4 lessons on collaborating with Interior Designers

Over the years I have helped, and worked with, dozens of interior designers and it has always added something positive to the way I run my own Interior Design studio.

It doesn’t make sense to me that designers shouldn’t help other designers, it seems mean spirited. How could the room of budding interior designers you learnt alongside, who all shared ideas and supported each other so willingly during your study, suddenly become sworn enemies? Hopefully, this hasn’t happened to you.

If designers who train together can collaborate together – then why not also collaborate with interior designers who are at various stages of their careers?

I have worked with a number of designers over the years, and it has always taught me something – about my business processes, about design or about the customer experience. And it doesn’t really matter what stage of their business or experience the other interior designer has. I have collaborated with newer designers just starting out and learnt a ton, it’s so much fun with their fresh perspective, current ideas and ways of doing things, whilst more seasoned designers can share so much from their knowledge and years of experience in the world of interiors. 

Here’s what I learnt from collaborating with other interior designers and why I think you should do it in your business too:

  1. It’s lonely working on your own. Running your own business means you are covering every department from sales, marketing, accounts, to customer services and all the admin jobs on top. Having someone to bounce ideas around with can really help with your motivation.

    An outside view on any problem you are facing can really help you put things into perspective. It doesn’t have to be design that you collaborate on, it could be how to price for a certain job or how to handle an unhappy customer.

  2. Work to your strengths. As an interior designer there are so many areas that you need to be across from space planning, lighting design, textiles, colour knowledge, furniture sourcing, and project implementation, to more specialist areas like commercial design or kitchens and bathrooms.

    If you get busy or feel out of your depth, then getting help on a project can be a lifesaver. It often feels easier to outsource elements of our business that are not design related, like marketing or accounts. It feels less natural to ask another designer for help on the design. You should be able to do the design as you are a designer – right? Don’t look at it that way.

    I had a commercial project with an extremely tight deadline. I had to pull together an initial concept, 2D plans and 3D visuals, plus a projected budget and high-level timeframe for implementation, in just a few weeks. I knew it was an enormous task and I wasn’t going to get it all done in time with my current workload. I also know that CAD is not my strongest area.

    I found someone who offered a Designer-to-Designer service, and knew she had a ton of commercial interior designer experience so would be pretty whizzy on CAD. It made complete sense to me to outsource this element of the project, and I really couldn’t be happier with my decision. It lifted the weight, allowing me to focus on the detail (getting estimates and quotes, and building an implementation timeframe) whilst someone else took my initial sketches, proposed layouts, and turned them into professional technical drawings.

    Consider whether there are design elements you don’t enjoy so much or would like help on. It’s not a sign of weakness or a cop out asking for help, it’s the smart thing to do. Remember that big design studios have separate departments for the different elements of a design project, teams of people sourcing or doing CAD and visualisations. Collaboration is a necessity in a bigger design studio.

    We also have to get past the mindset that using another designer means giving work to the competition.

  3. Referrals. You really should be focusing your interior design business in one key area (that’s a topic for another day), but you are bound to get enquiries for work that isn’t your bag. Hopefully, this will be minimal, as your on-line presence should give clients a strong idea of the work you do and your niche, but it will still happen.

    By having a network of designers you can refer to, you can pass on clients that aren’t right for you, making it easier to say no to the work you don’t want.

    Saying no to a client, because you don’t gel with them, don’t fancy the project, are too busy, or don’t feel it plays to your design strengths or style, can be difficult. But, if you can refer to another designer, it feels pretty good.

    It’s so much easier to say, “I’m not a right fit for this project, but I know an excellent designer who specialises in bathrooms, let me put you in touch.” You are serving the customer and helping out another designer too. Lots of good karma. It might even lead to the other designer returning the favour or asking for your help on a project.

  4. A different perspective. When you are working on, and in, your business for a while, you get into a groove, a rhythm of working. This can be a good thing, but it can also blind you to changes or improvements you could make on the design or admin side of your business.

    If you can, I would recommend occasionally working on an element, or the whole of a project, with another designer. I collaborated with my wonderful friend Andrea, who runs her own design business in London, on a project, and it gave me a new perspective. She presented her schemes in a different way, used an app for design that I didn’t (and now do!), had a different approach to sourcing, and of course her design eye is amazing so she had great ideas I wouldn’t have thought of for the schemes.

    My work coaching newer interior designers has also kept me on my toes. Over the years you can become a bit lax about your processes, stuck in your ways, or get a bit stale in your sourcing or suppliers. Working with keen newbies reminds you why you do what you do, introduces you to innovative ideas and suppliers, and keeps you fresh!

    I love collaborating. And breaking down the more closed off side of the industry was one of the reasons I set up the online membership ‘Interior Design Insiders’.

    “Before I joined the membership, I lacked the confidence and belief that I could start my own interior design business. Being a member has helped me to achieve a long-term dream of running my own interior design business.” Kim Heslip, Interior Designer & Owner @ Boost Interiors If you want to be part of a friendly online community, find out how other designers are working, and get support for your business, why not check it out?

    With the right support you can build the Interior Design business you always dreamt of.