6 questions every interior designer should ask BEFORE they take on a client project

We often get stuck in thinking that it is ONLY the client that chooses the interior designer for their project – but it shouldn’t be!

As an interior designer there are some key considerations to bear in mind BEFORE you agree to work on any project. This will help to ensure both the project’s success but also your happiness and sanity!

  1. Scope of Project.
    Understanding the size and nature of the project AND your role within it is fundamental. It might be too small; it might be too big – or the project might cover elements that you don’t provide as an interior design studio (such as Project Management).

    It’s good to understand this information upfront and decide whether or not the project is a good fit for you. A small project can be referred to colleagues who handle that sort of work – they’ll really appreciate it.  A project that is too big or complex doesn’t necessarily have to be a “no” – you might have an opportunity to collaborate with other professionals or take on parts of the project.

  2. Budget
    Budget is the area that clients tend to be most reticent to discuss – but it’s information you really need (even if it’s a ballpark figure) before you agree to go ahead – and certainly before you start designing and sourcing.

    Clients can have unrealistic expectations about how much things cost and may need to make compromises. A small budget might not put you off the project entirely. Perhaps you can phase the project? Or you might like the challenge of producing design to a tight budget – but you need to go into the project with this information up front.

    It’s important to understand how much money has been put aside for both your fees and purchase of goods. This is particularly important if you want to photograph a project and need it to match a certain level of finish. Whilst Interior Designers are skilled at providing a high end look for a smaller budget – there are limits to what we can do. Both client and interior designer need to be realistic about whether they are shopping IKEA, the high street or bespoke and designer brands.

  3. Timeframes
    Understanding the clients preferred project timeline will allow you to manage your time effectively and understand if you can fit the work into your existing schedule.

    If there are fixed deadlines (like moving in before Christmas) you can make informed decisions about key project milestones and order cut-off dates. Remember that on larger projects where contractors and trades are involved, elements of the timeline are outside of your control – do you have flexibility in your diary and existing home and work commitments?

  4. Style & aesthetic
    Whilst many interior designers don’t have a ‘house style’ (instead we design to the brief that we take from the client) we do all have design preferences and products and suppliers that we prefer to work with.

    Asking questions about a potential client’s overall design aesthetic will give you the opportunity to decide if you are a good match. You may also consider the architecture and design history of the building and whether this matches your style preferences.

    You may not enjoy a project, and potentially not be able to feature it in your portfolio if your client’s taste is not matched to yours. Decision making and the overall design process can be really hard work if you and the client are not aligned. The client will either agree with your choices, but not be happy, or they will fight you every inch of the way – and the end result can be disappointing and a watered-down version of your original design vision.   

  5. Location
    Where is the client project based – and does that work for you? This is personal to each designer and depends on a number of factors such as how much you want the project, your ability to travel, and how the extra time commitment of travel to a project will fit with your existing work.

    Consider also if you want more work in the same area. Doing a great job can lead to personal recommendations and you can inadvertently end up with all of your leads coming from a remote (to you) area!

    Be realistic about the demands of a remote client project. Not just in terms of your ability to get to site – but also in terms of your connections with trades and suppliers. Will you need to find new trades to work with? You need to assess any risk of working with unknown trades to your project.

    Consider your working style. Do you like to drop in to site to check-up on things and does the location make this possible? If you are responsible for school drop off and pick-up do you have enough time to get to location and back in an average working day?

  6. Client ‘Fit’
    This one covers a few different areas – all really important.

    First up, has the potential client worked with an interior designer before? It’s really important to know this as we all work so differently, and you may need to set expectations about how you work and manage a design and implementation. It can also help you tailor the service you offer – clients who have never worked with an interior designer before may have no idea of what to expect and may need more hand holding through the process.

    The decision maker. Who is the decision maker, and will you have access to them? It can be really exciting to meet with a potential client and get carried away with the creative side of things – but not firmly nailing down who is making decisions and signing off on budget can quickly send your project in the wrong direction.

    Interior design projects involve a lot of decision-making, from selecting finishes and materials to choosing furniture and accessories. It can be an awkward topic to broach, but it’s really important that clients understand the impact to timelines if decisions aren’t made in a timely manner. Understanding the client’s ability to prioritise making decisions can help designers create a more realistic project plan that considers any necessary lead times or delivery schedules.

    This leads on to communication style. Clear and frequent communication is essential for any interior design project. Understanding how clients like to work (email, phone, in-person meetings) AND what their availability will be like over the duration of the project can help you establish if you will work well together.

    Now is a good time to establish boundaries around when you do and don’t work. Will you be available weekends or 24*7 on a WhatsApp chat?

    Personality. I’ve left this to last, but it is probably one of the most important factors in working with clients – especially on larger projects. Trust your gut. If you get red flags, or your spider ‘spidy-senses’ are tingling – question why this is.

    Don’t feel pressured in to taking on a project and do a little research of your own on the client if you need to.

    Not every client project is meant for you and sometimes a client is not a good fit. Learning to walk away, and politely turn down a project, is a really important skill to gain.

    Look out for how a potential client communicates with you, how they make you feel on a phone call or in-person meeting – or the tone of their emails.

Answering all of these questions – on the scope of project, budget, timeframes, style & aesthetic, location, and client fit, are important when you consider a potential new client. Remember that a lot of this work can be done upfront without your direct involvement – for instance in an intake form on your website.

Particularly when it comes to client fit, it’s important to trust your gut. It can be tough when you are working on your own. And I understand that it goes against the grain to turn down work. I’ve hesitated and second-guessed myself enough times.

One of the benefits of the Interior Design Insiders membership is that expert help is always on hand. The friendly, non-judgemental community is always there to listen and support you. Whether it’s a second opinion on what’s possible with a project, or validating those red-flags, to potentially collaborating on projects if you need – we’ve got your back. I’m in the membership every day – to help guide you in any tricky situation or customer conversation. If you want support in your Interior Design Business, find out more about the membership here.