10 qualities of a successful interior designer

The route to becoming a successful interior designer is full of challenges. It requires a rare level of passion for what you do, as well as resolve to get to a stage where your designs are so highly regarded you can earn money from them. Once you’ve reached the top, it also takes tenacity to remain at the pinnacle of the art form – if you manage to reach it at all. In this blog, alongside BSBG Senior Interior Designers Eric Mallari and Alia Soufan, we uncover 10 qualities of a successful interior designer – show these and your career could be full of all the colour and vibrancy of one of your designs…

1. Embrace diverse styles

Successful interior designerA great interior designer will have developed outstanding knowledge of a diverse variety of styles, aesthetics and techniques. You may have a particular personal preference, or a trademark styling you attempt to incorporate into all your designs, but each space you work on is a like a blank canvas, and it should never be filled with a carbon copy of your previous work. A good place to begin is to understand the different modern interior styles currently on trend. From populist styles such as Contemporary, Minimalist and Scandinavian, to the more niche Industrial, Bohemian and Shabby Chic; there’s a lot to explore, and top designers will often find new and interesting ways to fuse separate elements from some of these styles seamlessly within their design. “One of the key qualities of a top interior designer is to be flexible, adaptable and open-minded to new design styles and ideas, with no influence of our preferred style,” Senior Interior Designer Alia Soufan says. “Knowledge of many different styles also helps a designer to keep a fresh and distinctive feel across their portfolio of work.”

2. Take inspiration from everything, and everywhere

Successful interior designerThe world can be a very inspiring place. Everything we see, touch, feel, smell and hear has the potential to trigger within us an emotion or a spark of creativity. It’s important as a designer to never dampen your senses. Take it all in, whether it’s the work of your contemporaries, the latest designs in your favourite magazine, or perhaps most important of all, the charm and artistry of nature itself – you can draw inspiration from most everything. “I try to take inspiration from what’s gone before, and improve on it,” Eric says. “Designing is not always new or what’s trending, a lot of the time it’s already there in front of you and it only requires improvement.”

3. Never stop studying the art form

Successful interior designerThere is much to learn when it comes to the art of interior design. In fact, the learning and the potential for discovery never really stops. Colour is the essence of a space, and developing an understanding of the colour wheel, as well as the creation of personal colour palettes, should be one of the first steps taken when starting out as a designer. The best in the business are continually developing their knowledge of how different colours work together, and many have built a reputation founded on their ability to create a mood or to evoke an emotion simply through colour. In addition to colour understanding, spatial awareness and the ability to visualise an empty space comes only through continual study. As Alia explains: “Trends evolve, client needs change, and no single space is ever the same. I try to be aware of what’s happening in our profession. Who is doing what, how does the current mode of interior design compare with what has gone before, and can I incorporate the best contemporary design principles into my projects?

4. Be courageous

Successful interior designerNot everyone will like everything you do. But try not to let a subjective viewpoint discourage your creativity… If your concept or idea is passed on, that’s not to say it’s poor, it’s just not what the client is looking for on this particular project. But do not be disheartened. Learn from it, make sure that you understand the client, and their vision for the project, and adjust your approach accordingly. Sometimes your ideas or vision will perhaps be too ‘out there’, too challenging or daring. “There are times when the client has less adventurous preferences in design, and others that prefer something more artistic or interesting,” Alia says. “Stay positive and keep trying things. Zaha Hadid was once famous for not getting anything built, but she remained courageous in her designs, and her legacy is there for all to see…

5. Take your time with colour and lighting

Successful interior designerAn interior designer quickly learns that it’s best to take time to really consider the colour palettes in advance of committing to a final design approach. Designers will often go on instinct or will resort to their stock colours, but colours must be chosen to dictate the mood and make the end user feel a way. The atmosphere of a space is the most important thing to get right. Colour and lighting are the two primary elements that will accomplish this – or not. The key is to assess the space, list all the potential uses, and take your time over your choices. “A good interior designer dedicates much of their time to the study of lighting,” Eric explains. “Interior lighting enhances the materials and finishes, and it can be achieved by mixture of the three basic types of lighting – ambient, task and accent. Ambient lighting gives uniform to a space or room. Designers usually use dimmers to adjust the lighting levels, especially for chandeliers or wall-mounted light. Task lighting is significant when exacting tasks, such as reading or cooking. Accent lighting provides extra visual interest or focal points.”


