We had the pleasure of conducting a Q & A with Dr Vanessa Brady OBE, Founder and CEO of the Society of British and International Interior Design. Vanessa is an international multi-award-winning Interior Designer and Business Consultant with over 40 years of industry experience. In this Q&A she shares her expertise on the key employment trends that she has witnessed in her professional career.
How have you seen the hiring landscape and career path of an Interior Designer change over the last few years?
The industry has seen a rise in the number of graduates choosing a career in Interior Design. In the past design was viewed as ‘not necessary’ and had a bad reputation for ‘excessive expenditure’, but in more recent years it has changed a lot. With the professional role of an Interior Designer aligning more heavily with what students learn at university, it has made it much easier for graduates to follow a clear career path. Now, the best recruitment is from university, where students know that they will have a job once they graduate.
As a result of a more career-focused and targeted university curriculum, fewer design students are ‘dropping out’ and the professional practice feed is stronger. When recruiting, Practices now have candidates who are aware of the skills that they need, such as strong mathematical skills and soft skills like resilience. These are all skills that are needed to be a designer but something that was not even considered six years ago.
Now designers have to specialise to procure a job in a specific sector, such as hospitality, retail, workplace or residential.
How has the progression of a designer changed and how do you see it changing in the future?
Looking back three years ago, projects were client based in terms of the review that a designer received. Additionally, a designer would have to self-promote themselves to get jobs because they didn’t have the methods to gain projects or recruit staff for projects. Growing a practice was not as connected as it is today and that disconnect has held back many talented people that were unknown or in the wrong place.
As an employer, it was very difficult to recruit the right talent and find candidates with the right specialist skills. Fast forward to 2020/2021 when we were forced to go online, designers and architects have been able to create online communities and network in a new way. Now designers can upskill themselves through podcasts, free information, and continue career development online. Going online has also made it great for people that work different hours by proving more flexible working options; it has created a better quality of life for workers in the home place and office.
However, I do believe that teams need to interact, especially in a creative industry. Sometimes just having a team meeting together at a desk makes it easier to create a concept. Online this is much more difficult, and it can take longer to converse. I think that what we will see in the future is a blended way of working, which will improve the way we communicate in business and provide a better home/life balance.
What is the ‘risk’ vs ‘Qualified’ advice between designers and investors?
The difference now is that as designers, we are always seated at the table of a design project with investors' funds. Interior design has added the extra value that helps to sell an investor's product. It’s that extra value that makes people stay in the bar/club longer or buy the product. Colours influence the way people feel and act and investors want that for their businesses. It isn’t by chance that places such as restaurants are designed the way they are, they are designed with a return of investment in mind. That is a part of the designer's skill-set and investors want the designers that they choose to have the experience to link the remit with visual aid.
To mitigate risk designers need to ensure that the advice they provide is qualified. It is crucial to consider the usage that the client requires and not to over-specify. This is where it is fundamental to overlap the skills of compliance, legislation, building regulation and sustainability. Untrained designers do not necessarily pull all of these skills together.
In more recent years, the respect between the client and a designer has grown because of these skills and I think that this will only continue to develop. Designers are now required to work collaboratively with builders/contractors and as a result, there is better communication across the industry.
What have been/will be the biggest growth sectors?
When something is global like COVID-19, everyone suffers simultaneously, which reduces risk because you are all in the same place at the same time. However, when we all had to work online, I was initially concerned about the lack of communication between the sectors that would suffer. I remember thinking ‘will design be the first thing to go?’.
Instead what we saw was an uptake in residential design because people were not going out and spending money, so more people had disposable income to spend on improving the home and changing furniture. This growth across the residential sector fed the smaller practitioners, which were my initial biggest concern.
In terms of the business sectors, IT and design were the only two categories of the entire creative sectors that have experienced growth throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
How has the industry experienced ‘change of use’ and will it continue to do so?
Areas such as hospitality, especially smaller boutique hotels which were originally homes, have been forced to close due to COVID-19. However, many of them are now ripe for re-configuring into super-luxury high-end residential fit-out properties. The larger hotels have taken the opportunity during ‘lockdown’ to refurbish and therefore design and construction in this area have continued.
Is REVIT going to play an important part in Interior Design, just like Architecture?
REVIT and Vector Works are the two most commonly used, and the most in-demand. So, they will always play an important role in both architecture and design.
What advice would you give someone looking to delve deeper into the visualisation and design fields?
Define the specialism that you want to practice in. In this industry, it is all about getting as much training and as many internships as you can. The more that you can learn about each different sector, the better. I would also say becoming more qualified in a specialism will help when it comes to securing a job, and recruiters will favour this too.
Have social media platforms, such as Instagram influenced the way designers work or design spaces?
I think Instagram has made the industry more popular and reachable, but I wouldn’t say that it has influenced it. It has enabled people to see the design errors that we didn’t see previously and has pushed people to realise that they need to hire qualified designers. Instagram is great for seeing the end result, which people love but we need to show the journey to get to the result.
What do you think is important when it comes to recruitment?
An industry recruitment specialist, like FRAME, has the strong ability to place people into the right roles, the right practices and the right industry. Their experience and expertise give them the ability to advise based on individual and business needs, as a result, the industry will do better.
We would like to thank Dr Vanessa Brady for providing her expertise and predictions of the future of the Interior Design and Architecture industry. You can watch the webinar on-demand here.