – and in my opinion, it’s extremely cowardly and unprofessional. For shame, I&S. You’ve just gone way downhill in my estimation.

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For designers and clients alike.

Clients, if you’ve ever wondered why designers sometimes tell you they can’t tell you what they charge when you ask that early on, this is at least part of the answer.  You don’t want a one-size-fits-all answer anyways.  The designer you’re thinking of hiring absolutely must spend enough time getting to know you and what your needs, wishes, budget, etc. are to be able to give you a fully informed answer.  Most designers are willing to tailor a plan to meet your needs and budget, so don’t shop just on price.  The designer/client relationship is a very intimate and complex one that offers tremendous value, and that can’t be easily reduced to a simple, pat answer to “How much do you charge?”, just as Fabienne explains below.
-Wendy

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NEVER Answer The ONE Question Prospects Always Ask (If You Want Clients)

One of the best things to do to quickly establish credibility, get massive exposure, and attract new clients, is speaking. Hands down. Whether you organize your own seminars on a regular basis to continually fill the pipeline (the way I did for years), or get booked for talks to “pre-formed” groups like associations, it works like a charm?provided you give very good info.

If you deliver the talk properly, there is always a group of people at the end of your talk who rush up to the podium to chat with you. Some will tell you how much they enjoyed the talk, some will be e-zine readers who have wanted to meet you for years, some will want free advice or to “pick your brain.” But, there is one question you will almost always get and it comes in two parts. The first part is the good part; “I am interested in working with you.” The second one is the tricky part; “What do you charge?”

There is ONE fundamental problem with answering the second part of that question. If you answer it right there on the spot, you will most always lose that client on the spot. Here is why.

When making a purchasing decision, if they are only focused on price, there is not any room for VALUE or RESULTS. And I believe people buy in three ways: by emotion, by results, and by value (what they are paying for what they are getting). If you do not get the value part right, you might as well not even bother. They will always go into sticker shock.

The solution? Do not give them your rates on the spot. Instead, invite them for a conversation to be held at a later date where you can fully describe the value they will be getting from working with you. I call mine the “get-acquainted session,” you may call yours a free-consultation, whatever. The important thing is that is where the magic happens. That is where you can find out more about them, get to the root of their problems, describe solutions, and they sell themselves into your services, based on value.

Now, by the way, this situation does not just happen at the end of a speaking gig. If you have got a kick-butt elevator speech that makes them say, “Wow, that is exactly what I need, I want to work with you,” then you will also get the question at networking events, at the cocktail hour of your friend’s wedding, or simply when someone contacts you by email or phone. The answer is always the same though. Invite them for a get-acquainted session.

Your Assignment:

Never give your rates cold. You will almost always lose the sale right there on the spot. Instead, invite them for a conversation. Here is what I recommend that my clients say to their own prospects:

“I actually offer several different programs, depending on how quickly you want to get results, and of course, on your budget level. What I usually recommend is that we set up a get-acquainted session. Not only do you want to find out more about me, my programs, etc., but I want to find out more about you and your situation to see if you are going to be the right fit for my programs as well. Shall we set that up?”

Done. The prospect almost always lets out a sigh of relief (it is almost as though they did not REALLY want your rates after all) and then you are all set. Now, you are ready to close the sale. Easy.

Now, if closing the sale 97-98% of the time is not a reality for you yet, then we have got to change that ASAP. My own formula, step-by-step process AND closing the sale script is all laid out and available to you, in a turnkey, easy to implement one foot in front of the other process. The Client Attraction Home Study System includes everything you need to know to fill your practice quickly and close the sale consistently; no matter how long you have been in business. All the tools, scripts, templates, and examples are handed to you on a silver platter. So, you do step one of the system, and when you are done with that, you move on to step two, and so on. So easy. That is why my customers have gotten such great results from it. You can get yours at www.TheClientAttractionSystem.com.

