I’ve written about online interior design services before, a few years ago there were a few tech startups that tried to get into the online design market but seemed to have changed tactics. One of them started as an affordable service for homeowners but I see has now pivoted their service and targeting landlords, Airbnb and property developers.
Personally, I think that online design is only just starting, it’s just that the current offerings don’t really work for the audience. These services are currently very cheap – under £200 a room and in some cases, just £75 for a room design. While I do understand that there are some very talented interior designers working for these companies, but at these rates they don’t have enough time to connect with a client, understand and interpret a brief and set about designing and sourcing.
What is the offer, who is the client?
The design process is time consuming, there is a lot of communication, understanding and thought that goes into designing a space that truly works for the client. It’s only by going through this process that the client is going to feel that they have received value. And this makes me want to suggest that online interior designers need to raise their rates so that they budget for this additional time.
Time starved, tech savvy, location independent HENRY’s (High earners, not rich yet), would love to engage a professional, experienced interior design team that does not demand too much of their face to face time.
With an intelligent offering of moodboards, design concepts, space planning and floor plans, 3d renderings/CGI’s and shopping lists, this service is most definitely something that has scope to grow. And of course, there is still virtual reality to consider, which is going to be a game changer in the interior design business.
Challenges of Online Interior Design
The challenge here for traditional interior design firms is that a lot of their profits are made in the FF&E stage of the project, not the design process. So issuing a client with a shopping list to get on with it, means that designers don’t earn that 20% commission on purchases.
There are of course ways around this to make life easy for both the designer and the client. You could have a mix of your own product, in-stock product and affiliate agreements with online stores. There are also a plethora of procurement agencies who work with designers on this aspect of the project.
Working as an online designer means that you’re not on site or sometimes not even in the same city or town as your client. Measuring up before you start working on plans is a real challenge, and I’d suggest you send around someone to professionally measure your clients space.
At the same time, if you are recommending paint colours, new window treatments, flooring etc, then you’re going to have to be ready to issue guidelines and instructions to the trades.
Just sticking to interior styling is going to eradicate the above two challenges, but it also means you’re not creating a lifestyle change for your client, and your value drops, and so must your rate.
A hybrid online interior design service
I always believe that being straight with prospective clients is always best, and I recommend that you very clearly state the limitations of your service. You don’t want your client to get to the implementation stage and realise they need you to help them on site. It’s your responsibility to prepare your client for being able to deliver what you have designed, or again, your value decreases.
But, the huge opportunity here is that you can find a wider client base that is totally in love with your style and your personality.
On a recent trip to the USA for a design influencers conference, I met and heard from quite a few interior designers that have either added this sort of service onto their existing offer or simply given up the big studio and gone virtual.
The market is growing steadily for these services, but you’ve got to think about what the client wants and mould your offer to that. A traditional interior design service via email is not what this is.
If you are an interior designer or architect and thinking of creating a service like this, you need to ensure that you have a strong and robust social media strategy to find clients.