Making Our Own Good News

As more data comes in, things are appearing to look up for the interior design industry in 2012 -- but can the trend continue?

06.22.2012 by Lisa Henry

If 2011 was the year of the rollercoaster, 2012 is turning out to be the year of the cliffhanger. Around the world, markets continue to bounce up and down, rocked by political unrest, financial scandals and concern over the euro. Yet despite the continuing economic uncertainty, the news for the interior design industry has been mostly positive … up to now. Is this a bubble or the first indications of a real recovery? At this time, no one can say, but we have reason to be optimistic.

The latest Facts & Figures report from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) cites some significant numbers that illustrate this point. One of the most revealing figures in the report is the incredible purchasing power of designers. Even in a down economy, designers are specifying more in terms of total dollar volume, number of products specified and the total percentage of all specification than any other group in the A&D industry. The report finds:

  • Interior designers as a group specify more than $46 billion worth of products and services a year

  • On average, interior designers specify products in nearly 9 out of 10 projects in both residential and commercial projects

  • Over the past five to six years, specification by interior designers has increased, while it has decreased for others

In another bit of good news, we recently received the latest results from our quarterly Interior Design Business Performance report, and the outlook for our industry as a whole certainly seems to point toward improvement. The gains in our monthly Interior Design Billings and Inquiries Index were broad-based, with firms of all sizes and in all regions of the country reporting increases in billings and inquiries. Most sectors of the industry sustained gains as well.

Moreover, the Interior Design Index has outpaced the AIA index over the past 17 months for which there is comparable data (12 out of the 17 months), and inquiries have remained strong as well. Some adjustment must be made for seasonal fluctuations, and we are a long way from where we were pre-recession. In one sense, however, the sluggish economy and stagnant real estate market have been kinder to interior designers, creating relatively more demand for remodeling, repurposing and restoration projects than for new construction.

Some of the best news of all came in May with the publication of the latest occupation and employment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment for interior designers was up in 2011, reversing a downward trend that started in 2009. According to the BLS, 830 more designers had jobs in 2011 than in 2010. That’s a small fraction of the more than 13,000 jobs lost since the beginning of the recession, but a positive gain and fuel for optimism.

Wages also increased slightly for interior designers in 2011, and the mean annual salary for an interior design employee rose by more than $700—another turnaround. Our index surveys suggest this trend is likely to continue in 2012.

Combined, these numbers are both impressive and exciting, as they support the growth, evolution and expanding opportunities we are seeing for interior designers across the industry. From anecdotal evidence and industry surveys, we anticipate that these opportunities will only increase as the economy improves.

As this evolution continues, ASID’s number one goal is to stay at the forefront of the industry by continuing to develop and offer our members new education, tools and technologies to stay ahead of the trends and increase their business effectiveness in the marketplace. As part of this goal, we have established several programs including a Small Business Council dedicated to helping our members build their businesses with tools such as our newest guide, Life Stages of an Interior Design Business, which identifies the skills and knowledge designers need to grow and expand their businesses, and an extensive business resource library.

We also have created a unique tool, Design Business Benchmarking, to provide design firms with never-before-available business intelligence. Design Business Benchmarking allows designers to benchmark their interior design business on some 20 different metrics, including revenue, fees, salary, benefits, expenses, and firm size and scope. Designers can narrow or broaden the comparison by using preset filters.

The results show how a firm stacks up on each metric against other firms that match the criteria. With one click, the results can be captured as charts or spreadsheets for further analysis. Armed with this information, firms can better align themselves to the market, and more easily spot opportunities to improve their efficiency and profitability.

Effectively managing the operations of a design business is only part of the equation for the success of our members. Creating a space in which we bring designers together with our manufacturing and retail industry partners has always been a priority. We are expanding our outreach at industry events and bringing our voice to the table at industry forums to forge stronger relationships and create a more favorable environment for designers.

On the legislative front, we are working hard to open the scope of work to benefit all designers. Times have changed, building practices have changed and our profession has evolved. In some states, the laws and regulations have not kept pace. We have shown there is a demand for our services, and we deserve a fair and open marketplace where we can practice to the full extent of our abilities.

In addition, our strategy going forward is to increase the involvement of consumers and clients, bringing together all of the players within the interior design ecosystem. We will be providing potential clients with more extensive information about the many ways designers enhance the interior environment to help them better understand the unique value of working with a designer.

Whatever happens in the second half of 2012, we should be encouraged by the gains we have seen so far. We have shown that we can adapt and innovate. We have used these past few years to retool our businesses, and we are better prepared to meet the challenges of a changing global economy. We cannot control all the forces that affect our industry, but together we can design our future.


ASID President Lisa Henry, FASID, LEED AP, is the Knoll Southwest regional architecture and design director. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the web at To learn more about Design Business Benchmarking or to obtain a copy of Facts & Figures, go to Practice & Business at