© 2010 Client Attraction LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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Lately I’ve been pondering how to communicate the value of what professional interior designers bring to a design project that no one else can, and like many other designers, coming up a bit short on a good explanation, although it’s something we designers certainly all know intuitively.  Conveying that to the public is a different matter, however.  The following articles explain it better than any I’ve seen elsewhere.  Stanley Abercrombie is one of the most influential design writers of our time, for many years the editor of Interior Design magazine, one of the industry’s most important professional journals.  In a profession sadly lacking in philosphical underpinnings such as architecture has, he’s also written one of the most thoughtful (and indeed only) books on the subject with the appropriate title of  A Philosophy of Interior Design.

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The value of interior design, 1994. (interior design as an artform) (Editorial)

Article from:Interior Design Article date:January 1, 1994 Author: Abercrombie, Stanley

Please don’t think I plan to make a habit of this, but just this once I want to take more than the usual space for an editorial statement. On this page in October, comments titled “It’s the Design” urged designers to value–and to charge for–their design expertise. Some of you agreed with my comments (for example, see Marvin Affrime’s letter in our forum section); some of you didn’t agree; and the following expansion of those thoughts will also, inevitably, be controversial. That’s fine. But I feel passionately about the danger of something important being lost if designers continue disguising their profession as just another business.

Interior design is a business, we recognize, and a demanding one; the forum instituted exactly two years ago and dedicated solely to business and professional news and opinion, demonstrates that recognition. But, for most of us, the business aspect of interior design is not its chief attraction. What drew most designers to their profession is the fact that interior design is an art.

It is not a fine art, but an applied art. It cannot luxuriate in its independence as can painting and sculpture, forming itself without regard to any but aesthetic demands. It is, instead, a hardworking art, with serious and sometimes mundane problems to solve. And just as there are a great many buildings that never achieve the status of architecture, there are a great many interiors that never achieve the level of art. But there are many that do, and, at their best, interior designers are artists. Although the artistic element is difficult to separate from interior design’s more practical elements, it must not be denied that it often exists and can add an important extra value to our work. Granted, a designer who idealistically focuses solely on art may have trouble finding any opportunity to practice the art; still, it seems undeniable that in today’s difficult economy, the art of interior design is undervalued. Talking recently with the impressively articulate principal of one of our Giant firms, I was told that the firm’s emphasis now, in its efforts to get new work, is on economic benefits for clients. Similarly, a fine designer in California told me a couple of months ago that he never mentions appearance or design in making a presentation these days, but that instead he promises to produce a more efficient plan than his competitors. And one firm that used to call itself “architects” is emphasizing its technological savvy by now calling itself “cybertects.” If the work of these firms sometimes transcends problem solving and becomes art, they’re certainly not bragging about it. One likely reason is that in interior design, the element of art is inseparable from more practical elements.

It arises, in fact, from the thoughtful accommodation of very practical needs, not from any impulse or motive that is extraneous to such accommodation. As architect W. R. Lethaby wrote in Form and Civilization, “Art is not a special sauce applied to ordinary cooking; it is the cooking itself if it is good.”

Another reason for ignoring the element of art in interior design is that the value of art is notoriously difficult to measure. The essence of art is intangible. It cannot be quantified as a number of square feet or pounds or yards; consequently, it is difficult to value in terms of dollars. It is true that the number of hours taken to achieve a work of art can be recorded, but such records rarely include the value of previous experience. Whistler, accused of excessive pricing for one of his paintings, was asked, “For two days’ labor, you ask two hundred guineas?” He replied, “No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.” Which reminds us that, if it is both an art and a business, interior design is also a craft.

Technique and experience count a lot in this field, just as they do in the finest of fine arts. Whistler had more than a painter’s vision; he also had the technical expertise to effectively manifest that vision. Such expertise is not achieved by the novice or the housewife-with-flair or the guy-who-can-get-you-a-good-deal. It is achieved through the increasingly rigorous education that our profession requires and through the subsequent practical application of that education. Like the surgeon or lawyer, the interior designer must be both educated and practiced. Like them, the designer deserves appropriate compensation.

