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01/30/2013

Empowering Tech

Emerging technologies can help communicate the value of interior design and drum up new business—here’s how to put them to work for you.

By Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC
 

Emerging technologies can help communicate the value of interior design and drum up new business—here’s how to put them to work for you.

Like other professions, interior design encompasses a language of its own, from understanding the principles and benefits of well-designed interiors, to the programming analysis of end-users and environmental impacts. This language is deeply understood by those of us who are part of the industry, but it often flies over the head of those who are not consumers of design services. Communicating the intrinsic value of interior design and the benefit of our work to external audiences and potential consumers has long been a challenge for the profession.

The interior design field has changed dramatically in recent years, and a large part of that change has been due to the influx of technology in our lives. And while it seems reasonable to expect that technology would provide an excellent conduit to communicate these messages, that hasn’t quite been the case.

The tech explosion has increased access to information, enhanced our ability to communicate and perpetuated a desire to know more. It has also led to increased consumer confidence in their own “DIY” abilities regarding everything from medical diagnosis to financial planning to interior design. This newly educated and empowered consumer means we now need new tactics to develop and sustain our businesses—these tactics must include emphasizing the value of interior design.

The ability to acquire and sort information, data and research continues to influence the design of interior environments and uniquely positions designers to effectively apply this information. New business models that provide greater exposure to clients and the marketplace are being created all the time. Evidence-based design and the application of research has become increasingly important, and is one way that designers can use technology to respond to market demands and educate clients on the impact of design solutions. Virtual business is developed as people, conversations and products are posted, followed, tweeted or liked, resulting in relationships across a network that has no boundaries. PageBreak

Technology has reshaped how we think about design and how we conduct business at all levels of the marketplace.

To meet today’s rapidly evolving online environment, ASID launched a new website at the beginning of this year. Designed to engage the design community—including both industry professionals and clients—the new site truly showcases the expertise of our designers. New features include access to industry research and reports, a robust designer directory and seamless integration with social media so that designers, industry partners and clients can better manage and share information. Specialized content areas are available 24/7, providing streamlined and user-friendly access to ASID resources and information.

But a robust website is just one way designers can use technology to enhance their practice. Other strategies for delivering services, such as bundling, allow potential clients to determine the desired scope of services while providing designers with greater flexibility in terms of project management. The ability to benchmark projects, monitor hours and determine appropriate fees sets a competitive edge, and provides an opportunity for designers to increase their functionality and advance their business.

Tech tools, such as the Canvas Model Design app by Intergrupo, provide an intuitive way for designers to generate individual client or project scorecards that track and compare projects on the go, and assist in the benchmarking process. Canvas Model Design is user friendly if you spend some time to gather and input data on your projects, and can be downloaded directly to your mobile device (available through a Google search or the iTunes app store).

Other tools enhance productivity and provide information (often on mobile devices) that can be customized to fit your needs. Creating new ventures and opportunities can require a different business model and looking at this from a strategic perspective may be necessary. StratPad Plus by Glassey Technologies, My Business Plan by Ololac Interactive or Strategy Architect by the Burwood Group, Inc. are three specific apps that can help designers define, shape and prepare their businesses for the future; they are also a great way to organize your goals and set a direction. Having a plan in place guides your decisions and helps to maintain focus, whether the intent is to increase market position, expand your network or develop a new model of work; technology aids in the process and encourages innovation. PageBreak

From a communications perspective, online technology can provide a fully integrated means of communication for your business. Wikis, for example, can provide a vehicle for your clients and staff to post data, project information, videos and photos, or status updates. Wikis allow you to secure information as desired, providing internal and external communication in various formats. In addition, they can also be used to promote design conversations and provide marketing opportunities and training. There are numerous templates and technical assistance available if you want to try one out; you can then share your wiki with a preferred network or through social media.

We have the benefit of experiencing some of the most incredible technology ever known, and it has the ability to enhance our businesses and our lives. Every version of a smartphone seems to do more, have more features and be more connected, while software becomes more integrated with cross-platform functionality. While these tools can make us more adept at running a successful business and increase our efficiency, it is important to consider, however, that using technology solely to simplify a task or focus on efficient outcomes tends to result in short-term solutions. In fact, there are those, such as Professor Clay Christensen of the Harvard Business School, who maintain that technology’s concentration on efficiency is in essence “killing innovation.” He warns of the danger in confusing innovation and efficiency when adopting technological solutions.

He certainly has a point, but when used to empower innovation, technology can create new avenues for business, transform lives and create meaningful, sustainable opportunities that allow for future development. Early adopters embrace technology as it leads to innovative outcomes demonstrated in today’s successful businesses. There are many opportunities to adopt a personal policy of open-mindedness, and to explore and incorporate technology that suits your needs. There are no rules that apply, but creativity, innovation and forward thinking are definitely required.

 

Barbara Marini FASID, IDEC is the national president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and owner/principal of Marini Interiors, Inc. a commercial interior design and consulting firm in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or asid@asid.org, and on the web at www.asid.org.