Quite a bit of the design consultation and services that I now provide involve use of the internet and email. I regularly email product description links to clients, send project specifications to clients and builders rather than personally presenting or delivering them, and scan and email drafted floor plans. I probably do at least half of my shopping for furniture, art, and accessories online nowadays. And my clients can often view products online just as easily as I am able to.
Retail stores and "to the trade" sources have made ever increasingly useful product views and specifications available on their websites, creating a convenient way to shop for or to preview products.
Of course, there are pros and cons to the online approach. The advantages are fairly obvious:
- Saves on driving trips to preview furniture, art, accessories, and fabrics, thereby saving time and money, while helping the environment.
- Email is much faster than the postal service, saving on paper, postage and travel.
- Many communications that used to require face-to-face meetings with clients, builders, and architects can now be done online.
Some of the disadvantages include:
- Lack of one-to-one contact, less personal.
- Email can potentially convey an unintended tone or can be misinterpreted more easily than a face-to-face conversation or presentation.
- The lapses between sent emails and replies can sometimes be less productive than a phone call or meeting.
I find myself frequently phoning clients to be sure they've received my emails and to follow up on information that I've sent and which might require a timely response.
There's even a trend to offer complete design consulting packages online. Based entirely upon the exchange of photos, specs and ideas via email and phone conversations, designers assist clients without ever physically viewing the client's home or office. A Washington Post article
suggests that eDecorating seems to be working for a certain sector of the design community.
Although I may email links to illustrate options or selections, I always arrange for clients to view items in person before making purchases, and I always present fabric choices in person for custom furniture and window treatments. If a client is asking for advice on a retail product, I encourage him or her to obtain fabric or finish samples to confirm quality, color, etc.
Online services can work for designers as purchasers, too. I'm very accustomed to shopping for and ordering samples of fabrics and wallcoverings online. Sometimes, it seems like a new package from Kravet Fabrics arrives every other day! I frequently "pre-shop" online for furniture styles, plumbing fixtures, and appliances before I visit a showroom or make actual recommendations to clients.
And I nearly always verify availability for marble, granite and stone, ceramic tile, special lighting, and similar products by checking the manufacturer's or distributor's website. Doing so not only saves me time and travel, but it also helps me avoid recommending an item that may not be readily available to my client or a builder I may be working with.
While the internet has helped to add efficiencies to the interior design business, designers still must be adequately compensated for projects based upon the designers' time and resources used. Typically, it makes sense to work off a flat fee to avoid having to keep track of every minute spent shopping online, emailing the client, and the like. If billing hourly, an up-front budget target should be agreed upon, and designers should be sure to keep meticulous accounting of their time spent on projects.
The personal touch that's achieved by face-to-face meetings may not be possible through "e-design," but enthusiastic clients and designers can still allow their personalities to shine through and can still achieve fine results together, provided of course that project expectations are well defined from the very beginning.