Wondering If Interior Design Is A Dying Field? Read This.

2 girls looking up, text: interior design a dying field

It's already dead. You just don't see it.

At least what I called the old interior design industry.

You can continue to hold with an iron grip onto what is already dead.

You can continue to lament at how the big boys are screwing you over.

You can rub your hands and continue to dream that you'll be able to come together as a community to fight for what was once was.

Or you can accept the fact that everything you know about the old version of the interior design industry is no longer.

Of course, it's easier to look at what is now and think that you have some say. You don't.

You can wonder how you can keep your clients from going around you; it won't help.

You can take this chance to adapt because that is the name of the game going forward, or you can submit and let your business die a slow, agonizing death.

Here’s the kicker…Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

How We Got Here

If you don't know the history of interior design and how it started, lemme give you a quick drive-by.

In the 17th, 18th and 19th century, interior design was not done by a professional interior designer. Craftsmen, upholsterers and other artisans were the interior designers in the day until the profession of interior design became a thing.

One store in London, James Shoolbred & Company started their high-end furniture store. They'd set up model rooms for the public to check out and also photographed the spaces to put into their catalog. The public would go to them as the ones to help them decorate their homes.

Another company in the US, the Herter Brothers, started an upholstery and cabinet making company ended up being a one-stop shop where they would take on every aspect of designing a room.

Mary Haweis penning her thoughts on design, people being trendy assholes buying crap furniture exactly as seen in the retail environment.

As she advocated for design that took into account the desires of the individual, independent designers eventually challenged the large retail companies that had cornered the market on interior design.

Enter Candace Wheeler, Edith Wharton, Elsie De Wolfe and Syrie Maugham who all stamped their mark on history as some of the first professionals.

After WWII, the profession of interior design is established.

Fast forward to now, and we've got an industry that is finding itself right back to where it started. Large retailers are taking over, and it seems the interior design industry is peeing all over itself.

Did Technology Make Interior Design A Dying Field?

Many blame technology for making interior design a dying field and while that has been part of the reason for the decay of the industry - it's not the only factor.

We've seen technology destroy and change other industries:

  • Horse + Buggy replaced by cars.

  • Newspapers replaced by blogs and online media.

  • Bank tellers kicked to the curb by ATMs and apps.

  • Bookstores annihilated by Amazon.

  • Cashiers pushed out by self-checkouts.

  • Radio DJs eliminated by software.

  • Libraries are dying because everyone can Google.

  • The traditional TV eschewed for streaming services.

Those companies that didn’t adapt their offerings have died or are in the death spiral. *cough* If this sounds like where your business is heading, keep reading.

While there are some retailers, to-the-trade partners, and manufacturers that are still exclusively to-the-trade, I seriously believe they will splinter off completely from including interior design professionals. There is profit to be made in going direct to consumers who want everything for the lowest cost and they will be apart of helping other companies to automate that design process.

I imagine that includes software that comes down the pipeline that can whip up a room in seconds corresponding to product catalogs. Then what?

Adaptation is the name of the game. If at some point in the future, AI automates a large portion of the design process, then your role must change.

Which leads me to wonder if the degrees for interior design at some point will become obsolete or highly specialized because when AI learns the principles of design and implements them, what is the need for degrees and certifications? 🤔

Sure, you'll need humans to implement the design but then that's not interior design anymore, and they can't certify your artistic talents, right?

The traditional role as the gatekeeper of trade resources and harbinger of style will then need to necessarily transform into the role of the visionary.

I'll add that the visionary is born, not taught or degreed.

Interior Design A Dying Field? Not If You Put Artistry and Experience First

A lady came up to the great violinist Fritz Kreisler after a concert and gushed, “Maestro, your violin makes such beautiful music.” Kreisler held his violin up to his ear and said, “I don’t hear any music coming out of it.” You see, the instrument, the hardware, the violin itself, was of no use without the human element. But then again, without the instrument, Kreisler would not have been able to make music. — Melvin Kranzberg

As a visionary, the unique way you see interiors, your imagination and your soft skills are not easily automated. I’m also going to say that the designers that will have the most success in the future are in-tune with their intuition. Intuition will be a skill that will need to be honed so that you’re able to help your clients in all facets of interior design because we’re going beyond the surface bullshit.

Design Like It’s 1881

Mary Haweis wrote the book “The Art of Decoration” in 1881. She shared her thoughts on interiors and many of her thoughts still ring true. If you make time, you should read it, but for now, let me share some of her thoughts that struck me:

"In the old days when artists were truly artists and felt it their vocation and right to beautify, without invidious distinctions (rich people buying shit ordinary people can't afford said shit) and conditions, work of a high standard filled the channels it does not enter now.

"There is something noble in this calling of an Artists as a beautifier, a mighty man - no mechanic bound by the petty fetters of trades-unionism.

"Let us handcuff no one; individual opinion is too precious to be sacrificed, and in art matters it is better to bear with the blunders whose taste offends you, if their taste results from thinking for themselves, than to reduce everybody to a dead level of propriety by Act of Parliament. Still criticism should be as free as action, and the average opinion of the mass forms a healthy law itself.

"Culture is attained by plentiful experience, many mistakes, and continual study of 'the Reason why;' and this is possible only to those with open eyes and open minds.

"But the artist, the true Phoenix, whether cultured or not, is born, not made."

Your empathy, creativity, discernment and unique talents aren't going to automated.

How about this industry gets back to the artistry? There will always be a place for the artist, and all that this technology will do is replace those who aren't naturally born to be designers.

