Designers are creative people, and being organised does not always come naturally to a creative personality. It is, however, a trait that all designers would do well to cultivate, as there is so much more to the business of design than just designing. Being organised is probably the most important facet of a professional attitude, though not the only one. For those who get involved in the full range of tasks associated with the day-to-day operation of a design practice, it could be that they will spend no more than 20 per cent of their time actively pursuing the development of a design. The other 80 percent can easily be taken up by the mundane side of running a business: administration, filing, letter writing, travelling and so on.
Allied to good organisation skills is good time management. Because interior design is a subject that it is easy to be passionate about, it is also one where it is easy to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the design work, to the detriment of other tasks that need to be undertaken if a project is to be completed successfully. To help with this, one of the first things to be done on a project is to create a project plan that shows the tasks that need to be addressed in order to successfully complete the project. Probably the most useful way of visualizing the project plan is in the form of a Gantt chart; a horizontal bar chart that illustrates a project schedule. Strictly speaking, a true Gantt chart shows the outcomes of a project, and not the actions that will be undertaken to reach those outcomes, but for most designers this distinction is academic, and can be ignored. Soft ware, including free open-source programs, are available to help produce project plans.
How designers should charge for their services is one of the questions that new designers are usually anxious about. Over time, three main models for charging (with many variations on them) have appeared and can be summarized as: – Charging a percentage of the overall project value. – Charging only for items supplied by the designer (such as furniture) with a mark-up fee. – Charging a design fee based on an assessment or projection of hours worked on the project.
Arguably the most appropriate method of charging is that which sees the designer charging a design fee. This means that the client can see what is being paid for directly, without fees being ‘hidden’ in other charges, as is the case when a mark-up is added to goods supplied. It also means that payment is made within a reasonable amount of time of the work being done, and that financial commitments on the client are kept to a minimum as charges for each stage of the project are agreed before work is undertaken. However the designer decides to charge, an open and transparent system will be to the benefit of all. While it is helpful if the relationship between designer and client is a friendly one, it is important that there is a written contract or form of appointment between both parties for the legal protection of both sides. This will define the type of services provided and their scope, the fee structure, dispute resolution, copyright issues, and what is expected of both designer and client. Trade associations in many countries will have standard documents that can be used in these cases, but even if this is not so, contracts can be drawn up with the assistance of a professional that will protect the interests of all concerned.
Designers should realize that they are not alone when undertaking a project. Other professionals can be brought in as required to add their expertise to the project. Structural engineers, surveyors, quantity surveyors and project managers are examples of such professionals, and they can all help make a project feasible and deliverable to the client. The interior designer may still be the prime contact between client and project if they were approached first by the client, with each of the others reporting to the designer.
‘Professional practice’ is a term that covers the personal qualities and business procedures of the individual designer, and also the framework of regulation that the designer is subject to while working. As the laws that govern design work vary considerably from country to country, and are frequently subject to change. Some basic and universal business practices are, however, worth looking at.