But Whistler’s vision was his main asset. Beyond skill and competence, there remains the special but hard-to-measure value-added element of art, and only the designer’s education, practice and vision can combine to produce that element. The designer does more than plan; the designer designs [emphasis added]. I believe it is the difficulty of determining appropriate compensation that has led to attempts by many interior designers to measure their art in inappropriate ways. Sometimes, by ignoring their art altogether, they underestimate their own value; at other times, by confusing their art with the more mundane functions of their practice from which their art arises, they overestimate that art. Art, for example, does not necessarily solve social problems.

I do not mean that interior design cannot address and sometimes solve such problems; in some cases, it must do so. But the aspect of interior design that is aesthetic does not solve them; it does something quite different.

In the early 1950s, designer George Nelson, speaking to the American Institute of Architects, expressed it this way: “…nothing is less consequential in the creation of a work of art than good intentions.”

And a couple of years later, lecturing in Vienna, Alvar Aalto made a similar point: “Form is a mystery,” he said, “which eludes definition but makes us feel good in a way quite unlike social aid.” [emphasis mine]

If art is amoral, then, and “quite unlike social aid,” what is it that art can do for us? How is it that it “makes us feel good?”

Art heightens the quality of our lives. Walter Pater, in the last paragraph of The Renaissance, his book of just more than a century ago, observed that “Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing, except the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.” This view has been criticized as proposing “art for art’s sake,” but, at least in this passage, Pater is clearly proposing art for the sake of the quality of our lives and of our clients’ lives. It is this heightened quality that interior designers as artists can offer and that no one in related fields–not space planners, nor realtors, nor developers, nor construction cost analysts, nor facility managers–can. These people perform useful functions; interior designers can perform them too; but interior designers can bring something more to a project. It is this heightened quality, this civilizing of our living places and working places, this art that designers not only must continue to offer but also, I believe, must emphasize. Despite the difficulties in isolating, measuring and evaluating the artistic element of interior design, that element must be recognized [emphasis mine], and even be bragged about, for it cannot be appreciated and will not be properly rewarded unless it is recognized. A question designers should ask their clients and their potential clients to ask themselves is this: What are you going to be seeing in your new space? Assuming that your newly planned environment is going to be efficient, well organized and supportive of increased productivity, is it also going to be interesting, uplifting, enriching–or even bearable–to look at and to be in day after day, year after year?

Art is worth paying for because, in these days of social discontent and random violence, in these days of homelessness, drugs, guns and plaque, when our urban environments are becoming increasingly brutalized, we increasingly need both physical and mental refuge from that brutalization. We need the solace of interiors that are not only intelligently functional but also intelligently artful. In these days more than ever, the art of interior design is worth paying for, because a heightened quality of life is worth paying for.

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It’s the design. (design profession)

Article from:Interior Design Article date: October 1, 1993

Author: Abercrombie, Stanley

It is commonplace these days to hear architects and interior designers describe job meetings at which they are surrounded by various representatives of the client’s interests: lawyers, developers, real estate brokers, strategic planners, programmers, construction managers, project managers, facility managers. Every one of this new crop of experts demands and gets reasonable time for performing a function; every one demands and gets reasonable pay for doing it. Only the designer is expected to turn out overnight miracles, and it naturally follows that work done quickly comes cheap.

Today’s designer, it seems to this former designer, will not be paid what he’s worth without conveying a clear idea of that worth, not by competing with all those lawyers, brokers and managers, but by proudly providing the services the designer alone can provide; not by presenting the profession in some new guise but in the old and honest way; not by pretending to do work that necessarily saves the client money; but by doing work that is worth the client’s money. That client must somehow, gently, tactfully, but firmly be made aware that:

1. The primary function of a designer is to provide design (and that design includes not just decorating but an interrelated network of problem solving) [emphasis added].

