What’s better then sex? Well, for me it’s having a presentation where the client loves 95% of what you presented. Yes, I know, super sex is when they like 100% of everything. But there’s something about working hard, being hopeful that the clients are going to agree with your designs, and then having them come in and be excited over your creations. But in the world of design, it rarely works out that way. But today it did! Working hard and designing beautiful spaces always gives my team a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that hard work is appreciated.
“Less is more” VW
The word transparency in our industry is one that is sometimes a little hazy. Whether it is the transparency of showing the client about how you run the business or what your work process is. For me, one of the most important things is being open with other designers about how their business is doing, how much they charge, how they present, and how they deal with problems. I think the more honest we are with our fellow designers and with our clients, the more successful our industry will be.
How do you choose to deal with transparency?
This week, I have two presentations that I’m working on. It brought to mind the fact that I haven’t spoken about modes of presenting on this blog, and I think this is a good time (while it’s fresh on my mind!). I know that a lot of schools say that you should have presentation boards with samples glued on. I find that not as interactive, because most people like to feel the fabrics and also see all the materials at once. This is especially for clients that have a touch of ADD – it can all be quite disconcerting as they will focus on the things that you don’t want them to look at. I find that looking at renderings and a furniture plan (e.g. showing a photo of a sofa and then fabric that it will be upholstered in) is helpful to get the clients focused on exactly what you’re talking about. As the materials (fabrics, marble, wood, steel) start getting placed on the conference table, it starts to build in their mind the interaction of elements in the space.
One of the things that I do is remove all the labels off the fabrics so the clients are seeing the materials and not tags. We press all the samples so they’re not wrinkled, and I lay them out on a tray before the presentation in the order that I am going to present them. I also present the photographs of items (lamps, etc.) in the same order. To reduce stress, I have everything organized beforehand. I think it makes the client feel that you have it all under control.
I have a notepad in front of each person, and at the beginning of the presentation I ask them to write down questions, and I tell them I’ll answer them at the end of the presentation. This helps them stay focused and puts them in absorbing mode. Usually by the time I finish presenting the room, I probably have answered their questions.
I use black and white renderings, hand-drawn – black and white because I prefer painting the color in front of the client and a hand-drawn because it has a warmer, less-mechanical look to it. I start from the front door in, and when I’m presenting a room, I start with the ceiling, walls, floor, window treatments, upholstery, case goods, and then lighting. It makes it easier to organize this way, and it’s almost like putting a puzzle together. At the end of the presentation, I give the client a presentation book with the renderings and artistically arrange the fabrics for the individual rooms with the pictures. If I don’t have a picture, I include a room plan. In the back of book are pages of estimate cost (e.g. sofa costs $X amount), so at the end of the presentation, they know how much everything will cost.
It’s very helpful to have gone through questions with the client, finding out their likes, dislikes, and thoughts about the function of each room. This helps me design for the clients with their requirements.
What’s your advice on presenting?
Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who is a designer and he was telling me about a project that he presented to a client roughly three months ago and they still have not decided on anything. He was so frustrated at the fact that so much work had been put into the project and as wonderful as it was, the client would not set up the follow-up appointments to see the furniture or return phone calls, all they did was hem and haw.
He asked me what my feelings were about it. I said it was like being in labor for three months but not being able to deliver the baby. Clearly, I didn’t have great advice to offer; you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Do you scream and shout? I don’t think that would do any good. Would you continue to reach out to them? Do any of you have any advice, because I was not the most helpful. Please let me know.
What do you do when a supplier goes out of business or runs away with your money?
Fortunately, this has only happened to me once in my long career, when a supplier closed the business and took off with the deposits. Unfortunately, it is a situation that designers may face, and a subject that is often taboo when it comes to designer-client interactions.
In my case, I stepped up to the bar and dipped into my own pockets to pay the client for the losses incurred as a result of the supplier running off with the deposits. I did this, despite the fact that the contract specified that I was not responsible for covering that type of loss.
How does one avoid this sticky situation?
By not putting all of your eggs into one basket and also making sure that you are working with loyal suppliers and have a good sense of their character. Do your research before working with a new supplier, and always ask for references.
Keep in mind that insurance can cover your loss. There are people out there who can help you run those crooks down!
Is there anyone out there who’s been burned? Share your misfortune and let me know how you dealt with it.
How can we protect our designs? I just opened a national magazine to find an American manufacture’s ad for a piece of furniture that I have been carrying in my showroom for the last 3 years. Once your work is featured in a magazine it becomes public domain and I find that manufactures use our designs for “inspiration” for their products. Besides being frustrated about seeing your design being reproduced under another name, what can we do? Yes we can copyright but if they change one slight detail it’s no longer protected. One thing that I have learned is before any meeting with a manufacture I usually draw up a contract that protects the designs I will be showing, making sure they don’t turn around and use them. People say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; I say it’s truly annoying.
I don’t understand why so many American manufactures use other designer’s ideas instead of just hiring that designer and having them do something custom for them. I know companies like Donghia and Baccarat have stepped up to the plate and have sued people for stealing their designs, hopefully putting the fear of God into them.
For those of you out there that are in or trying to get into product design this is a big question. What does everyone think about imitation? Do you have any ideas on how to protect yourself and your designs? Have any of you dealt with this? What happened to you?
Just when I thought business was picking up we hit a snag again! I am not sure how the new state of our economy will affect this industry, but I will be holding my breath for the next couple of months to see what happens. For me business was just getting good again and usually right after summer is our busy season so I will just have to wait and see what happens.
Does anyone have any predictions, thoughts, or insider info?
We are getting ready to present two new jobs, one in Manhattan and one in Long Island. I must say my heart is the most joyful when I am creating.
Designing is different than it was a few years ago; we are dealing with today’s budget limitations and people’s general nervousness. I think people are accustom to a level of luxury that is just not economical right now but they still want it. Working for clients with high expectations and low budgets is on one hand challenging and pushes my creativity but on the other very difficult. Another challenge of having lower budgets is the rising prices in the marketplace, fabrics that were $80 per yard are now $100 and custom sofas that were 8k are now 12k! As designers we are stuck between a rock and a hard place, we want to express our creativity but are limited by lower budgets and rising price tags.
I have started going to mass-market retailers such as Wisteria, Restoration Hardware and Design within Reach to complete jobs within budget. Not that there is anything wrong with that, in fact I think it brings a different dimension to the work. But years ago it would have never occurred to me to go that route…how are you all dealing with this in your own work?
I always find it a little strange judging other people’s work mostly because I don’t like people judging my work. Over the last few weeks I have been a judge in three different contests and I know people are going to come down on me like a ton of bricks for saying this, but I am really surprised by the submissions.
In general the work seemed to lack imagination, they looked more like showroom set ups than something you would find in a home. I also had a hard time finding a cohesive design aim. This bothers me because I know there are incredibly talented people out there…possibly these competitions don’t appeal to them? I was sadly disappointed, as I wanted to be blown away.
One of the competitions did have some amazing landscape submissions, where the designers had limited budgets and extremely limited space. To me the most impressive designs were the simpler jobs that required a great deal of imagination and thoughtfulness and I am happy to say, they did blow me away.