20 Skills I Learned Working at an Interior Design Firm

After six years of working at several successful high-end interior design firms, I have learned so many skills that have developed into lifelong habits for success. These experiences have taught me everything I needed to know to start my independent career. From keeping an open mind to anticipating problems, the below twenty skills are essential to becoming a successful interior designer.

  1. Team Work: Interior design is a collaboration of many experts. It is important to know how to work well with others and in teams, delegating tasks and communicating effectively. If group projects weren’t your thing in school, this might not be the career for you.
  2. Communication: In collaborative design there is an endless amount of internal and external communication. With so many emails and phone calls, being clear, precise, and effective with your messaging is critical for seamless and efficient communication. Take the extra time to be detailed in your requests to avoid that additional clarifying email.
  3. Time Management: Firms bill by the hour and projects have time budgets. This requires designers to track every minute of their time spent on a project. You learn to analyze your time, find ways to be more efficient, and set goals to work faster.
  4. Priorities: As an Interior Designer, you are often working on 10–15 projects simultaneously that may have similar deadlines. It is important to learn how to prioritize projects and tasks appropriately, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the workload.
  5. Proactivity: Anticipate needs and problems, and don’t wait to ask what needs to be done, find out yourself!
  6. Promptness: Always answer an email within 24 hours. If it is an email that can be replied to in less than two sentences, answer it right away. This is how I can end each week with a zero inbox. Letting things sit wastes everyone’s time, and your efforts in being prompt will be noticed.
  7. Resourcefulness: Try to answer your own questions before you ask others. Do your research, utilize archives, and respect other people’s time when questions arise.
  8. Innovation: Design is essentially problem-solving, and a successful designer needs to be creative, innovative, and quick to develop solutions. Think outside of the box and find ways to utilize new technology and concepts to improve upon your design skills.
  9. Detail-oriented: Preventing problems lies in the details. Will that sofa fit through the doorway? Is there an outlet near that floor lamp? Will that countertop withstand the high heat? Is that fabric durable enough for pets? Question every little detail, and your efforts will be rewarded.
  10. Organization: If I were asked to give one piece of advice to any aspiring designer it would be to be organized in every way possible. From contacts, to file folders, to paint chips, time is saved when you know exactly where something is.
  11. Flexibility: Details and schedules change every day and to keep up you must be able to adapt. Sitting around and complaining about how yesterday it was one thing and now it is another will only exhaust yourself and make you sound like a complainer. Making waves can derail a timeline, and you do not want to be the person responsible for that.
  12. Managing Expectations: Designers are expected to know essential information like budgets and schedules. These figures can make or break the success of a project, and if something goes over budget or takes longer than expected, the designer is often held responsible. It is critical to be clear and honest with your clients, but also strategic. The key is to under promise and over delivery. Strive always to exceed expectations and your clients with never be disappointed.
  13. Problem-solving: Problems arise no matter how far in advance you plan. Stay on your toes and be prepared for a few issues. Don’t waste time making it a big deal, and be ready to develop three solutions while presenting the problem to your superior or client.
  14. Commitment: Some design projects last only a few months and others last years on end. Staying committed and focused on a project for an extended period can be challenging and it’s easy to lose steam. Find ways to self-motivate and sustain your attention over time. Once you commit to a project, the only way out is to quit, and that is never an option.
  15. Relationship Managment: As a designer most of your future work is referred from clients, architects, contractors, vendors, and trades. Maintaining your professional network and cultivating lasting relationships is the key to a sustaining career.
  16. Confidence: The client is entrusting so much into the hands of their designer: money, time, personal space. It is important for them to feel like their designer has confidence in their decision making and project management. I never use the phrase, “I don’t know” instead I say “Let me find out.” If you have confidence in yourself, others will have faith in you.
  17. Presentation: From design boards to your outfit, the presentation is essential to a successful design career. How will a client trust you to design their home if you cannot maintain an organized desk or put together a cohesive outfit? There is so much to be said about the power of imagery and presentation, so take the extra time to present every detail in a well thought out manner.
  18. Open-mindedness: If someone asks you to do something outside of your job description, look at it as an alternative way to go above and beyond. I have learned so much about accounting, finance, administration, operations, and PR and marketing from saying yes to tasks outside of my role. You can learn a lot when you open your mind to other ideas and new opportunities.
  19. Business Management: Design is as much creative as it is a business. To run a design business, you must be able to understand customer relations, project management, tax and resale laws, financial planning and reporting, code requirements, and public relations and marketing, You really have to be able to do it all, especially as an independent designer.
  20. Self-improvement: Be open to constructive criticism and feedback, it is the only way you will learn how to improve yourself and grow to be successful.
  21. Professionalism: Invest in great headshots!

Needless to say, I hope this brings to light how many skills are required to be a successful Interior Designer. It is much more that simply selecting paint colors and sofas, which is why I truly love this profession.

Tags: 2015, A Design Lifestyle, blog, business, client, firm, interior design, lessons, skills, small business

Originally published at www.adesignlifestyle.net on October 16, 2015.