Design Trends or Sales Tricks?

I always received the newsletters from ASID which had many articles talking about kitchen design trends or green design trends…etc. My take is that they are just bunches of companies trying to sell their products. Kitchen companies sell contemporary Minimalist kitchen cabinets detect Minimalist design trend is in. Furniture companies sell traditional style furniture say the traditional style trend is coming back and on the rise. The paint companies say the certain color trends will be popular the next coming season which the paint company happens to be the only one sells those colors they claimed to be in style. Since when the design trends are detected by the businesses?! Aren’t interior designers (those who are not sponsored by the manufacturers) should be the ones  who detect the design trends?!

Changing Interior Design Job Market

I drew the hand sketch as attached, I came up with the design ideas, I chose the finish materials, and I also generated the elevation drawings in AutoCAD program for this bench and linen closet, and I gave these information to a 3D rendering guy to draw a beautiful 3D rendering as attached. If you did not know all these, and if you are an owner of an interior design firm, your company is hiring an interior designer, I and the 3D rendering guy both go to your company for the job interview, and who will you hire? Based on my own experiences, people who have 3D renderings in their portfolios tend to get the job even though whatever they drew wasn’t necessarily their own design ideas. Nowadays, many interior design companies are expecting the designers they hire should possess 3D rendering skills, they do not need to be creative or even have certain interior design related knowledge, education or credential, but they must be excellent computer 3D renderers. How come all over the sudden, an interior designer’s job can easily be taken away by a computer 3D renderer?

I think there are 2 reasons: 1. Advancement of 3D rendering programs make 3D renderings more common, everyone from the designers, architects to consumers alike, has become less and less 3D imaginative, people no longer can imagine things 3 dimensionally on their own, they must rely on the visual aids to picture things. Older architects and designers trained in old-school ways normally still possess the ability to visualize things in their minds since the 3D computer rendering programs were not invented or still at the infancy when they were at schools, they had nothing to reply on, so they were forced to imagine things on their own before things were actually built. 2. Unlimited on-line image resources such as Pinterest and Houzz that provide tons of design images for design professionals to copy or tweak from, the old days that you had to squeeze your brains out to come up with brand new design ideas from nothing have gone. Directly copy or tweak other people’s design ideas is a much quicker and easier way to design a space, so the capability of generating original design ideas is no longer valued.

So, the best suggestion I can give to people who would like to be in design industry is to learn as many 3D rendering programs as possible. Even if what you draw in 3D rendering program is not your own design idea, you still can be popular in the interior design job market.

Darwinism in Design Related Businesses

I always thought the housing bubble burst started in 2008 would wipe out the companies that had bad reputation. However, what I saw was that many good companies were gone but bad ones still remain. I was very puzzled by this phenomenon, but now I understand why.

There was a millwork shop I used to work with, its owner was extremely artistic and skilled, but the reality is that the creative and artistic people usually are not very business savvy, their artist mindset just can’t compete with their competitors who are more business oriented but less creative or skilled. So, the skilled and creative craftsmen are all out of business but the un-skilled, non-creative businessmen with inferior craftsmanship and quality of work all survived. This kind of Darwinism doesn’t seem justified.

How does culture difference influence interior design?

The culture difference affects interior designers’ ways of design and the entire design company culture. When I heard the clients in the US told me I have seen this very same light fixtures at the XXX hotels or the same chairs at XXX restaurants, my reflex would tell me: “damn, I will need to find another light fixtures or furniture!” and it happened to be always the case. The clients in the US usually do not like to have the designs in their home or spaces that have been used by someone else, they prefer to have something unique to them and no one else has. This culture of being different in the US directly affects the design company culture in the US.

All of the interior design companies I had worked at in the US encouraged innovation. Design something out of nothing is so essential for surviving in the interior design companies in the US. The design hobbies such as copying or tweaking are often not encouraged, and are prohibited strictly at some companies. In contrary, design companies in China encourage tweaking and copying existing designs. Chinese interior designers always looked for reference photos on the internet and design magazines in order to tweak or copy other people’s designs.

Unlike American clients who do not like to have the designs other people also have, Chinese clients want to have the designs other people have. This behavioral trend can also be easily spotted on fashion. Americans dress to be unique; Chinese dress to blend in. So, if you have the opportunity to work in China, remember, you will need to learn how to copy or tweak other designers’ designs in order to thrive. Being creative or innovative is just not Chinese clients’ cup of tea.

High-End Residential Designers Deserve More Respect

Being a high-end residential designer, the hardest part is to be looked down by the commercial designers. It is hard to be hired by commercial design firms as a high-end residential designer. I know most commercial design firms think we high-end residential designers are decorators who do rich people’s draperies, but in fact, we do know more technical and structural stuff than you think. When we worked on projects with different professionals such as architects, structural engineers, AV consultants, GCs, landscape architects, lighting designers, millwork shops and so on, we actually worked very closely with these professionals in much detailed manner.

Most commercial designers worked on large-scale projects with very tight schedules, so they overlooked the details and focused on the overall projects instead, and because commercial projects were usually in large square footage, commercial designers’ tasks were divided in order to focus on certain tasks. For example, some designers will always do CAD drafting but will never write any purchase order. Some designers will always specify FF&E but will never supervise the job sites. Without knowing the full procedure of design, it is not possible to create any well thought through design.

Many commercial designers usually will not consider the small design details such as how the materials should meet or end at joints as carefully as the high-end residential designers. They won’t bother to know how the AV consultants to wire the automatic draperies or how the metal shops to weld or plate the metals, either. I believe they honestly just do not have the time to really care about these things, so they handed these things to other professionals completely and let them take care of the details and moved onto another project. Therefore, it created a situation that you let non-designers handle the design details. That is why many commercial spaces look great from far distance but when you walk closer, you will spot many poorly designed or executed design details.

