How Virtual Design Pissed Off Designers

living room

Virtual interior design is being looked upon by some veteran interior designers as the bastard child of the design industry.

The kid who came in and fucked it up for everyone. Anyone who has been a designer more than a handful of years can agree that the interior design industry has been in a state of turmoil since the economy took a dump. Virtual interior design didn't eff anything up and I think adding it into the mix is bueno.

But if you listen to some interior design vets they would have you thinking that the sky is falling! Fucking falling because of the virtual interior design companies.

Within the past few years virtual interior design sites have gained traction. You'll see sites like HomePolish, Laurel & Wolf, and recently Zoom Interiors which was on Shark Tank.

How can you do design virtually? Pfft. This just makes what I do less valuable! They are making it harder for me to charge higher fees! It just perpetuates the idea that you can get design for cheap!

There was a need, they met it. There has always been peeps who wanted affordable design help with their homes. And finding a designer that would offer help at a low price point was difficult. And dare I also say that these sites feel approachable to the Virgin Design Client (VDC).

Said "VDC" is usually intimidated by "real" interior designers. That's why they watch HGTV and want to be BFFs with the "Property Brothers". TV Designers are friendly unicorn-riding heroes and you'd love to have them come over for a glass of wine. And they never fart or poo. They are simply magical beings.

Except no one really gets to work with the HGTV designers. So the VDC had to consider the non-HGTV "real" interior designer. These real designers can be very scary to the VDC. They scowl at their bad design choices. They guffaw at their budget. Or at least that is what the VDC thinks. They've heard nightmare stories or even one bad experience. That's all it takes and the VDC is scared shitless of working with a "real" designer.

Enter virtual interior design. The VDC can work with someone online. The online designer won't judge their current decor with eye rolls (well not ones that the VDC would see anyway). The VDC sees the virtual design company as a "parent" to keep unruly designers in line should a problem arise. And the virtual interior design company has a cool website. It's a VDC dream!

The lesson? Make design approachable. Make working with you seem like the fun experience it should already be (unless you're no fun, then keep putting that out there).

Damn You "Trading Spaces" (*insert fist shaking*)!

Virtual interior design doesn't perpetuate to the consumer that design is cheap and worthless. You could argue that "Trading Spaces" started this low budget culture way back when they would "design" rooms for $1000. If you call gluing straw to a wall "design". And if a client found a designer offering to do this for them surely regretted the decision.

Except "Trading Spaces" and any other HGTV show didn't kill the designer's bottom line. There are still interior design professionals out there commanding high fees.

I just don't see what you're pissed about. Now there's companies for clients who would have never had a big enough budget to hire a designer to get help. Why is that bad for your business?

They would have never hired you if you're charging more than a couple hundred dollars. You didn't want to spec the cheap shit. You didn't lose a damn thing.

Wine & Design

Does the $2 bottle of wine make the $150 bottle of wine less valuable? The person buying the $2 bottle of wine was probably never going to buy the $150 bottle of wine. And vice versa.

Maybe I just want to get a bunch of cheap wine to serve to people I don't really like and then save the good stuff for myself. Or maybe I want to impress my nerdy wine friends with the expensive bottle of wine. Or I'm just an alcoholic and a $2 bottle of wine tastes better than drinking a bottle of mouthwash to get buzzed.

The lesson? There's tons of reasons why a client chooses to get design help and they all have different budgets. Knowing where you want to fit in on that journey is yours to figure out.

Then There's The Furniture Bitching

Designers have also been bitching about the furniture manufacturers cutting them out of the profits. Designers spec something, client finds the exact thing online cheaper. Designer loses money.

I'm sure the furniture manufacturers felt the sting just as much as the designers when the economy took a dump. They are looking out for #1 as should the designer. It's business.

A homeowner may not have the money to shell out on the Dome Chair from Noir for their living room from you. If they go online and find it cheaper, so be it.

On the flip side, as a designer I wouldn't be loyal to a trade resource if they were selling online for less than what I could sell it for. And this is why I think mark-up on furniture and accessories as a money maker in the future is dying (if not dead already).

Some of the virtual interior design services offer furniture as add-on money makers. Not sure how much profit is being made on that since clients like to price shop products online. That shouldn't be core to a designers bottom line.

The lesson? Charge for your creativity and count any mark up as icing on the cake.

The Customer Is Always Right

If I have a small budget and need some basic design help, then working with an online design site charging a couple hundred makes sense. And for an experienced designer running their own design firm, you wouldn't want to take on this client as it doesn't make financial sense to take the client on.

If I have a large budget and want to create an interior that is timeless, with quality items, then I may want to hire someone who's a veteran to keep me from making expensive mistakes.

Focus on your own business. Be a designer that someone gives a shit about. Be a designer that stands out in a sea of the same. Be different. Create a brand experience.

  • The veteran designer doesn't want to do Ikea. The newish designer just wants to get their feet wet.

  • The veteran designer has overhead. The newish designer needs to build their portfolio.

  • The veteran designer has systems in place. The newish designer needs to refine their process and doesn't want to hassle with the business side of stuff.

  • The veteran designer knows how to deal with client issues. The newish designer need the client experience.

The virtual interior design sites are perfect for designers who want to work in a marketplace where they aren't scouting for clients, want to get their feet wet, don't want to market their business and build a portfolio. Is it a long term strategy for an interior designer? Nah. When they get their experience, they may go out on their own. Maybe not.

The lesson? There is a way for every designer to earn money. The way they do it doesn't diminish yours.

Is Virtual Interior Design the way of the future?

Definitely. Everything is online. A local client looks for a designer online, not in their phone book.  An online client looks for help online and they may not even know that virtual interior design is an option. Both are just looking for help. And all of them have different budgets and expectations.

Stop resisting the internet and instead start figuring out how to make yourself stand out.

Lesson? Be different.

No One Is Forcing You To Take Pennies On the Dollar

That isn't based on how many years of experience you have. It's called get clear on what you do and THEN make sure your online presence reflects that. There are tons of "experienced" designers out there who have a fugly website. They leave lots money on the table because their site sucks. This isn't about your time served as a designer, it's called building a brand with a red velvet rope.

And here's the last thing I'm gonna say on this, for now. If you want to build a uber-profitable interior design business, working for a virtual interior design site won't bring you those riches. You'd work too many hours for not enough money. These companies are great for the newish designer looking for exposure, experience and to build a portfolio.

This doesn't mean that the virtual interior design model is not profitable for designers to offer in their own business. It is simply a method to deliver your design that isn't going away.

Lesson? So get with the times, decide to make your own way and master online marketing.

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.