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    Principals Roundtable: Managing Client Expectations

    David Stark's 26,000-square-foot courtyard at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington for the 50th anniversary of Art in Embassies. Photo by Heidi Ehalt.

    David Stark's 26,000-square-foot courtyard at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington for the 50th anniversary of Art in Embassies. Photo by Heidi Ehalt.

    This is the first in a series of articles that will cover the main issues discussed at the recent principals roundtable held by Interior Design at the magazine's One Night Only event in Washington, D.C.

    The very high expectations of today's clients was one of the ideas that garnered a universal nod of assent among panelists at  Interior Design’s recent principals roundtable in Washington, D.C. Many agreed that managing these expectations has become the name of the game, citing a pervasive post-recession ‘do more with less’ mentality.

    “We certainly have to contend with the HGTV attitude: ‘Do this in an hour, for $20’,” said one partner at a small D.C. firm. (To ensure a frank and open conversation about the high priority issues impacting the design industry, Interior Design agreed not to identify attendees.)

    But, panelists were quick to point out, this ethos of efficiency has not slowed growth in the industry. Rather, says one principal, “It couldn’t be a more exciting time. We really have willing, open-minded clients.” Although tight budgets remain a central concern for designers—especially in commercial markets—the panelists agreed that clients are willing to spend time and money to be creative and use materials in new ways.

    Just as designer-client relationships are changing (as one panelist remarked, “It’s refreshing to see clients pushing hard for design”), so too are the dynamics within firms themselves. An influx of tech-saavy, yet inexperienced “20-somethings”—who have high expectations for their own work-life balance—has more established professionals concerned. How can they temper valuable raw talent with the real-world experience necessary to be successful in the industry long-term?

    While many expressed anxiety that access to advanced technology like digital-rendering software gives young designers a false impression of their own knowledge, a partner at a large firm brought up the idea that mentoring in the industry should be a two-way street: “I see what they can do with technology, and it’s astounding. But there is no substitute for knowledge and experience.”

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