Emerging Business Models for Interior Designers

As the business climate continues to change, adapting to new models and uncovering market niches are more important than ever.

by Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC

Interior design is not the only profession in a state of flux today, and as the economy slowly recovers, one cannot help but wonder about the long-term impacts on the overall business world. The traditional business models have already shifted, adapted and gone by the wayside in favor of more innovative, dynamic and collaborative approaches. With the influence of globalization and technology, entirely new business models have emerged, forcing a paradigm shift in the way we think about conducting business and opportunities in new markets.

On a recent trip to Guangzhou, China, I witnessed first-hand the effect of the global economy through the energy of its business environment. In the last decade, the Chinese people have embraced new lifestyles as a result of exponential economic growth and globalization—and this trend is far from over over. The Harvard Business Review predicts 70 percent growth in international markets over the next few years, and approximately 40 percent growth in India and China alone.

Learning to adapt and develop our business models to succeed in these burgeoning markets is imperative for designers today. To be sure, communicating the value of interior design is more important than ever.

Emerging economies around the world require an open-minded and strategic approach to conducting business. As an example, the old adage “business as usual” could not be further from the truth today. The companies most successful at globalizing do not conduct business as usual, but employ creative thinking to develop new business models with language, culture and differing perspectives in mind. Interior designers have the propensity for creative thinking and can lead the development of new models that can influence practice and communicate the impact of design.

Developing new business models requires a flexible approach in dealing with varying markets and potential customers. Broadly stated, consumers of interior design services tend to be increasingly knowledgeable about products and resources. The value in hiring a designer evolves through the decision-making process, during which designers educate clients about the overall impact of design solutions.

For this reason, designers need to not only have command of the trade, but also consumer behaviors in targeted markets, purchasing patterns and other trends that may impact their business. Maintaining relevant market information is key to developing and responding to business shifts. The ASID State of the Industry report is a great resource to start; designers can supplement this with focused and targeted business information to expand into new areas.

Developing business models will continue to center on the issues of sustainability and community-centered design. This provides a unique environment to promote interior design services and build business. There are other emerging models, such as niche market development that focus on the mature audience, travel, leisure, lifestyle and serving the middle market—all significant opportunities for designers looking to build their business and stretch their skills.

The business world is changing at a rapid pace; you’ll need creative thinking, collaboration and a team management approach to generate new business models and innovative concepts. Focusing on the socio-cultural, technical, economic, environmental and political influences is critical in the process. Interior designers are positioned to deconstruct their current model of doing business and reinvent it in order to be successful in today’s market. There are many opportunities for the profession and maximizing the potential today and into the future is critical, given that fixed business models no longer exist.

Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC is the chair of the interior design program at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Detroit, Mich. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or asid@asid.org, and on the web at www.asid.org.