Here’s a commonly held view: the advent of the Internet has done more to revolutionize the way design is realized today than any other technological advancement. Certainly, the proliferation of personal computers enhanced the way designers work, but the Internet’s immeasurable value lies in its capacity to create new marketplaces, facilitate an exchange of ideas and images at breakneck speed, and induce far-flung but fruitful collaborations. As a result, design is more ubiquitous in the wider cultural conversation and an integral part of any new venture. People expect their spaces, their products, even their experiences to be well-designed because they see how impactful design really is.
That demand for excellence makes today a very challenging time to be a designer. Clients demand more than ever in terms of both sheer quantity and expectations for quicker turnaround times, something that even the increased speed and efficiency of sophisticated computer design software hasn’t been able to resolve.
The advent of the Internet hasn’t necessarily fixed the issue, either. According to Hastings interior designer Claudia Lofton, RID, NCIDQ, the Internet provides access to an endless stream of products, manufacturers, 3D models, and inspirational images. Scrolling endlessly and agonizing over what product or dealer would be ideal for a project subtracts potentially billable hours from time spent more productively on actual design work. The same can be said of manufacturer-provided online tools, which provide a curated palette to work with but still necessitate the solitary, time-consuming work of sitting at a computer and building out a project virtually.
There is, however, a growing trend in the industry that lessens a substantial load on designers. It’s been called “the rise of dealer designers” and while these individuals are not new to the industry, their ability to drastically relieve the pressure of client demands on designers is coming to the light.
On the surface, dealer designers are employed by manufacturers to assist client-designers with specifying and integrating a product into a project. In actuality, their role is much more complex. An article by Amanda Schneider, LEED AP, MBA, President of ThinkLab, the industry research division of Interior Design Media, points out that these individuals are in high demand because they possess both the skills of a professionally trained designer and the insider knowledge of a manufacturer’s product and service capabilities. “As the desire to live a more ‘designed’ life increases,” says Craig Shultz, vice president of BOS’s Haworth sales in Chicago, “the role of a dealer designer will continue to require a deeper level of knowledge of applicable product from both traditional resources as well as unique vendors. A designer’s education of new and unique resources is becoming more valuable every day.”
Nea Sovaidi, a concept design manager for the Interface Design Studio, supports this assertion, saying that while her work may exclusively revolve around Interface's product, much of her day-to-day job is no different than it would have been at any firm.
“I studied interior design at SCAD, thinking I would end up at a firm,” says Sovaidi. “Interface’s Design Studio provides young designers like me an opportunity to apply our skills in a more precise way. It’s an additional challenge too, because our clients are other designers. They’re going to be appraising our work in a way [that] a non-designer client may not have the knowledge to do.” In other words, designers working with the Interface Design Studio can be assured of an intuitive rapport and high-quality level of service from their manufacturer-partners.
The Interface Design Studio is comprised of two key areas of focus: concept(s) and custom(s). The concept team works on creating bespoke flooring plans using standard products. The custom team creates entirely new tiles using custom colors, patterns, and yarns. Sovaidi says the Interface Design Studio averages over 5500 requests for deliverables per month. Those requests are fielded by the studio’s 35 person team, who hold a range of degrees in fields such as interior, graphic, industrial, textile, and apparel design. They use a combination of common design software as well as an in-house estimation program that quantifies the precise amount of product needed. This economy of resources ties directly to Interface’s greater environmental mission to reverse climate change and promote a fundamental shift in the way the businesses run.
“[When] getting this studio off the ground, a lot of the initial work was educating and convincing designers to take us on,” explains Sovaidi. “We’re in very good place with designers today. They know they can expect something outstanding from our team. Our main goal with this studio now is to introduce our clients to the wealth of products at Interface and function as a reliable design partner for them.”
Lofton, RID, NCIDQ, weighed in on her experience using the Interface Design Studio, saying that the service has been a great asset for her work. “With design and construction schedules becoming more and more compressed these days, any additional support we receive from trusted manufacturers is always welcomed. We’ve used the Interface Design Studio on numerous projects over the last three years. We relied on the team’s expert knowledge of carpet products, trends, and installation techniques to help our designers realize their vision efficiently.”
The Internet is both a boon and burden to designers, offering a world’s worth of attractive items while simultaneously stealing away a more limited resource – time. Design studios such as Interface’s provide a much-needed mediator for designers and expectations created by today’s hyped-up, modern forum. If Interface’s success is any indication, the manufacturer design studio will only continue to grow in both esteem and popularity.