Sometimes when I read some articles talking about luxury stuff for the hospitality projects, I was like, what?! you are talking about this in 2014?! I have used this stuff way back in the early 2000! That is right! When the high-end/high-tech stuff just came out to the market, they were usually expensive and limited in quantities, so they could not be used in the commercial projects which usually have more restricted budget and require larger quantities of products in stock, whom were those high-end/high-tech products sold to if they were too costly for commercial projects? well, to the high-end residential clients, and after few months or even few years later, cheaper knock-offs came out, and then you started to see these products pop-up in the commercial projects such as hospitality or retail spaces everywhere. So, high-end residential designers always got the chance to experience the cool stuff before anybody else.

One last thing I think most commercial designers never can achieve is having the luxury design taste or the ability to tailor-made very unique designs. The stuff they designed or specified always have, I am sorry to say, the cheap and modular look. I know they try hard to make some of the spaces they designed look luxury and custom designed, but even I stayed in some of the super high-end luxurious presidential suites at 5-star hotels, and when I paid attention to some of the designs such as coves, moldings, base boards, cabinet kicks or drawers, I was always amazed how cheap those details looked and how much the millwork looked like modular furniture.

I am not saying commercial designers are bad. I simply just want to let you know if you are looking for a designer to design your luxury home, please look for the designers who are specialized in high-end residential design or the commercial designers who also have extensive high-end residential project experiences. If you hire a commercial designer who does not have any high-end residential design experience to design your luxury home, I do not care how famous the designer is, he/she might not meet your expectations, and will be very likely to disappoint you throughout the process.

Who should foresee the design trends?

I have always received the newsletters from various interior design related organizations and magazines that published many articles about kitchen design trends and green design trends…etc. In my opinion, these articles were only trying to market and sell products rather than predicting any trend.

Kitchen companies sell contemporary Minimalist kitchen cabinets predict Minimalist design trend will be in. Furniture companies sell traditional style furniture say the traditional style trend is coming back and on the rise. The paint companies say the certain colors will be popular in the next coming season, and the paint company happens to be the only one sells those colors they claimed to be in style. Since when the design trends are predicted by design product related businesses?! Shouldn’t design professionals be the ones to predict the design trends?!

Interior Designers vs 3D Renderers & Graphic Designers

I realize a phenomenon in the interior design job market nowadays. There are a lot of people who are 3D renderers or graphic designers showing up at the interior design firms to interview the interior designer positions, and most of them got hired. Many of these 3D renderers or graphic designers were not interior design majored or licensed interior designers, but they all got very beautiful portfolios.

The software used by many 3D renderers, 3D Studio Max, can render photo realistic perspective drawings, and Adobe Illustrator, the program all graphic designers learned at colleges, can produce extremely beautiful color elevations. With the help of Adobe PhotoShop, another Adobe software learned by most graphic designers at school, can even edit the 3D renderings done by 3D Studio Max and the color elevations done by Adobe Illustrator to become even more beautiful and realistic, and when they used Adobe InDesign, another software learned by many graphic designers at schools, to create the portfolios, the beauty of the portfolios was just incomparable. No wonder those 3D renderers and graphic designers were always hired.

I personally worked with some of those 3D renderers and graphic designers at the same offices before, and when I asked them if they actually designed those projects showing on their portfolios, they all said no. They told me some other more senior interior designers (majored in interior design and licensed) at their previous jobs who came up with the designs done by hand sketches, and what they did was transforming the hand sketched ideas into the forms of 3D Studio Max and Adobe Illustrator renderings or drawings. I was wondering whether these new hired “interior designers” can come up with their own design ideas few years later after they become senior designers?! Well, time will tell.

High End or Low End?

When working on a project in China, I heard a worker from a millwork shop said the shop was planning on getting rid of Formica laminates because they were too expensive and too high-end.

That was one of the realities I had to deal with when I was working on projects in China. It seems like everything has a cheaper replica in China. When I specified commercial grade materials from the US in China, the local vendors always could find some alternatives that looked similar or the same but half of the cost. Every commercial grade material I had specified in the US became the material for high-end residential projects in China. Now, I am curious what kind of stuff the designers specify for high-end residential projects in China?

Misunderstanding of Green Design

Plant Wall

Green Wall LEED?

You can spot a lot of this kind of walls with plants in China. The reason why many businesses there like this feature is to give the general public the business impression of caring for the environment, but for me, it is just another example of misunderstanding of green design.

When you see this kind of plant wall on a building, it serves a purpose which is lowering the interior temperature when facing the right direction. Therefore, it helps reducing the interior temperature and cutting down the electricity used on AC for the building. It will also reduce the sunlight reflection bouncing off the walls so the temperature surrounds the building will not increase drastically which might contribute to Head Island Effect. Well, the other side of the plant walls in the photo is a construction site.

Also, those plants are not the plants that you can just leave them along without giving them water, and the water they used to irrigate these plants is clean water, not gray water or rain water harvested. So, they are actually increasing the burden for natural resources on earth. Therefore, these walls might look nice but do not have any value in terms of earning LEED points or have anything to do with green design except they look green, color wise.

Disrespectful Practice in Interior Design

Displaying Buddha’s chopped off heads is just very disrespectful towards Buddha and Buddhists. If I display Jesus’s head like that in any of my project, I would have gotten so much criticism already. That is just so wrong and I will never select any sculpture or artwork like this.