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Understanding the Specialist Skills of an Interior Designer

The public perception of an Interior Designer is of ‘one size fits all’, rather like a GP. However, like the medical profession, designers can be more appropriately compared to a doctor who is the ‘Specialist’ in a specific area of their profession. Interior design comprises multiple specialisms and so most design practices specialise in a market sector such as hospitality, workplace, healthcare or residential. Each require sector-specific skilled knowledge and carry their own form of legal ramifications, regulations and compliance.

Specialist Disciplines of Interior Design

To provide a more extensive understanding of the broadness of the interior design industry, SBID clarified twelve specialist disciplines of interior design© to better assist consumers in sourcing a designer with the skills aligned to their specific scope and task. This filter ensures correct skills are accurately matched to each projects requirement.

Choosing a designer that is both experienced and qualified professionally to design for a specific specialism is paramount for safe and successful outcomes.

Explore the specialist categories that matches your task below, then search the SBID member directory for members with the skillsets and experience in those sectors.

Finding the right interior designer for your project

To help select the right designer for your project’s skill requirements, SBID created a guideline to help determine the design brief…

Is the design project for Commercial or Residential purposes? 

The purpose is to determine the product specification legalities. Building regulations differ for products suitable for public spaces compared to a home. Simply put, products are specified for fire regulations and other compliance factors in performance for commercial use which are not retailed to the general public. Products for residential use are available to the public to purchase through retailers.

When you’ve established the purpose, use these 7 easy guidelines to define a designer’s role and the appropriate skills you require for your project. This will help you make the project brief clearer for the designer and result in better communication on scope and pricing.

1. The Initial Design Brief

Defining what clients want, when often clients are unsure themselves is a dilemma designers are used to addressing. However, it does create a challenge. Be clear on the outcome you want to achieve, along with the required use and performance of the space. Create a brief that clarifies how long you would expect the products to last (e.g. short-term rental, business lease refurb, etc); the purpose (conversion or investor) and frequency of use (second home, children, workspace); and a list of do’s and dont’s as a guide. The designer will then have sufficient information to present an image, drawing or CGI as agreed or establish some solutions and suggestions.

2. Providing Feedback on Presentations

Designers have the knowledge to create a unique interior plan including a scheme, product schedule and procurement schedule. Colour schemes and an existing and proposed layout plan are assembled for client presentation. Be clear on the changes at this juncture so that your budget is accurately generated. This will avoid costly changes later. Each change will impact on the budget as the project progresses, not just in product and material costs, but also in additional design fees. Be very clear about your financial expectations from the outset.

3. Pairing project needs to designer competencies 

The specialisms that each project requires vary and so do the skills of designers, so be clear on the skills you require. An interior design specialist skills are categorised by the twelve design specialisms SBID identified above. To meet the differing legal and compliance standards of a project, ensure you commission a designer adequately experienced for your task. Define your projects core skill requirements to avoid pitfalls.

All SBID Designers are required to hold professional indemnity insurance so make sure you ask the Designer for a copy of this with the Contract you enter into. They also receive an annual Professional Service Contract (PSC) to provide their design services. For larger commercial projects, contracts are also available which are governed by British Law to provide interior design services within the UK and around the world. This contract is endorsed by UK Parliament and provided exclusively to SBID for its interior design members. It is the most superior contract available for interior designers on the market. This footprint provides a solid base to reduce the risk of error.

Specialisms in interior design, Interior Design Specialisms

4. Specification and Sourcing

Designers source trade-only and contract-use products which, due to complex technical specification requirements, installation techniques and performance warrantees are unavailable to the general public. Trade items are strictly for trade professionals who have acquired the skills to correctly specify the item for its desired function, location and use. This further protects manufacturers from issues arising from incorrect specification and installation, which often leads to failure and complaint.

SBID Designers have access to exclusive database of trade-only contract and residential products, providing vast material choices and interior solutions to create an extensive library of options for compliant, custom-designed interiors.

How product specification differs:

Each specialism or design category has variations that alter product performance and also the legal use of the product in its installed location so accurate sourcing, specification and installation is paramount. Always use a qualified SBID Designer to ensure neither product warrantee or property insurance is invalidated as a result of receiving inaccurate advice.

A commercial client (like a hotelier or shopkeeper) may purchase from trade suppliers directly as compliance, performance obligations and requirements in these sectors are mandatory, but a home owner without these compliance obligations may not. These products are also sold in different formats; contract use wallcovering is fire rated, approximately 1.5 mt. wide and sold by the linear metre, whilst residential wall-coverings are sold at 58cm wide on 10 meter rolls and are not fire rated. In public spaces, strict criteria for fabric and upholstery specification must also comply with fire regulations, including the linings and foam, but residential applications do not require such criteria. Contract design is almost an entirely different skill and procurement process to that of a residential one, so it requires different commercial interaction with trades and professions. Each contract specialism (such as marine, healthcare and aeronautical design) have additional compliance regulations.

 5. Procurement

A designer works in one of three ways;

1. Design Only – A schedule of recommended products and a scaled 2D room layout plan. Often the designer will work alongside an Architect on internal layout drawings in a new development or a Design Team in a commercial project.

2. Design and Supply – This includes step 1, but will also incur an additional fee for the designer to supply the specified products including product sourcing, ordering, checking accuracy and condition. It does not include managing client returns, delivery error, manufacture delay or damage to goods delivered, although these factors can usually be negotiated for an additional fee.

3. Design, Supply and Manage – This complete package includes installation fees for decoration items. It includes overseeing procurement processes and is charged at an agreed day rate as an additional fee to the Design Fee. SBID recommends that an estimated number of days is included in the contract and any additional fees applicable have a pre-qualified cap to prevent delay in progress, but protect rising costs without client authority.

6. Stylising

On completion of fit-out works (See recommended Interior Fit-out Specialists), a designer is often also commissioned to complete the project by returning to design the layout. This is an additional fee, but will add that final designer touch. Sometimes just changing the angle of a piece of furniture or relocating an item can make all the difference to the aesthetic impact, so this step is very much recommended. An installation of a commercial project is usually carried out by a design management team, so requires increased management between each professions handover for the final layout and reveal. This process might also be completed by an interior decorator.

7. Handover

SBID recommend that a client handover is carried out on completion. The designer should have a full walk-through of the project with the client to ‘snag’ any items that need addressing. Both parties should sign this document as an agreed list of errors that need resolving with a date specified by which they should be completed. This provides the client opportunity to raise any issues outstanding or unsatisfactory. All warrantees and instruction manuals along with cleaning instructions should be handed over by the designer at this point. The terms of the contract will often define the time limit for any issues to be raised. At this stage it is called handover with retention. When the snagging is completed, the designer should confirm completion.

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