Working at the design firms that are named after the owners

Besides for tax or professional regulation purposes, many design firms are named after their owners, firms like this normally limit the design styles to only meet the owner’s personal preferences, so if you are good at design Minimalist design but the owner likes high traditional design, don’t expect you will have the opportunity to design anything Minimalist in this company. However, if you are fine with designing whatever the owners ask you to, then it definitely won’t impact your career choice that much.

Design trends or sales strategy?

I always received the newsletters from ASID which had many articles talking about kitchen design trends or green design trends…etc, for me, 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. mmm…I wonder why?

Blind Spots of Referrals & References

Has anyone asked you to recommend any general contractor or formal employee? Yes, and I also have asked for references on general contractors and employees. Asking for references may sound making sense before hiring anyone, but I realized it actually created blind spots for my own judgement.

I needed a designer who was analytical and technical oriented but I ended up getting one who was outgoing and talkative. This designer’s formal employers told me she was great! She was a pretty good presenter and a good sales person who had great taste on FF&E, but she was not very good at drafting and not very technical oriented. She had very limited experiences on construction and job site supervision. So, she might be great for other design firms but not necessarily suitable for me. 

I also worked with a designer who had bad reputation from one of her ex- employers, but I looked at her resume and found she was working for that particular design firm for over 10 years, so I wondered if this designer was so bad, why the employer who bad mouthed her kept her for so long? Later on I found out that particular employer did the same thing to all of her formal employees who left her. If she felt everyone who left her and moved on was basically a traitor, of course there will be no good designer for her. 

I also tried to find a GC for a high end residential job, and I found one who had really good reputation. Well, I soon realized he was very fast but was not very detail oriented, then I also realized this GC had done mostly commercial projects and had limited experiences on high end residential jobs. No wonder his craftsmanship sucked!! He might be fast which most commercial project clients liked, but his lousy workmanship really couldn’t deliver the quality work the clients were looking for. So, I couldn’t keep working with him on high end residential projects in the future.

After these 3 incidents, I definitely stopped relying on references as much and used my own judgement more before hiring anyone.

 

Things to consider if you work at the design firms that divide tasks

Many design firms divide tasks for their designers, some of them are only involved in FF&Es, some are only doing CAD drafting or rendering, and some only go to the job sites. Dividing tasks can maximize the efficiency based on each designer’s strengths. However, if you are a junior level designer who works at this kind of company, you might not be able to learn the whole design process which could have negative impact if you would like to work for different design firms or run your own business in the future. If you are a senior level designer and already know all aspects of design process, working at the firms that divide tasks may give you more opportunities to focus on the tasks you are good at which will lead to better job performance and happier you.

Myth of Multitasking

Is multitasking good? Well, look at what the researchers had found, people practicing multitasking are more likely to make mistakes and always have below average job performance. Working at the firms that always require you handle multiple things at the same time which means the firms might have problematic projet management, or the firms either have the superiors or clients who are extremely spontaneous and do not like to follow the set schedules. With crisis creators around, expecting very stressful work atmosphere. 

Multitasking may sound like a positive word to describe a work environment or a capable worker. Unfortunately, human brains were created to focus on one thing at a time. If you really think people truly can multitask well, the governments around the world should just legalize drive while texting.

High-end Commercial?! Yeah Right!

When I saw or heard the word high-end commercial, retail or hospitality design, I always laughed inside. I was fortunate to have the opportunities to design all these spaces mentioned above, and based on my own experiences, I have only seen really high-end residential projects, but for the commercial, retail or hospitality projects I worked on, they were called high-end, but actually they weren’t.

I had the chance to design a client’s own residence and his jewelry shop, the client demanded the quality of the designs for these 2 projects must be “high-end”. So, I proposed a super luxurious wall sconce for his 12K s.f. residence which cost 8 grand a pop, I proposed 8 but the client loved it and said I want 10. Meanwhile, I selected a nice wall sconce for his jewelry shop, with the retail project in mind, I picked an $650 sconce, and proposed 8, the client loved it but asked me to find something looks similar but less expensive, and I did, the new selection cost $500, he again said “I loved it! but is it possible to look for a similar one with lower price?” I replied “with the look and quality, the price is the best and it meets the budget, and I don’t think I can find anything else with this design but less expensive.” So, the client said “then find someone to knock it off.” I am the designer who hates people copy other people’s designs, so I lied to him saying I couldn’t have the sconce knocked off in cheaper price, so I had to find another one. The final selection was $450 a pop, less expensive, visible medium-low level craftsmanship, but it looked very similar to the very first $650 one, and the client was very happy and said “Good job! It is $400 saving right there!”

I totally understand where he was coming from, because if that project was a 300-room hotel, $5 less expensive stuff per room will generate $1500 savings, this kind of mentality for commercial, hospitality and retail projects makes a lot of sense, and it is smart and no-brainer, but if you call it “high-end”? I totally disagree. Well, maybe the look, definitely not the quality or craftsmanship.

 

Working at the firms don’t charge clients hourly

The clients pay flat fee tend to make more design changes and ask for more intense shop-arounds. Don’t blame them, cuz it’s free!!

Changing approved designs, especially during Contract Document phase can be really counter productive which also means the disasters waiting to happen. Changing approved designs for accommodating job site condition is understandable, but changing designs just for change’s sake can be very annoying and time consuming. Charging hourly serves as a mechanism to discourage the indecisive clients making constant design changes. Without this mechanism, the designers will always work on repeat tasks which can lead to overtime working easily. For those clients who like you to compare prices with 10 different vendors just for one single piece of furniture, charging hourly rate can also remind them not to try to save a dime but end up spend a dollar.

At last, charging hourly rates will force you monitoring yours and your employees’ time better and making sure the time is efficiently spent. Thus, good for your own wellbeing and time management skill.

Things to consider when working at the firm that has junior level people working there the longest

If you don’t see senior level people working at the company, first of all, that usually means the company is lacking of the opportunity to promote in terms of job position and salary, and because senior level people possess certain skills and experiences, they can make move quicker and easier, after they departed, junior level people become the people who work at the company the longest and enjoy the seniority. Employers will give these junior people more authority and responsibilities because these junior people are considered loyal, and if you have inexperienced junior level people take in charge and boss around the new coming senior level people, the work environment can be chaotic. Some junior level people even abuse their authority and seniority to take advantage of circumstance and turn themselves into underground bosses. They can do whatever they want because they can get rid of anyone they don’t like including more senior level people who were hired to be in charge. Employers normally listen to these junior level people’s words since they work at the companies the longest so they were considered loyal and trustworthy. As a new employee in this kind of company, no matter you are a junior, intermediate or senior level person, you definitely will have hard time at work no matter what you do unless you become the best friend with the junior level person who works there the longest. On the end, the only people who can thrive at these companies are those who know how to play mind game and politics, not those who are capable or working hard.

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.