The Internet has changed the nature of some careers. Mine is one of them.
Having begun as an interior designer “pre-Internet,” I could not have imagined the tremendous impact the Web would have on the designer, the consumer, and any industry touching on interiors, residential or commercial.
It starts with the basics: I still often draft by hand, but online CAD (computer-aided design) is much easier, more flexible, and visually comprehensible to the client. I can import into a CAD layout specific items from Websites or use specific measurements provided online. Frequently, a furniture manufacturer has a proprietary CAD program accessible to anyone in exchange for an email address (great marketing). A motivated client can plan her own room, though I still need to verify measurements in most cases.
The Internet influences other areas of the design process. Most designers use trusted vendor showrooms for their projects. It is equally important to locate new, cutting-edge materials, furnishings, art, and accessories. Since many showrooms are now online, the Internet allows me to accomplish in hours research that would ordinarily take days of travel to accomplish.
As a member of any interior design group -- such as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) or National Kitchen & Bath Association, etc. -- a designer is automatically on a mailing list. Hence, my mailbox is inundated with information on manufacturers, distributors, galleries, upcoming shows, CEU workshops, and design articles from around the world. This makes it easy to keep current with the design industry, which is vital in my work. I can download pictures and catalogues for my personal reference library.
Sometimes, the Web can make pricing tricky. Since most companies offer “to-the-trade” pricing online, designers like me don’t have to worry that clients will be offered lower prices than what I’ve quoted them for the same items. There is no such protection on retail sites, however, which are usually deeply discounted. Clients can shop these sites online quickly and use pricing to challenge the designer.
The Web also plays a role in project execution. Emailing pictures with comments can solidify my design ideas for a project. If I shop in person for the client, I can easily send digital photos of what I have in mind -- and download them into an electronic file for each client.
On the other hand, by utilizing Web catalogues, pictures, and samples, it is possible to complete a design project without visiting outside showrooms. Even the final orders can be placed and shipped with little effort. Automatic follow-up via email makes administration easy.
This does not mean that I have fewer discussions with clients, just that these are usually by phone or email with fewer chats over luncheon. More importantly, there is less testing the seat of a chair, feeling the presence of a furniture piece, and seeing a bolt of fabric rather than a tiny sample swatch.
Sometimes I miss the hands-on aspects of design work. The Internet has streamlined many of those -- and taken away part of the designer’s job, such as up-front drafting that’s replaced by online CAD. Further, Internet-based DIY approaches to design can begin to undermine the value of a designer. Still, the Web offers efficiencies for me and my clients that are tough to ignore.
— Suki Dennison is an interior designer based in Bergen County, N.J.