We’ve heard all the complaints about mask wearing, working from home, quarantined life, isolation bla bla bla, ask any introverts around you if they’re complaining?! As a designer and an employer, we must understand and be aware of the voices coming from those quiet ones. Open floor plans, communal seating, collaboration…shut up already. Hope this pandemic can wake up some designers out there.
Commercialized Residential Design
Ever since the housing market crashed in 2008, I have realized the line between commercial and high end residential projects has been blurred. In the pre 2008 era, there were lots of custom built-ins and high quality furniture that designated to high end residential market used in high end residential projects, but now we can see many less expensive modularized commercial grade cabinetry and knock off furniture that used to be selected for commercial projects used in high end residential projects. In terms of project deadlines, high end residential projects now are asked to be completed just as quickly as commercial projects without considering maintaining high quality craftsmanship. Without high quality materials or craftsmanship, I once wondered if we still can call high end residential projects high end? But considering the high end residential project clients are still just as rich as pre 2008 era, I believe I still have to consider the residential projects coming from these affluent clients as high end, but in reality, these clients’ mindsets are no longer truly high end. Therefore, I think we should call today’s high end residential projects commercialized residential projects.
Design Trends or Sales Tricks?
Does 3D Rendering Programs Really Make You Work More Efficiently?
Perspective drawing in the past was used as a visual aide for the clients who were non-professional and lacking of 3D imagination, so most of the interior design majored students all needed to learn color renderings by hand at school when the 3D rendering computer programs were still at their infancy. Time passes by quickly, so does technology, there are so many 3D rendering programs out there in the market nowadays, and many design firms also start to use this technology to serve the clients better and help the design professionals designing better. Well, serving the clients better? that is undeniable; helping designing better? I somehow disagree.
The best example, I am not sure if you have encountered the situation like this: When the wall framing was up at the job site or when the project was un-finished, the clients went to the job site, and when they saw the space in 3D, they start to make changes, you told them because they saw things un-finished, they had the false impression that their spaces would look bad after completion, some of them would take your advice and not to make any change because you also told them it was fine to make changes on the approved designs but not without a cost.
Well, let the clients see 3D renderings basically just move the phase of seeing stuff on site and making changes during the Contract Administration Phase earlier to Design Development Phase, and if your firm does not have in-house 3D designers like in the old days and outsource the 3D rendering work and charge clients additional fees for the 3D renderings, it probably still has a mechanism to stop clients from changing approved designs constantly, but since 3D rendering programs become more matured, more younger designers already possess such skill in addition to AutoCAD drafting, you are very likely to hire someone who knows how to operate 3D rendering programs working full-time for you, and since you now have in-house 3D rendering designers, making revisions becomes much easier on 3D renderings, and with no extra cost, believe me, not only will the clients abuse it and make constant changes, the designers themselves do it as well. They make changes on 3D rendering drawings just all the time, anytime they feel like it, anytime they have doubt on certain designs or FF&E selections, they do experiment on it. Hey, it is in-house, and it is free!! who cares?!
Now the designers who also operate 3D rendering programs become your or the clients’ experiment robots, doing all kinds of visual experiments, mix matching and relocating stuff, moving things around, since it is so easy and free, you start to do it not only during the Design Development Phase but during Contract Document Phase, and you know how time-consuming it is when you are still changing designs while drawing construction document. You change one thing on the plan, several elevations, sections, details, specification lists or schedules will also need to be changed, and you tell me that is efficient?
I understand if your firms are doing large-scale commercial projects, constantly reviewing spaces on 3D programs becomes very necessary, but if you are doing individual residential projects under 20k sq.ft, constantly making design changes on 3D drawings is just not sustainable no matter the changes are made by designers or clients. I even think a 3D rendering shouldn’t even be created for a small-scale residential project.
Remember the old days before cell phones were invented? you probably could memorize at least 10 family members’ phone numbers by heart. How about now? How many sets of phone numbers can you remember without checking your cell phones? As design professionals, imaging and visualizing spaces in 3D by heart probably is the most valuable ability you possesses, do not let the 3D rendering programs take away that part of you. Always remember, the non-professionals like clients have every reason not to understand how things will look like in 3D by looking at the 2D plan and elevation drawings, but not you, as a professional interior designer.
Do you hire the right designers for your firms?
