Interior design firms have been known for preserving some old-school ways of doing business with paper checks, frequent in-person meetings, over-stuffed binders of projects, and trays bursting with sample material. Even if you hang onto some of these vintage habits, it more essential than ever as design professionals to embrace modern technology to stay competitive, relevant, and positioned for greater success. Technology is interwoven into all the requirements of running a modern business and interior design firms at all scales have never been so equipped with a host of technologies all in service of enhancing the design project collaboration process and ensuring overall client satisfaction.

In “Chapter 5: Project Management” of my book The Business of Design, I discuss how the state of technology in interior design is always in flux and constantly subject to market forces beyond the trade. I believe that design professionals can empower both the business and creative aspects of their businesses with the ever-evolving technologic tools of today out there. Not only are you competing for great clients to make them lifelong customers, but you are also competing with other firms to secure skilled and seasoned design talent for your workplace. Which technology habits will keep your interior design firm at the leading edge of innovation, growth, and success?

Super-Charged Communications for Interior Design Firms

A couple with an architect are looking at an architectural design

In the blink of an eye, designers moved from desktop computers to powerful laptops, tablets, and smart phones that allow them to conduct business anywhere, anytime. The recent years have brought tools like Zoom, Slack, and Teams to the forefront as essential communication and messaging tools amongst staff and with design clients. Such tools have allowed firms to become nimbler and more versatile with communications and business needs beyond phone calls and emails.

Many of your clients will insist on keeping numerous in-person meetings but video messaging and conference calls will provide greater flexibility to keep projects on track and all stakeholders informed and confident. In my opinion, remote work must be accompanied with in-person idea-sharing and mentoring for design firms to fire on all cylinders and realize an interior design firm’s full financial and creative potential.

Rules of Thumb with Technology

The team is discussing in the conference room

I suggest the following rules of thumb for an interior design firm looking to keep pace with technology in a scalable, manageable way. I believe that firms face plenty of challenges consistently updating their hardware and software, so I present the following formula for a design firm when it comes to hardware:

  • One-third of the equipment should be fairly new
  • One-third should be a year old
  • One-third should be two years old

This will allow an interior design firm to plan carefully to create a long-term budget for technology without the financial strain of upgrading everyone all at once at any given time. Plus, you ensure that your staff is consistently well-equipped to do their jobs by staggering your upgrades of technology periodically so at least a significant portion of your staff has the latest and greatest tools.

Another vital important rule of thumb with hardware in the office is ensuring that your equipment is being used to its fullest potential—make sure that your fastest computers are with the fastest people. Be judicious about the power of the machines being distributed among your staff to plan for top efficiency because you can save money and headaches this way. Your firm principal will want a nice computer but can work just fine with one with lower RAM and memory than the employees who need who need the most powerful and fast computers to run programs like Auto-CAD, Revit, or the Adobe Creative Suite. Use your best judgment to understand the requirements of the applications used by each employee and purchase the computers and accessories accordingly.

Sourcing, Shopping, and Materials Online

The architect is looking for materials on the Internet

Interior designers are inherently social and love traveling, so there will always be a place for in-person market and showroom discovery with sourcing and procuring out in the real world. Yet I am so pleased that the internet, cloud technology, and other similar services have made the world “shoppable” than ever. I encourage interior design firms to leverage the conveniences that vendors like Holly Hunt, Kravet, Hickory Chair, Phillip Jeffries offer with their online trade accounts. Plus with the Studio Capture web extension offered by my company Studio Designer, you can literally shop from almost any online retail store, save an items and add it directly to your account.

Another way to use technology to reduce the amount of sample clutter in your office is Material Bank, a company that emerged in recent years to automate and supercharge the way designers get samples. Material Bank handles the samples of thousands of trade vendors and provides them to designers at no cost with shipments coming almost immediately. Located right next to a FedEx facility, interior design firms are able to obtain materials literally overnight. They also recycle and repurpose samples from designers making not only for a super-efficient sample system but one that is environmentally friendly leading to less waste and un-cluttered offices.

The Rise and Fall of Online Design

Keith Granet quote

The last few years of the pandemic were a rigorous and concentrated test of the viability of online interior design services, or e-design, as a long-term business plan. As a designer, you might consider e-design to either be a threat to your conventional business or as a modern way to get your talents to a wider and more accessible client audience. I believe that the former is most likely not going to happen and that the latter can be a compelling way to expand your business. In recent years a substantial host of companies like Laurel & Wolf, Homepolish, and Décor Aid rose and fell attempting to find lasting and outsized success in the online design space.

Business of Home had a compelling article about the future of e-design. The two prominent companies resilient in this particularly volatile space in interior design—Havenly and Decorilla—survived by emphasizing customer service instead of overly focusing on technology and also managing the unit economics well. The BOH article also touches on the threat of AI technology becoming so good that it replaces designers. I personally think that there will never be a computer sophisticated and trained enough to replace seasoned and talented designers. I agree with BOH that the humanity of design is essential when it comes to providing effective and successful online design services.

Managing Your Business in a One-Stop Shop

A man with glasses works on a laptop

Just like the interior design industry—technology like my own company Studio Designer has evolved with the times starting as a desktop program loaded onto computers with CDs to our current speedy cloud platform that will work as fast as your Internet connection will allow. Whether you choose Studio Designer or another project management or accounting platform, I strongly encourage you get your business online to produce professional documents and handle financials and payments. It is critical that you come across as a professional and efficient business owner to your clients and to potential employees using a program that will put your best, most modern face forward.

Architectural Digest also has a great article about the variety of software programs from AutoDesk to Adobe Creative Suite to the various project management options out there to run your business. One of the rising stars of the Southern California design scene, Lindsey Borchard of Lindsey Brooke Interiors, is a Studio Designer client who shared how she leverages technology for her own interior design firm in this blog post. I share her design ethos to use creativity and technology to uplift others and the entire design community.

Never forget the fundamentals of interior design firms—providing a much-wanted and much-needed service to your clients seeking a beautiful and livable interior space. Technology is meant to enhance and embolden your work rather than replace any part of it. Learn to embrace the dynamic vitality of the intergenerational workplaces that capture the tech-savvy talents of Gen Z and Millennials and leverage the wisdom and leadership of Generation X and Boomers for well-rounded and successful interior design firms.

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Studio Designer is the leading digital platform for Interior Designers managing and growing their design businesses. Featuring fully integrated project management, time billing, product sourcing, and accounting solutions for the interior design industry.