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Understanding the Specialist Skills of an Interior Designer

The public perception of an interior designer is usually a ‘one size fits all’. However, like many professions, designers and design practices tend to specify their skills to a specific area. Interior design comprises 12 specialisms across the residential and commercial contract sectors. Each require sector-specific knowledge and carry their own form of legal ramifications, regulations and compliance factors to consider.

Specialist Disciplines of Interior Design

To provide a more understanding of the interior design industry, SBID identified its specialist disciplines of interior design ©. This will help you define what services your project may require and ensure they are accurately matched to the specialist skills of the interior designer. Choosing a designer that is both experienced and qualified to design for your specialism is paramount for safe and successful outcomes.

Click here to learn about comissioning an interior designer and follow our easy guide to help you find, brief and work with an interior designer. Explore the SBID Designer Directory to discover professional design services for your requirements.

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 project for Commercial or Residential purpose? 

The purpose is to determine product specification legalities. Building regulations can differ for public spaces compared to that of a private residence. For example, products may be specified differently for fire safety and other performance factors in order to be compliant for commercial use. Once you’ve established this, you can use the simple guidelines below to accurately find, instruct and brief your interior designer. This make your requirements clear and result in better communication on scope, capabilities and pricing from the outset.

1. Finding an Interior Designer 

The specialist knowledge that each project requires can vary. SBID defined 12 interior design specialisms (outlined above) to help you identify to types of skills or services you need, depending on your project. To meet the differing legal, regulatory and compliance standards of a project, ensure you commission a designer that is adequately experienced for your task. Define your projects core requirements and function to avoid pitfalls, and be clear on the kind of services you require.

All SBID Designers are required to hold valid professional indemnity insurance, so make sure you ask the designer for a copy of this with the contract you enter into. SBID also provides members with access to a variety of Professional Service Contracts to ensure legal agreements are appropriate for the project scope and aid the successful delivery of design services.

2. 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.

3. Providing Feedback on Presentations

Designers have the knowledge to create a unique interior plan including a scheme, product specification and procurement schedule. Colour schemes and a 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.

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 product failure and complaint.

SBID Designers have access to an exclusive database of verified, trade products for contract and residential sectors, helping our members provide high quality, compliant and custom-designed interior solutions.

How product specification differs:

Each design specialism has differing requirements that alter product criteria, from performance oligations and maintainance to the legalities of its installation. 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.

 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, a designer is often also commissioned to complete the project by returning to ‘dress’ the spaces. 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 coordination on handover for the final layout and reveal.

7. Handover

SBID recommend that the handover is carried out on completion. The designer should conduct a full walk-through of the project with you to note any items that need addressing. This provides a chance to identify and discuss any outstanding issues. Both parties should sign this document as an agreed list of errors that need resolving, with a date specified for which they should be completed. The terms of a contract may also define a time-frame for any issues to be raised.

All warrantees and instruction manuals, along with cleaning and care instructions should be handed over by the designer at this point. This is called handover with retention. When the walk though is complete, the designer should confirm official project completion.

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