After 5 years hosting, producing and publishing Convo By Design, I’m excited to introduce the Design Influencer Group. The need for industry trends and information not just about design, but about the business of design is absolutely crucial to the future of the industry. Designers and architects have seen their business model fundamentally change due to the rise of social media, movement from brick and mortar locations to “out-of-district” locations and in some cases, exclusively online. In addition to these challenges, design creatives are being asked to do more, for less. Revenue models are being challenged and online competition for creative services are popping-up and dropping out at an alarming rate.

The Design Influencer Group is a forum for a select group of design trade professionals to discuss these industry issues and design ideas that are shaping our design community here in Southern California. The ideas was to gather, have lunch and discuss trending ideas and concepts affecting the trade and currently shaping the business side of design.

The inaugural event was held at the Tidelli Outdoor showroom in the Pacific Design Center and included;

John McClain | John McClain Design | @johnmcclaindesign | | (310)402-5592

Peggy Platner| Platner & Co. | @platnerco | | (424)280-8894

Kristi Nelson| KM Nelson Design| @kmnelsondesign | | (310)441-0026

Anthony Poon | Poon Design, Inc. | @anthonypoondesign | | (310)277-8855

Edel Legaspi | Legaspi Courts Design | @legaspicourtsdesign | | (323)641-0250

Stephen Francis Jones | SFJones Architects, Inc. | @sfjonesarchitects | | (310)822-3822 x150

Nancy Russert | Les Beaux | @LesBeaux

Twist Custom | @twistcustom | (310)245-6156

Brooke Gardner | Brooke Gardner Interior Design | @_brooke_gardner_ | | (310)295-1892

Cynthia Lambakis | Lambakis Interiors | @lambakisinteriordesign | | (626)737-7479

John Feldman | Ecocentrix Landscape Architecture | @ecocentrix.landscape | | (310)907-5066 x101

Design Influencer Group (DIG) – Summer 2019 ReportSocial media: This DIG expressed a love/hate relationship between social media and the design community. Under this topic, there were a few subtopics that elicited some extremely strong reactions.

Social Media Credit.

The biggest concern was that photos of projects are widely published and rarely credited. Images are taken of projects and posted to social media outlets without crediting the designer, architect and in most cases, the photographer who took the image. The frustration is that designers, architects and other creatives who participate in the development of a space can have that work shared over social media platforms and with no credit given. It represents a tangible loss of potential future business opportunities. This issue also affects collaborative efforts and intellectual property rights issues. There should be a standard applied by those who post to social media to both offer credit to those whose work is being used to attract attention and those who are responsible for promoting the work and the work itself. 

Editor’s Note: Creatives who post their work on social media platforms should include all applicable credits in their own posts and instruct those who share the work to include those credit details as well. It is increasingly evident that users of social media do not take much time to research the work in an effort to get posts out faster. The creatives can address this by creating credits that are easily copied and pasted.

Social Media Efficacy. 

There is a fundamental lack of useful purpose to social media. While it allows for easy communication, it also provides unfettered access to those that simply wish to repurpose the content. The lack of attributable “call-to-action” makes measurement of social media results unscientific at best and at worst, a waste of time. Looking at the Instagram platform. What is the ROI? Unmeasurable at best. The group qualified it as ‘subliminal marketing’.  While not the technical definition for subliminal messaging, the idea is the same and thereby making it virtually impossible to quantify the results of social media. Many of the creatives at this inaugural DIG are considering the use of outside companies to outsource their social media. The idea is to further explore how to make the messaging on social media accomplish specific marketing goals like increasing website traffic, activating direct one-on-one contact from potential clients and collaborators.

The Business.

A large and expanding chasm exists between design creatives and consumer sides of the interior, exterior and landscape design industry. The increased frequency of client product procurement due to more buying and competitive pricing opportunities made directly to clients. It is evident that gone are the days of the ‘blind mark-up’ because clients are aware of actual cost and this has led to additional pricing pressure on the retailer and manufacturer. This pricing pressure has led to a significant cut in ‘mark-up’ revenue leading many of the designers to apply ‘consulting’ fees to their agreements.

Editor’s Note: One participant changed the language in their contract from “designer mark-up” to “retailer discount”. This simple change in verbiage changed the conversation from ‘fees and costs’ to ‘service and value’. A great reminder that sometimes the best strategy is a simple ‘adjustment’. The increase in market pricing information has led to an increase in negotiation with clients over actual cost which has minimized the actual value of the services that designers and architects provide. Creatives are increasingly locked in negotiations where they are forced to resell the value of the services they provide. It is important to note that the architects present expressed concern about this issue as well. Architects have seen developers and builders provide building options that circumvent the involvement of an architect. 

Editor’s Note: This concern is real and is consistent among almost all the interior and landscape creatives I have spoken with over the past 5 years. There appears to be a lack of industry leadership to drive the macro level messaging. The National Association of Realtors has done a remarkable job marketing and reinforcing the value of licensed real estate agents. Groups like ASID, IIDA and AIA could do more to drive the value proposition. There is potentially an opportunity for the design districts and design oriented events to support members of the industry on local, regional and national levels.

Product Sourcing.

With time constraints, far more client servicing and increased amounts of time spent on product pricing, creatives are looking for unique ways to source new products and materials. Much of this is to remain on top of emerging design and technology. There is also a desire to find additional product options and sources of inspiration. The idea was raised and widely agreed that designers welcome an opportunity to shop with clients and that experience would decrease product returns. 50% of the designers present shop with clients and the other 50% do not. This presents a remarkable opportunity for showrooms to increase market share through direct marketing to designers raising the level of the shopping experience to designers with clients present. This will require an increased level of customer service on the side of the showrooms and trade shows.

Final Thoughts.

Architects don’t just design spaces and designers don’t just fill those spaces with pretty things. Home is more important now than in recent memory. Home is sanctuary, peace and a place for reflection, connection and recharging. The workplace is no longer just a location for the execution of tasks. It is a fundamental part of the modern human experience. In addition, home and workspaces are commingled now more than ever before and that trend is looking to continue. As spaces change, so does the need for those to reimagine how to make those spaces serve the needs of those who use them. Architects and designers are, whether they choose to be or not, futurists. These creatives define how we live, how we make the specs serve us and make that human experience better. This is wherein the value lies. Consumers should know this, so should the creatives themselves. As futurists, it is important to recognize changes in the marketplace and apply those developing trends to the current work if you feel the ideas are lasting. “Trend” is not a bad word, but add a “y” and it can be.

The Top 5 Most Important Issues Affecting Shelter Design Creatives. Summer 2019:

5. Social media best practices should (must) include credits to those responsible for creating the project and those documenting it. This must start with us.

4. Manufacturers and retailers have an opportunity to increase market share through targeted efforts catering to designer/client shared shopping experiences

3. There is a difference in the value of services and the cost of products and fees.

2. The value in the services of architects and designers lies in the services they provide.

1. The concept of ‘home’ is more important than ever. Designers and architects define that.

Josh Cooperman

Author: Josh Cooperman

Josh Cooperman is a speaker, writer, publisher, host, brand manager and product designer with over twenty five years in the broadcast industry. Cooperman, a devotee of design and architecture, developed the Convo By Design platform to promote and tell the stories of those behind remarkable design.