Ten Things I’ve Learned As A Designer

Winter break is finally over! You know, for all of the college kids. (Ahhh, I miss those crazy long breaks!) But that also means it’s time for them to get back in the saddle and focus on studies. (I’ve been in this industry for over a decade now– goodness, time flies! I still remember those crazy all-nighters finishing projects and eating/drinking the most random things at 3am to help yourself stay awake. But anyways, moving on…) If you’re a design major or considering entering our industry, read on to find out some things you should be prepared for as you enter this field– the things you probably won’t learn in school.

Ten Things I’ve Learned As A Designer

#1: When you’re interning or starting out, be prepared to wear all the hats: the intern, the coffee-getter, the errand-runner, the copying-stapling-and-preparing-presentations-newbie, the janitor, the all-around-yes-person. You will become a professional schlepper (you know, carry all the things everywhere, samples, tile, install kits, fabric books and more). Your job is actually to soak in everything that’s happening while being as helpful, productive and efficient as possible. And all with a great attitude! Your willingness to help will go a long way and nothing is better than a gracious spirit.

#2: If you want to open your own business, you should minor in business or marketing and be prepared to do ev.er.y.thing…. including accounting, admin, scheduling, ordering, tracking, managing, marketing, social media, and everything in between… in addition to designing, drawings, and furniture/fixture selection. It’s not for the faint of heart or indecisive. Time management and prioritizing are your best friends.

#3: Read people’s minds. And then over-deliver. Seriously– at least, as best as you can. And the better you can, the more successful you’ll be. Most people know what they DON’T like more than what they do like and sometimes it’s hard to get someone to effectively express their vision. Your goal is to give them their style in a way that they haven’t thought of– to get them just slightly out of their comfort zone and give them something they wouldn’t have come up with themselves. The key is to make it better than they imagined! And the key to that is listening. Become an excellent listener!

#4: You are a marriage counselor and a therapist. Yup, you read that right! Be prepared to be an unbiased-outside opinion for couple’s whose styles are completely opposite. You’re the one to get them on the same page– to meld their dreams and end up with two happy people. This also goes for partners within a company who don’t share the same ideas. Ultimately, they’ll look to you and your experience and expertise to show them why one way is better than the other.

#5: At the end of the day, your client lives/works there, not you. There will be plenty of times when you have the most perfect laid plan that your client initially loves. And then, they decide they don’t love it and they want to change a portion here… and a portion there. And it kind of screws up your design. Sometimes you’ll need to push back and explain why their idea isn’t the greatest, but other times, you’re going to need to re-evaluate the plan and provide alternatives. You want them to LOVE where they live or work and need to do everything possible to give them that! Learning when to push back is important too and will come with experience and knowledge.

#6: The bottom line: you are in sales. Didn’t think that was coming, did you? All you wanted to do was design spaces, select furniture and fixtures and make environments beautiful. But you are a salesperson. At the heart of your job, especially if you’re in residential design or a project lead in commercial design, you will be presenting your ideas and designs to your clients in order to sell them that your vision is best. You want to be selected out of all of their other prospects and need to be able to confidently communicate your ideas. (If being a people person isn’t on your to-do list, there are other avenues of design that you can do! Become a specialist in drawings, renderings, or managing orders and schedules if you like to stay behind the scenes.) At the end of the day, you want them to choose you! And then your selections. It’s a cycle.

#7: Knowledge is power. I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but the more you know your information inside and out, the more confidently you can present your ideas. It will be nerve-racking the first few times you present by yourself– I mean, designers need to know A LOT about a lot of different things!– but the more prepared you are, the better you’ll feel.

#8: Ask for help. Because you need to know about multiple parts of the industry and an overwhelming amount of products, you need to establish great relationships with your reps and trades so you can rely on them for their expertise. You won’t always have all of the answers and that’s ok. Let your clients know you have the perfect resource for them. Designers need to be teamplayers.

#9: Always be honest. Simple and straightforward. You want your clients to be comfortable with you, but more importantly, they need to trust you. If you screw up, (and you will– you’re only human), let your boss know immediately so the problem can be resolved as quickly as possible. The sooner they know about it, the sooner a solution can be found, but it’s always helpful if you come with a solution or two as ideas to work through. Learn from it and move on!

#10: Have fun! Let your personality shine through! There are plenty of designers and people will be attracted to you/your company because of who you are. Don’t sell yourself short by putting up a front or trying to be like someone else– people will always see through it! Have fun with your style!

Good luck in the last few semesters, or better yet, months! Soon you’ll be walking across that graduation stage and starting a whole new chapter!