2. Good design requires the time and effort of highly educated professionals.

3. Such time and effort deserve fair compensation.

Not every prospective client really needs design services, perhaps, but those who do should be prepared to pay for them. The current abhorrent practice of clients demanding severe cuts in designers’ fees cannot be expected to end until those clients are reminded of what those fees are purchasing. In these economically troubled times, the design profession does not need to be reshaped; it needs to be reasserted.

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Thanks to Vicente Wolf for raising the issue of why designers ourselves tend to undervalue what we do.

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I like belonging to professional organizations mainly because of the networking and educational opportunities. While I am highly opposed to any sort of mandatory licensing of interior designers, I do still very much believe in increasing our knowledge base so that we can do the very best job we can for our clients. If nothing else, there are so many new products and product categories coming out every day that we’ve got to have *some* way of staying abreast of new developments just so we can always offer the cutting edge to our clients.

I do think that having some kind of initials after one’s name does lend a certain air of “legitimacy” that *some* clients seek, but the longer I am in this business, the more I realize how little that really matters to most prospective and existing clients.

More importantly, I’ve also realized how little those initials actually mean in terms of “proof” of competency of any sort.

Many of the very best designers I know and know of would never qualify for membership in these organizations – and at the same time, I hate to say it, but some of the absolute *worst* design work I’ve seen has been done by ASID professional members. It seems as if there is almost an inverse relationship in many cases between the presence of letters after a designer’s name and the quality of his or her work.

I’ve also noticed that many of the people who tend to be most actively involved in the leadership of these organizations in particular are generally not the best designers around. The *really* best ones are clearly far too busy doing what they do to be bothered with meetings and all of the petty politics and so on that the organizations also bring with them.

Being a good designer requires a mix of technical knowledge and creativity. Anyone with a brain can learn the technical material just by reading books and various industry publications, or on the job (lord knows that almost nothing of what I know was taught to me in school), but the creativity that really gives one an edge and defines what an interior designer is at core cannot be taught and is innate. Education can foster it and bring it out further, but it cannot instill it where there is no fundamental underlying facility.

In a well-run professional organization that is truly responsive to the actual needs and preferences of the majority of its membership base, these groups can also be very powerful proponents of a profession, and do a lot of good.

However, when a small percentage of the leadership and membership decides that they speak for a majority and stand for a position that will actually *harm* the majority of their own membership base, as ASID is doing, then that organization has outlived its usefulness and should be shot and put out of its misery. It most assuredly should not be allowed to create legislation or internal policies that will adversely affect the lives – and livelihoods – of thousands of people the way it is trying to do nationwide without giving them all a direct say, especially if it is going to use their dues money to fund these initiatives.

Once an organization has gone out of control and is running amok wreaking havoc on the very constituency it ought to (and claims to) be serving, it completely loses all legitimacy and credibility.

So why do I continue to belong to one of these groups that is out of control when I obviously have so little respect for it? Mainly because my boss basically made it a requirement of my employment, but also because I’m somewhat of a Pollyanna at heart, and am still (almost undoubtedly naively) hopeful that I can help the organization “see the light” and correct course to be what it used to be and *ought* to be – a real resource for its membership.

Addendum:  This is why I let my membership in ASID lapse, because I can no longer support an organization that has been so bent on passing legislation that will put so many people out of business, and so restrict entry into the profession by new people.  They’ve been at this for 30 years, with little success, because there’s no merit in the position.  Such laws have been struck down as unconstitutional in several states, and yet they persist in spending millions of dollars of members’ dues that could be much better put to other purposes such as educating the public about the value that professional designers bring to the table.  I’m eligible to qualify for membership at the professional level, but it’s just wrong to do this.

I do continue to attend continuing education event sponsored by my local chapter, as that ongoing education is very important in this field, and they provide many excellent classes.  But it’s obtainable without belonging to such organizations, and responsible, professional designers take advantage of it wherever they can, even when they have no obligation to for sustaining a credential or designation.

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