To piggyback off of that, the holistic interior designer will be vitally important as the need continues to increase for holistic healing in the many modalities it encompasses, with interior design being one of them.

The holistic interior designer doesn't care about losing their trade discount or the big boys turning interior design into a commodity.

Those born with the creative vision, the ability to empathize and crystallize a unique solution for those who see their home as a healing space will not be the ones wondering what happened to the industry that is already dead.

People want experiences that help them heal and maintain the balance that they can experience at home and elsewhere.

What does the future of the interior design field look like?

Holistic interior design specialties. Clients will be looking for those who can help them create a home that balances their space, mind, body, and spirit. They are seeking this because they’re stressed out by life, being drained and popping a pill isn’t doing it for various reasons.

This specialty has many facets so that you can incorporate a multitude of modalities such as color therapy, aromatherapy, energy clearing, sacred geometry, sustainable design, feng shui, crystal healing, Ayurveda, astrology, Vaastu, biophilic and Reiki.

While the basic design of the space will need to address layout, organization, traffic flow and design elements the work goes deeper than that for the holistic interior design practitioner.

The next steps are to analyze the invisible energies in the home and find ways for your clients to experience transformation. The imbalances they are experiencing in their lives outside and inside the home will manifest in ways that they may not immediately recognize. This is why any holistic interior designer is going to need to hone their intuition.

Which means you'll need to take a more intimate role in our client's lives if you’ve been reluctant to do that up until this point. You’ll need to ask the questions that some may take as prying, but the right clients will understand that your job is to get to those deeper layers that affect everything in one way or another. And if you’re marketing your service correctly, your dream clients should be well aware of your design process and that this is an important part of the process.

Mary has perfectly stated how I see the future of interior design:

"To be healthy and happy, we must have beautiful and pleasant things about us. If we cannot have trees and flowers, mountains and floods, we can have their echoes - architecture, painting, textiles folds in changing light and shade.

"Changes must emanate from the public, not from their servant, the producer: for it is they who pay for it, not any elect body.

"To care for beauty, to nurse our precious freedoms to think for ourselves and to do as we like in art-matters, to avoid the fatal sheep-walk which the timid and ignorant so soon beat out, the stereotyped house of the stereotyped art-decorator, to give our individual stamp to our own little propriété in the common heritage of beautiful."

Thriving In The New Interior Design Field

I hope by this point, you’re seeing the light and I want to take some time to address some points I’ve seen in some doom and gloom posts on the subject. You should know that it's not like you have to just sit there and submit to their apocalyptic predictions. You don't, you need to adapt. 

Get Selectively Social. I find that a majority of us aren't that thrilled with social media. I totally get it because it’s not like you need another thing to add to your to-do list when you’re not seeing the results. Listen, you don't need to be on every platform. Pick one (I suggest Pinterest), master it and measure the results. Then add other platforms as you feel called to. 

What about the Millennials? For the controlling designer, Millenials will be the nail in their coffin. Millennials like transparency and collaboration which to the designer of the past, who likes being in the driver seat, will find their business on life support. 

Mark-Up Is Muerto. Please, charge for your artistry, your genius, your vision, your time and if you get money on the back-end from trade resources or affiliates, look at it as a blessing. If at some point in the future, the manufacturers, trade resources and brands seek out your help, make sure it is worth it. 

Your Brand Matters. You are your brand and that brand is a promise of an experience. That is what you are selling. Cement what your brand is about and start sharing that. 

Blogging Isn't Dead. Whatever form your content marketing takes, it needs to be consistent and tell the story of your clients. You know, the Lego company was facing extinction until it employed a stellar marketing move of making games and movies to sell Lego bricks... how can you do that for your business?

eDesign Is Viable. Contrary to popular belief among some in the industry, you can offer eDesign services without being some big corporation. The biggest bit of confusion around this is that eDesign is somehow different than other types of design. It's not, really. Those who protest this are the designers who cannot offer eDesign services because they need to physically be in the space. That doesn't mean it isn't a viable stream of income because they lack that skill. Also, what makes for a successful interior designer and successful eDesign will be the same in the future (marketing online) and that future is now.

Quick Ship Design. While you can get a practically anything in an hour now, I'm sure it won't be too far off to order and receive a sofa in an hour, too. Your job is to figure out how you can capitalize on this and eDesign is one way. 

What You Need To Start Doing Today, Seriously

Don't listen to the bullshit out there that what I'm about to tell you only applies to eDesign businesses, it doesn't. You can't truly measure the return on print media and who really keeps the Yellow pages anymore? Attracting your clients is done primarily online. 

Some people would have you thinking that you don't need to build a huge email list, you need to be a Madison Avenue genius to market your business and line up some venture capitalists to fund your endeavors to have any real success. 

You do need to build your email list, the bigger the better for you down the road. You do need to attract clients to your website and keep them there. You do need to do some form of content marketing consistently. You do need to understand what you're selling. You do need to understand your client's emotional motivations. You do need to be an artist. Lastly, you need to give a fuck. 

I came to the industry when designer snobs and high-end design reigned supreme complete with the glamour headshots and hair higher than the sky to showcase their exaggerated ego, I presumed. Those days are gone. 

Integrating into this new form of the interior design industry will find us surrounded by those who believe in the greater good for all. 

Why can't it be Happy Hour 24-7?

You're cordially invited to join the Society - an online community where you'll get the support, help and education you need to build your interior design empire online. Mai Tais not included - the Society is BYOB (Build Your Own Business, that is!)

Alycia Wicker

Alycia Wicker is an interior design business coach specializing in helping soulful interior designers attract clients with clever marketing strategies. Celebrity gossip whore.