Why hiring a commercial Interior Designer for your office is a good investment.

You are planning a move for your company from one office to another. After all of your hard work, your company is growing, thriving and ready for an updated office space that offers more amenities, and will allow for future growth of your team.

You’ve signed the lease and are ready to take the next step when suddenly you realize you don’t know how to lay out the furniture, or even what furniture you will be taking with you?!

The old desks and cubicles you have in your present space seem dull, dingy and depressing now that you are looking at the new office space. You have seen photos of new office designs that look inspiring, creative and help to attract and retain talented staff. That’s what you want, but you dont know how to take the next steps to get there.

You may have even visited a few office furniture showrooms, but get lost in options and just don’t feel that the salesperson really understands what you are trying to accomplish in your new space. (hint: As a general rule they want to sell furniture, not help you to attract & retain great staff or amplify your brand)

And that is where one the of the biggest differences comes into play:

A) Are you looking for furniture to fill your space and meet your needs?


B) Would you like to look at your space more strategically? To work with interior design professionals who can make sure the space is not just functional but also in alignment with your brand and your company culture?

If your answer was B, than you should be consulting with a design professional who understands how to accomplish that goal.

The conversation is about far more than just furniture…its about culture creation and amplification. It’s also about building your brand from the inside-out.

Your employees should be advocates of your brand. They should know what your brand differentiators are, not just be able to regurgitate your company’s’ mission statement.

A big (really big) part of understanding market & culture differentiators is by EXPERIENCING them first hand. Saying that you have a collaborative company, but then asking your employees to sit behind privacy partitions that block the light, view, and conversation is definitely NOT being in sync with your message, your brand, or your culture.

Stating that you value your employees is about more than just providing a paycheck and some benefits. It’s making sure that they feel valued within your company’s’ space. Providing a desk and some file space is just not enough anymore.

Employees expect more from their employers and more from their work environments than ever before.

So where do you begin finding the right design partner?

In my experience, most clients begin in one of two places: They Google search “office interior design” or they ask their Real Estate Broker or leasing agent for a referral.

Brokers are a good place to start for referrals because they see and experience so many spaces. That said…they probably have never done business with an interior design firm, so they will make recommendations with a limited perspective.

Google is how most of my clients find my company, San Diego Office Design. I was no dummy when I named my firm…but I can also back the name up with a fantastic portfolio, shining testimonials, and industry expertise that is unmatched in my field.

After owning my own commercial interior design firm for 8 years in San Diego, I can confidently say that working with an interior designer is similar to other service-oriented businesses.

The core skill sets should be roughly equivalent for most interior designers since the curriculum they learn in a design program is fairly standardized.  Many clients who have little-to-no experience working with an interior designer may see the service as a commodity (think dollars for hours…like an attorney or a massage therapist.)

Their technical skills are similar, but its the interior designers’ aesthetic taste, their community connection (to vendors, suppliers) and their industry knowledge (collaborators, niche expertise, etc) that may set them apart.

There are a LOT of differentiators that potential clients should be aware of when hiring an interior designer for their office. Here’s a quick list (in order of what I believe is the most important):

Commercial vs Residential Interior Designers– There is a BIG difference between commercial and residential interior design. From knowledge of local code requirements to understanding how comercial furniture is designed and built differently (to withstand the rigorous use that comes with corporate spaces) to vendors that specialize in fabricating commercial grade products…its a whole different ballgame with a larger price tag.

  • Owner vs Employee– Does your designer have a stake in their own company? Have they designed their own office space?
  • Single Practitioner vs a Team– Teams help with project support, collaboration and the idea that many perspectives are more valuable than just a singular idea
  • Portfolio- type of space, sq footage of jobs completed, breadth of industry, and use of space.
  • The scope of work provided– Do they offer full-service or do they have a menu of hourly services available? (Which is most important to you?…a design partner or a service provider?)
  • Published Projects- Have they been nominated or won awards? Are they recognized within their industry as doing good work?
  • EducationFar more than design school: Does your designer understand business, strategy, or have specialized training? There are professional affiliations just for commercial designers and specialized training and exams that some commercial designers are affiliated with (NCIDQ, IIDA, USGA etc)
  • Testimonials and Ratings- on Yelp, on Google, on LinkedIn and on their website. (I have won projects just from clients reading my LinkedIn portfolio…it’s that important)
  • Price…should be the last thing you consider. I understand it’s important to stay within a budget, but in my experience hiring someone who is great at selecting items in alignment with your project goals as well as budget is vitally important. Additionally, a more experienced designer will more likely accomplish more within an hours time than a younger designer who needs to search for resources.   You can not judge that by asking “what is your hourly rate.”
    • Time & Materials or Flat Rate: this is a sub-topic of price, and can vary greatly from firm to firm. Time & materials are the most popular way to bill (and relates most directly to actual service.) Flat rate means that project specifics must be determined up front, and there may be many change orders (price increases) to deal with as the project makes progress.
    • In commercial interior design, we estimate by the scope of work…which means I write out service bullet points and assign time to each and every item on the list. It offers a checklist approach of project management but takes time to perfect (it took me years to learn to do this well!)

So your quick take-aways are: Spend 20 minutes researching your selected interior design firm against its competitors. Then call the owner and spend some time with them on the phone. Listen closely to what questions they ask you to determine if they are the right fit for your project as well as if your project fits within their firms’ capabilities.

And ask yourself…do you value strategic design? Or do you simply need a space planner and furniture sales rep? Each is valuable and offers hugely different results.

Interested in learning more about starting and running your own creative business? Visit Tamara Romeo’s online courses developed for creatives who long to be their own boss. DesignBossOnline. Tamara Romeo is the Founder of San Diego Office Design, and leads interior design projects for clients across the country. Her clients include Some of the largest real estate holders and developers in the US, and include segments including medical & dental, marketing & advertising, financial institutions and law offices, city government and more. See her virtual portfolio here



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