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.
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.
Interiors of public spaces are defined by SBID as being space not privately demised. Public space is shared communal areas where the public may pass such as in blocks of flats. It is also an area created as a service for the community such as airports, libraries, schools, museums and shopping centres. Universities, conference centres, train stations and religious buildings are also public spaces that designer create.
A designer skilled in public space design is experienced in safely moving a volume of people through an area, ensuring the surfaces are durable and appropriate in wet conditions, lighting levels are adequate for use and maintenance of the space is sustainable and safe for the products specified. Particular attention to Health & Safety regulations must also be addressed.
Retail design includes the interiors of shopping centres shops, showrooms, pop-up shops, arcades and galleries. It is a commercial discipline that combines several different areas of expertise together. Retail design is primarily a specialised practice of architecture and interior design, however it also incorporates elements of interior decoration, industrial design, graphic design, ergonomics, and advertising. Retail design is a very specialised discipline due to the heavy demands placed on retail spaces, which must also be designed to draw people in. The storefront must act as a billboard for the store. In the case of a retail chain, the individual spaces must be unified in their design to create a recognisable identity. Retail space designs must particularly consider assisted access for wheelchairs, buggies and shopping trolleys, as well as the materials specified to be durable for safety and repair. Colour and signage (pathway) generate a passive route of direction to avoid customer collision. Heat and ventilation, noise control and lighting also work to assist sales, as well as providing a passive and enjoyable journey for the customer.
The Government design is a sector carried out by a suitably qualified and pre-approved designer with external third party management criteria approval. This ensures that in case of disaster or default, a third party could take over and avoid delay to the project timeframe. A designer must be highly competent to work on government projects, having qualified admin processes, management and financial records to demonstrate prosperity and competence in the supply chain for product sourcing and supply; particularly for after-care services. Materials are checked for best value and budget control between governmental departments to ensure the best value is achieved and the most competent practice for the task has gone through a rigorous approval process before being appointed. The skills required are varied. Heavy duty, industrial products are often required for government offices, so function, durability, manufacturing quality and reliability is key. Lighting, cleaning and maintenance are also key considerations. They usually require functional schemes designed for longevity that suit all demographics and geographical locations. Alongside usual design considerations, logistics, country of origin for goods specified and energy consumption can also be a core factors.
When you think about your workplace, you may not have considered that it has been designed by a team of interior designers who have thought about your work behavioural patterns. In the same way retail design is created with the consumer in mind, office design is largely created with the employee in mind. Making the most of peoples talent involves making sure they’re happy, safe and comfortable for the best performance and reduced sick days. It means showing them their welfare genuinely matters to you by creating an office design and layout that is just as inspiring as it is practical and fit-for-purpose.
Workplace design should consider the time spent standing and sitting, posture, appropriate lighting and ventilation as core elements to good design. Ergonomics, assisted facilities, facilities management and breakaway areas lend to the flow and use of work spaces for optimum productivity. A well designed workplace should reflect a pleasant, efficient workspace and meet the needs of both the client and the employees that will work in the space. Lighting and noise control are key elements along with pathfinding, communal bathrooms, personal storage and security. The identity of the company should be demonstrated by the design, materials, space layout to reflect the overall ethos and values of the company (e.g creative, consumer, investment etc).
Residential interior design refers to the design of a home whether for a new construction build or re-designing the interior of an existing home. Residential Designers may further specialise in one particular area of residential design such as kitchens or bathrooms. Unlike commercial design, an interior designers’ client is usually the end user (the person / family who intend to live in the space). Residential interior designers often manage the entire project, including contractors. They should be aware of the age group of the intended users so as to consider appropriate surfaces, maintenance for the level of care and use of the space. Lighting is important to measure against the times of day and geographical position when considering room locations. Products should address specific allergies, as well as personal uniqueness and family-specific needs.
As with any project, budgets for residential design are dependent on the client but should take into consideration the style of the property and of course, occupants age and the longevity required from the installation.
An aeronautical designer is competent in the fire regulations of all materials specified which have their own specialist coding. Due to the high safety element of each materials requirement, aeronautical design is generally an industrial designer skill and just a few design practices work in this sector. Interior design is often then included within their overarching remit rather than independently. The compliance of the materials performance and certification is paramount, as well as the specific performance, safety and hygiene considerations which a general interior designer would not be qualified for, and should not undertake this specialism without adequate training, qualification and additional insurance.
SBID recognise this category as highly competent-based and those without third party approval should not engage in this highly trained design competence.
Marine design has extremely strict compliance codes due to weight, fire and risk of water damage. All products must have approval for suitability if fitted by the boat builder which is independently governed by safety management certificates for cruise, passenger and domestic boats. International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standards are agreed under European law before passing into UK legislation and additional regulations that relate to alternative vessel types also exist.
