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Interviewing commercial interior designers can be hard when you have never done it and are not sure what to ask.
As a real estate advisor to corporate tenants, I have sat through my share of interviews with commercial interior designers. Here are the lessons learned over 16 years.
One designer is now recommending to her clients to have a seat to meeting seat ratio of 1:1.
In other words, a company with 100 employees would have 100 chairs for their employees for their desks and another 100 seats in meeting rooms our touchdown spots for meetings.
How does this make any sense?
When was the last time any company anywhere required all of their employees to be in a meeting at the exact same time.
Exact. Same. Time.
Town hall meeting? Sure. But to take on more space and built out that space with walls and doors and glass? What a waste.
Here is a company went open concept and did just that.
My role was to advise the client. As such I tried to remove my bias and pay quite a bit of attention to the tenant. Across the board all tenants care about the same thing...show me what you have done.
None of them are focused on details. They want to see their dream space and are not concerned about the process.
In one case for a 25,000 square foot office tenant the President was practically asleep when talking about the nuts and bolts of execution and then jumped out of his chair when the photos of the spaces were projected on the screen.
What most tenants do not realize is that beautiful space is one thing, but the detail-oriented designer will end up saving the client much more with project management skills than a designer who is only focused on the creative side of their job.
But nobody pays any attention to this during the interview.
The most glaring conflict of interest in the commercial interior design world is the proposal that is based on a percentage of the budget.
It is amazing to me that one designer will "procure" furniture for 5% of the $500,000 furniture budget ($25,000) and another designer says that his value will come from 1-2 visits to furniture show rooms and he is happy to make $500 for his time to assist.
That is an easy way for the client to save $24,500.
As more companies are going to an open concept design, much of the effort in workplace design is really about the furniture solution, not the design. There should be more discussion around desk storage, sit/stand desks, cubicle heights, etc.
Most companies focus so much more on the offices because the decision makers are usually putting themselves into offices and putting people that do not have any input into this process into cubes.
It is remarkable how people tune in and out depending on when their department is being discussed. When people have a chance to speak up, almost nobody recommends a shrinkage of space. There typically is a complaint on how they and their team cannot work well without <fill in the blank>.
One sales manager insisted on a new pool table in the lunch room in their new space. When asked about the existing pool table, he claimed it was not new enough and that was the reason why nobody used it.
As a side note, most commercial real estate agents have a 20 page client needs analysis questionnaire...and most office space locations are chosen from the answer to just one question: where does the President live?
Ever have a crazy neighbor that was very particular about how everyone takes care of their home? Every office has those people, but when otherwise normal people are brought into a re-design or a relocation project you see it in otherwise normal employees.
I have seen fights over locations of filing cabinets and number of printers. If a company is looking at reducing the number of printers and consolidating to central printing area there may be a mutiny.
Employees do not care about cost savings for the company.
They care about their rituals and doing things the way they have always done them.
We all can take for granted the accumulated knowledge we attain in our profession and sometimes the line between common sense and acquired expertise is blurred.
The following are actual questions that very intelligent CFOs and CEOs of reputable companies have asked designers:
If you are interviewing commercial interior designers, find at least three to interview. In my experience, there will be a broad range of quality amongst the groups and it is important to select the best fit for your company.