Tina Delia, 38, owns Delia Designs in the heart of Philadelphia. She's been an interior designer for six years, and she also teaches Lighting Techniques and Principles of Interior Design at Moore College of Art and Design's continuing education department. She does primarily commercial design work for clients in the hospitality sector but also designs some office and retail spaces in Philadelphia. She also has a few residential clients in her portfolio scattered throughout the region.
In this revealing interview with Career Colleges, Tina speaks in detail about being a self-employed interior designer. She describes how interior designers can effectively market themselves and gives other valuable tips for those looking to enter the field.
Q. What's your typical workday like?
A. Starting out my day, I always look at my schedule to see what I have going on for that day. Since I usually have several projects going on at once, I have to look and see what I have to prioritize for the day. Sometimes I will be drawing for a couple hours, or I may need to make a site visit, or I may stop by a furniture showroom to select furniture for a client. Other days I need to focus on my administrative activities, such as drafting proposals, billing, or marketing.
Q. What software or technology do you use on a regular basis?
A. I use AutoCAD, which is a professional drafting program. I learned it in school, but I am definitely light years ahead of where I was when I graduated, because there are things that you learn from other design professionals -- such as shortcuts you may not have learned in school. I also use Google SketchUp, and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for renderings.
Q. How do you stay up-to-date with software or technology needed for your position?
A. Mostly through reading trade journals, and also through talking with other design professionals.
Q. What certifications or licenses do you have?
A. I have a master's degree in architecture and design. I need to complete a certain number of hours before I can sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam, which is the national certification for interior designers. The hours depend on your level of education and your experience.
Q. How do you find new clients?
A. I find my clients through several different ways. One is by participating in trade shows, and another is through referrals from past clients as well as from people in my business network. I also get clients through all the different things I have in my marketing plan, which includes social media, networking and other marketing materials. That includes handing out your business card to everyone you meet, and also through signage at my commercial clients.
Q. Can you elaborate on your marketing plan? Do you have any specific self-marketing tips for interior designers?
A. Definitely have a social media platform, which includes LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. It is not a huge revenue generator, but it is a way to brand yourself, and I have received business through Facebook. Social media is definitely a part of it, but it is only one little piece. The other important thing that I do, and I would stress to young designers, is to get out and network as much as possible. It goes back to the fact that our business is about relationship building. When you get out and network, you are building relationships with people in the industry or cross-networking with individuals in different industries. It helps you build your brand, and you are able to explain to anyone you meet what it is that you do and what you do best. You are like a walking billboard for your brand.
Q. What is the most challenging part of your job?
A. The most challenging part of my job is navigating all the different personalities. Being an interior designer is all about relationships, and it is important to understand who the client is and where he or she is coming from. In the end it is all about making the client happy, so I need to figure out what it is that will make the client happy.
Q. How do you deal with troublesome clients?
A. Usually my theory is that, within reason, the client is always right. However, I will never compromise on health and safety issues or fire code standards.
Q. What do you like most about being a designer?
A. The fact that I get to be creative every day of my life. Not only is it a creative career, but it is also very analytical in the way that space planning requires a lot of thought behind it. Also, you need to navigate building code regulations, health and safety regulations, and fire codes.
Q. What is one thing you like least about this career?
A. I don't know that there is anything I dislike about my job.
Q. What associations do you recommend interior designers join for career enhancement?
A. I recommend they look into joining the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) or the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Those two organizations also offer education and networking for interior designers.
Q. Do you advise interior designers to choose a specialty right away?
A. No. I think that young designers should test and measure to see where the market is and where they have the most interest. That only comes from experience and trying out different things.
Also, I think they need to determine what their goals are for the future, before they determine if they want to embark upon an interior design or decorating program and whether they want to participate in a degree or certificate program. The degree program will take longer, but if your goal is to work for a major architectural firm, that degree is usually required. However, if you want to start your own part-time design studio and focus mainly on residential clientele, you may just need a certificate to begin working.
Q. What are the major differences between an interior designer and an interior decorator?
A. The difference between the two lies in the education. Typically, interior designers receive a degree, whereas interior decorators receive a certificate. Designers are usually dealing more with space planning, and decorators are dealing more with finish treatments and the overall aesthetics of a space. But the two professions go hand-in-hand; interior designers encompass everything an interior decorator is, but just a little more.
Something else that is also really important is to look at the state regulations where you live. Certain states have a practice act in place, and in order to practice interior design, you need to have a degree in interior design and have earned your NCIDQ certification. Other states have a title act, where basically you cannot call yourself an interior designer unless you have completed the [necessary] education and experience.
Q. What advice would you give to entry-level interior designers just getting started? What do you wish you knew now?
A. I would advise them to research who the major players in their city are. Also, it's ok to try out different fields between commercial and residential to see where their skills are best suited. It's also ok to take internships, but they should be aware of their [internship's] value -- they should never give away their services for free. People can take advantage of someone who is just getting started because they know that person is hungry to gain experience.
What I know now after six years in the field is that real life is not like school. As much as my professors tried to explain that fact, you just don't realize it until you're out in the field and on your own. In the real world, people have budgets. When you are in school, you don't have to worry about that. I also wish I would have listed to my professors a little better.
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