Maintenance and construction of all forms of electrical equipment have stringent regulations. Materials should be water and fade, as well as vibration resilient. A yacht designer is a core specialism which requires a vast amount of specialist knowledge in safety guidelines and ergonomic design.
Transport design has improved increasingly as car design now places higher on consumer agenda in influencing purchase decisions. Emphasis on ergonomic design knowledge and science / mathematical skills have enormous influence on the choice of material and surfaces in the design specification. Performance, durability and safety of products such as seating, lighting, flooring and colour are key considerations. Shape and form is created by the industrial designer, sometimes in conjunction with a specialist transport designer to jointly create a colour scheme and surface materials as part of a brand range or corporate identity.
Hospitality design focuses on the interiors of commercial premises for service industries which includes hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, casino’s, cafés, pop-up or temporary restaurants, spas, lounges and more. As the hospitality industry is one of the largest performing sectors, designers play in important role in ensuring the design maximises the spaces’ functionality from a financial perspective. Good interior design will include the time it will take to serve a drink from behind the bar by ensuring specific product layout, bar height and customer access, along with trading hours, leisure seating layout, the pitch of a seat back (differing from eating, learning or reclining for leisure) – these small but essential factors define good design from experienced designer knowledge. Hotels have heavy foot traffic, so products and colours should not only fit the budget and performance requirement but also the guest demographic, the refurb timeframe and the hotels core function (e.g for leisure resort or commercial traveller).
Investors who purchase buildings that were designed for one use such as a factory, bank, church or large house etc, might change its use and convert it into a restaurant, hotel or block of flats. This alteration to the structure, drainage, power and water requirements, along with weight and services placement require specialist knowledge addressed by the designer. Knowledge of change of use criteria for the conversion is essential and thus, the sector relies equally on tight budget control. Infrastructure criteria for Health & Safety compliance is required. This style of interior design also requires practical design knowledge with a huge construction-based overlap to address factors like drainage, floor levels, fire doors and security compliance for insurers when specifying ironmongery, location of doors, sockets, as well as bathrooms. The additional knowledge of the end-use specialism will also be required for example restaurant or residential. Conversion design requires an increased knowledge of building regulations to ensure the design layout is compliant.
Healthcare design is driven by the patients needs and restrictions to maximise their quality of care. This can be a dental practice, hospital, sports therapy centre, nursing homes or any care-related property. Design in a healthcare environment focusses primarily on the patient or user needs and limitations, as well as carers and visitors. Materials and products are coded for healthcare performance and often have additional hygiene qualities. Products for assisted living provide a host of additional benefits not found in the residential sector. Building regulations also have a strict code of performance requirements for bathroom appliances.
Wellness design in a similar form focuses on the patient or visitor experience whilst within the space. It also focuses on how the space or environment makes an individual feel. This could be anything from a colour that stimulates the mind, to one that could cause anxiety. Utilising areas to improve the visitors wellbeing include emphasis on scent, colour, noise and emotional response. The key development in wellness and healthcare design more recently involves bringing in nature-related design and sustainable materials, notably called biophilic design in which the designers create ‘sensory engaging design’ to generate a relaxing and welcoming environment. This style of design has been incorporated into SBID approved interior design courses and Centres of Excellence across the UK. Products for this sector are found in the Product Directory in SBIDpro.
Kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom (KBB) design sits in the residential sector. It has in the past twenty years grown large enough in scale and product choice to be defined into its own sector of interior design. Kitchen and bathroom design requires its own area of design knowledge; electric, plumbing, extraction, heating, windows and water flow rates for specifying showers, pipe connections and tap ceramic disc suitability.
A kitchen designer must ensure doors open to the most appropriate angle by specifying the correct hinge radius without causing damage or harm to surrounding space or individuals. The layout design and space planning must comply with building regulations for safety (e.g distances between water and electricity outlets), as well as allow the user to work and move throughout the space comfortably and efficiently. Kitchen design is particularly difficult due to compliance regulations and project budgets.
Bedrooms were added to this sector as the skills and tools required to create kitchen cabinets are equal to those for bedroom storage. Space planning is a design category that incorporates all the needs presented by the client to store and move around in a zone. A designer will advise and make recommendations in all aspects of the space including colour, fixtures, wall coverings, lighting, surfaces and appliances.
To help select the right designer for your project’s skill requirements, SBID created a guideline to help determine the design brief…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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SBID Accreditation is a marque of achieving professional competence and industry excellence defined by education, ongoing training and experience.
Becoming ‘SBID Accredited’ means that you have achieved the highest industry-assessed benchmark in a specialist interior design category.
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