6. Take the lead in co-ordinating the project

successful interior designerThe life of an interior designer is not just drawing and choosing fabrics/materials. Coordination and organisation are big parts of the job. There are various stages of design and construction within each project, and to ensure it runs smoothly a great interior designer will take the lead on coordinating the teams on the project. “Coordination at an early stage with other consultants involved in the project is one of the most important tasks,” explains Alia. “The interior designer wants to ensure that the concept is translated into real life taking into consideration the challenges that might occur. This phase requires team work, led by the interior designer to maintain the initial concept and design idea. We want to achieve an end result which is as close as possible to the concept and schematic design presented to the client.”

7. Look to embrace new technology and ideas

Successful interior designerThe rapid evolution of new technology with architectural applications presents lots of opportunities for designers to better communicate their ideas to clients. Model walkthroughs in 3D are now commonplace and, although the debate as to whether these walkthroughs will ever replace the classic presentation of drawings will continue, there is no doubt that they’ve had a disruptive impact. But the need to recognise the impact of technology goes beyond 3D walkthroughs and, indeed, BIM adoption. “Technology in the home and in the workplace has changed the way people use spaces,” Eric tells us. “In an office, companies will often want a more cohesive, collaborative floor design with purpose-built interactive areas to give their employees a sense of place when they’re at work. As well as this, we try to incorporate technological features in all our interior work, from hotels to offices and homes.”

8. Understand the space and its function

Successful interior designerFunctionality may not be the most appealing word to a creatively minded designer, but there’s not a successful interior designer who doesn’t fully appreciate the need to embrace this term when making every decision regarding their space. Every space has a purpose, and to achieve that purpose the space must be designed to accomplish specific functions. A good designer will be able to develop full design concepts from scratch based on specific client requirements,” Alia says. “A big part of how we measure the success of a project is in its operational quality and functionality. Form follows function. We want to create new designs which retain a functional presence. You can have the most beautiful project in terms of aesthetics, but in a space that does not function the project would not be considered a successful one.

9. Invest early on in getting a strong concept

Successful interior designer At some point as a designer, you will have to articulate your design decisions using reason and considered logic. If your justification for a concept or a feature component centres around “It just looks so pretty”, there’s likely to be a problem with getting it across the line. If a strategy is devised and an understanding of the message cultivated from the outset, this not only helps with the direction of the design as it evolves, but gives the client something to buy into and to measure against the brief. The concept you formulate will obviously be dependent on that brief, and focused on answering the requirements presented within it, but your approach to the concept can take an unexpected route to accomplishing this; as long as you can justify why. “A key factor for a strong concept is being in direct and close contact with the clients at all phases of a given project,” Alia states. “Whether this is during the preliminary design stages or during construction, up until completion and delivery, keeping the client involved and engaged in these different phases allows a smooth transition between them, with no surprises upon completion… And that’s one way of keeping clients happy!

10. Retain your passion for design, no matter what

Successful interior designerIt’s important in all walks of life to try not to lose sight of why you started out on your career path in the first place. All careers will inevitably be fraught with challenges, moments when we question ourselves and our decisions, but how we overcome the challenges, the less glamorous sides of the work we do, defines our success. So why not embrace the challenges? Get through the paperwork or the chasing up of material suppliers, and use these less invigorating tasks to really perpetuate your passion for the creative aspect of the job you love; designing beautiful spaces. “Don’t make your passion an option, but a priority,” Eric states. “The main excuses I hear from designers for not doing something is a lack of time, for example due to multiple project deadlines. But if you really love what you do, you will do what you really love. You will not let yourself get sidetracked, no matter what happens.”

Learn more about BSBG Interior Design here.

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