So, what exactly is it that you do? This is a question that I get a lot even from people who have known me a long time. I love what I do and am grateful to do it everyday for a living. I have been evolving the explanation of my profession over time in a way that is clear to people of all backgrounds and professions. There are a lot of well-intentioned misconceptions and even romantic ideas about what interior designers do. There are also many types of designers and specialities, just as in any other profession. I’ll focus on my specialities for the sake of this post and hope to bring clarity to those who aren’t exactly sure what it is I do everyday.
I describe my work as providing interior design and sustainable design consulting services to commercial building projects. In college, I started out pursuing an interior design degree then decided to pivot my major slightly to focus on sustainable design. I am focused on providing a sustainable design influence to the building projects I work on which involves many things but in short is reducing a building’s negative impact on its surrounding environment. I work on commercial building projects, which generally includes every type of building project except single family residential homes. Single family homes are a market of their own that I have not delved into. I have worked on project types including multi-family (apartment), hospitality, industrial, healthcare, and community and cultural. These projects range from daycare centers, pharmacies, housing for veterans, food distribution centers, apartment style housing for healthcare staff, and more.
This is an example of an inspiration board I used for a warehouse facility project that was part of a presentation to my client. It is a quick visual aid to show the client inspiration sources and the design intent. The descriptive words listed act as a guideline for all design decisions. These inspiration sources can shift to suit the clients’ needs and wants.
Above is an example material board that quickly gives the client an idea of what finishes will be used and where they will be applied (walls, floors, etc.). This part of the presentation can be bolstered by providing actual samples of the material in addition to these digital representations. You and the client will want to see and touch the material samples to understand all their characteristics including texture, finish, scale, etc.
Interior Design Process
Interior design is one of the multiple disciplines that make up a project team for a building project. The other disciplines can include architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, general contractors, estimators, project managers, drafters, and civil engineers, etc. The client and/or building owner is the general guide for the project’s direction, schedule, and budget who hires the project team that is made up of individuals with expertise required to complete a successful and legal building project. The interior designer(s) role on a project can encompass a large or more focused scope. Typical tasks include programming, material and furniture selection, building layout, wayfinding, lighting placement and selection, and other related tasks. Most if not all of these tasks require collaboration with the client and project team to ensure adherence to budget and other aspects like the client’s intent for the spaces are satisfied to the best of their ability.
Once a contract has been signed with the project owner, the design team can begin work. Depending on the project delivery type, building projects generally follow the order listed below.
Conceptual Design and Programming
The goals of this phase are to establish the conceptual intentions of the project’s scope, schedule, budget, aesthetics, draft layouts, and unique client needs and wishes. Designers can gain inspiration from conversations with clients regarding their needs and wishes as well as the project’s location and similar projects. In this phase, we can dream big, since the design intention will be refined within the project’s parameters in the following phases.
This phase allows the design team to work out more details of the design intention and how it will begin to fit within the project’s schedule and budget. The building itself as well as the layout will start to have a more defined form and the architectural drawings will start to be developed. There are still chances to make changes here and there, as this phase is still somewhat exploratory.
As the name suggests, the building and interior designs are continually developed and refined to a more detailed level in this phase. Decisions on layout, materials, building systems, and other major building components need to be made to the satisfaction of the client, project team, and the schedule and budget. With more developed drawings, the project team can start to apply for building permits and market the project to increase client and community support or investment. Few major changes to the design will take place after this phase without time and cost implications.
The architectural drawings should be very close to completion at the end of this phase. The goal is to provide enough information in the final set of drawings and specification documents so that a contractor can essentially build a building from those documents. The contractor will also need to use the documents to gather quantities and cost estimates which will allow him or her to submit a bid on the project, which shows the building owner the entire proposed cost of the project.
Bidding, Contract Administration, Substantial Completion, Commissioning
All of these phases will vary in length and complexity based on the project delivery type. At this point in the process, the construction and construction crews are ordering materials, preparing the site, and physically constructing the building. The architects and interior designers check in on the progress to make sure that the physical building is going according to the drawings and documents prepared in the previous phases. The final “check-in” process, or substantial completion, is the contractor’s chance to show that the project was completed per the architectural drawings and specifications. The building is pretty much move-in ready at this point. Future involvement from the building team may include commissioning, which ensures that the building systems are still performing at the level for which they were designed.
My Day in a Nutshell
Since I work from home, I have a short commute to my office in the mornings. I maintain a flexible schedule and tend to start my days early. I generally clear my email inbox of any outstanding requests or questions before tackling the day’s tasks. My project tasks include material and furniture selection which entails conceptualizing an idea of what materials (flooring, wall paint, wall base, upholstery, etc.) will go in a project. Then I collaborate with material and furniture manufacturer representatives to understand the options they offer that align with my design concept and the project’s budget and ordering schedule. It is highly important that these design considerations are documented in the architectural drawings which I contribute to via 3D modeling in Revit, a BIM (Building Information Modeling) software. (I talk about the many other apps and tech I use throughout my day in this post from earlier this month!) Even though I work at home in a solo office, I communicate with the client and project team throughout the day as necessary. Some projects have weekly update calls and others require more frequent, on the spot calls or emails. Since I own my own business, my project tasks are balanced with other demands on my time like accounting and marketing tasks which I also enjoy and get help with from consultants. I like to end my day at a stopping point and a clear idea of what tasks and meetings wait for me the following day.
I hope this post has brought light to sometimes unclear versions of what interior designers do. It is a fun profession for us, since we are passionate about improving the built environment and the lives of the human beings who live, work, and play in them. It is a profession that allows a healthy balance of technical skill and application with creative problem solving. The pleasing aesthetic choices made in every interior environment you’ve seen have been well thought out by a designer or design team. I have been taught that there is always good design or bad design; there is no interior environment in which no design intention exists. It’s up to myself and my fellow designers to provide building occupants with the best design that suits their unique needs. We do so with an expertise that evolves and is enriched with each project we complete.