To ensure hiring the right designers, the job descriptions and position titles listed on your ads must be honest. Many interior design companies said hiring “interior designers” on their ads but actually the real job responsibility was either a sales person or a computer draftsperson. Different job titles will attract different types of candidates, if you want to hire a CAD operator but are worried the person might quit if he or she won’t have the opportunity to really design their own things, lying about the job title on the hiring ads won’t help. It will just attract many creative individuals who don’t necessarily possess advanced computer drafting skills to the interviews, and if you try to save on salary and say you want to hire a CAD drafter on the ads but actually are looking for a talented interior designer, you might end up attracting more technical oriented but not so artistic people to come to the interview. No matter under what scenario, it will all end up wasting your valuable time and company resources.
Are you working for any interior designer who also involves in fashion industry?
Fashion designers, models, fashion enthusiastic and artists have the robust creativity and imagination, and for those who are extremely talented ones, their ideas can grow beyond what you can even imagine. However, if they stay at the fashion design industry or art field, they can be outstanding artists or fashion designers, but if they cross over to interior design industry, expecting those ego infested design ideas without considering feasibility will give you hard time during the design development phase and construction document phase. As a licensed interior designer who is NCIDQ certified like you, you might already have the perfect design solutions to make things work, but more likely your design solutions will be down played and ignored by the sky high ego that is commonly seen in fashion design industry or fine art world, so if you consider yourself a technical oriented designer who is very capable of designing something that really can be built or executed, working under an artist or fashion enthusiast can be very frustrating.
Low salary contributes to higher competitiveness?!
I just read an article the other day saying low salary in Asia actually increases the competitiveness for these low salary countries which a lot of European countries and the US envy greatly. What kind of non-sense it is?!
I am not so sure if the writer of the article has ever heard a word called Brain-Drain? Does he think the people in those low salary countries are so stupid so they will stay at wherever they are for the rest of their lives?! When majority of the workers leave the country, it will fundamentally devastate the country’s competitiveness as a whole. The low salary countries eventually become education and training facilities for those countries with higher salary levels.
Two major reasons cause brain-drain: 1. Low salary. 2. Long working hours. Paying capable people good salary not only increases workers’ productivity which will eventually contribute to the company’s growth but also eliminate the competitions for the company. Many workers quit their jobs and start out on their own is because they are not satisfied with their pay and want to make more, so when those employees establish their own companies, they eventually become their former employers’ business competitors.
Making workers work overtime is also a commonly seen phenomenon in the low salary countries, I always heard the employers tried to defend it by saying if I do not take the jobs with unreasonable deadlines, someone else will in a heart beat and even ask for less. Well, who do you think those “someone else” are? a lot of them probably used to work for you, dumb dumb! If you keep taking those jobs that have unreasonable deadlines and making your employees work overtime all the time, then you will expect many more such competitions in the future, and those who stay and work will also become less productive or creative workers due to the long working hours, so while the workers in the countries with higher salary invent good stuff and make money out of the patents and enjoy their lives on sunny beaches, your less creative workers will still work like dogs and never be able to invent anything. Now, tell me where is the competitiveness brought by the low salary?!
Know what we interior designers do is essential
Many people thinks what interior designers do are just more decorative types of things such as selecting paint, fabrics, lamps, or furniture, but what we can do are far beyond that, but because many clients do not fully understand interior designers’ specialties, they tend to hire us much later in the game, usually after the houses are built or the space planning are done which limited our creative involvemet to only the decorative items without knowing we also can contribute to many other aspects of design such as lighting, plumbing, structural elements and such.
Being brought into a project late also brings us another charllenge which is clients are expecting interior designers to get their job done quickly. Unreasonable time frame requirement pushes many high end residential interior designers to manage the projects like a commercial design space. The results? low quality furniture and fixtures purchased for quicker shipment, errors on designs and poor craftsmanship on installation and detail handling due to unresonable fast paced, long hour work. Limited creativity on designs or copying of other people’s designs also were often seen. This kind of situation happens in daily basis, especially in Asian markets, and even many American and European designers start to do shitting jobs in Asian markets in order to compete and survive.
Sometimes when I saw the furniture, fixtures, and the materials used in the high end residential projects in Asian countries, I felt sorry for those clients because all of the high end residential grade money they spent, they only got commecial grade stuff, that is sad.
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.
Cultural Insensitive in Interior Design
If the decapitated Jesus’ heads were displayed like this, I bet this design would be called “disrespectful”.