Friday, August 5, 2011

Branding My Design Services

Branding is important in every business, but in a creative business it is even more so.  The ambiguous nature of a creative business is such that it's hard to stamp it with any one concrete idea.  It's even harder when that business has to function in so many different ways. Interior design is particularly challenging in that regard.  I have done so many different things on projects over the years as most designers often do.  You kind of become the resident aesthetician for all things when you start working with a client.  I've done everything from design exterior facades and lay out gardens to arrange bookcases and decorate for events.  Sometimes it's just all over the place and that's just the way I like it.  I like to have as much input as I can, anywhere I can.... because I always have an opinion.  An opinion that comes from years of experience and a formal education, but most importantly, a driving passion for design.

Many designers brand themselves with a certain style and don't really welcome projects that deviate from that style.  I think these designers find it easier to brand themselves. Clients seek them out particularly for their knowledge and expertise of that style.

Not for me.  I'm not glued to any one style. I love the difference between each project. I like the challenge of working on a modern bathroom, an old world style living room, and a craftsman style kitchen all in one day.  I like working with the unique requests of my clients and coming up with solutions that are perfect for them. 

So how do I define that?  What can I produce for a client? What services do I offer?  What do you know you're getting when you hire me?  I'm constantly reassessing this and trying to hone it into a quick soundbyte.  It's never easy.

I recently looked back at many of my projects looking for a common thread and they are just all over the place in terms of design style and type.  So many different kinds of projects.  Again, I like that.  I remembered each one and what the client requests were and how I came up with the solutions and design.  They were all unique.  I was recently with a new client going over my portfolio and I kept thinking I'd done something similar to what she was wanting in the past for her to see, but no, hers was going to be different.

I sat down and considered what were the most important things I want to bring to my clients. 
  • Solve the problems in the space they are requesting I address.
  • Solve the problems they don't really see that they have.
  • Make it beautiful or striking or relaxing or whatever their adjective is.
  • Clean it up.  I do like a clean aesthetic.
  • Bring ideas to the table that they wouldn't think of themselves.  That is why they're hiring me.
  • Think big. After all, I'm the creative one. I have to have the big ideas.
  • Make it magazine worthy. That means it needs to have unique, eye catching moments.
  • Make it long lasting.  Sure, there will be things that get dated over time, but the things you invest heavily in should last.
  • Don't leave the elephant in the room. When I complete a project, I like to have brought everything up to the same level of quality.  So many times people have their wish list and it doesn't include updating the big thing in the room that's going to take everything else down with it.
  • Bring more value to the property. I always try to recommend improvements whether it's tweaking new construction plans or ideas for remodeling that would add value to the home. Even if it's just something that would make your house sell faster if it was on the market.
Notice the words, "stay within budget" are not included.  I have found that when clients tell me their initial budget numbers they usually aren't aware of what things cost. Many times their wish lists are far greater than their budgets.  They also sometimes include things on the list that I might feel aren't necessary to get them their end result.  They don't know what I'm going to think up for them or how much I'm going to do.  After all, they're hiring me for ideas. Something they haven't thought of.  How can they budget for that?

Now, I can work within a realistic budget, but I first like to show you what you can have.  Really 9 times out of 10, people go for it all or do it in stages because they love the design and it's something they would not have thought of.  I also find that original budget numbers are usually very conservative on their part. Most people don't tell you the maximum they'll go to right off the bat.  They approach it like a negotiation, starting low but their ceiling is almost always higher.  Not to say that you shouldn't hold back money for contingency, I'm a firm believer in that.  It's just that my experience has been that fresh ideas brought to the table can trump the cost factor.

I know, that last bit might alienate some future clients.  I hope it's taken in the right way.  Honestly at this point in my life I want projects where I can make a big impact and clients that are willing to go there with me.  I'm there to work for them, but my time is precious.  I'm not a part-time designer. I work all the time, nights and weekends too. I have clients waiting on me, repeat clients, so I have to spend my time on projects that will move my career and business forward.  I put a lot into the projects I take on and I want to make something special out of each and every one of them.  I prefer larger projects that will showcase my input. Oh, and I need to get paid for it.....on time.  :)

When I designed my studio almost two years ago, I purposely did not do a shop or a showroom. I didn't want to have a supply of items that I had to move through the doors to stay in business.  Again, I'm not all about one single style.  In one of my projects I may need rustic accessories and linen upholstery, in another I might want modern statement art and sleek leather.  I can't afford the square footage to have everything in there I might want to use on all my varied projects.  I actually do a lot of custom designed pieces.  Again, solving the unique problems of my clients in very particular ways. 

I also contemplated the multi-designer firm concept.  I decided I just can't let go enough to do that.  I've worked so hard to get here.  With my name on the door, I want to have my hand in all the design decisions. Not only that, I have a hard time trusting anyone else to read my mind and tend to the details the way I want. I like working with support, but I don't need someone who is a second "me".

 "Aston Design Studio", my business name, really states what I do. It's me, doing design, not in a retail store or with other designers in tow, but in my own studio.  I think the word studio conjours up the notion of "art" being created.

A few years ago I developed my mission statement or design philosophy and in my review, after all my re-examination, I think it's still pretty accurate, albeit a bit wordy.  Still looking for the soundbyte.:/

"My goal is to bring thoughtful, well-crafted, timeless design to each project I pursue.  The type of clients I have appreciate the time and effort I put into the design process and the high regard I have for this pursuit.  They benefit from my passion and interest in good design.  I enjoy collaborating with them to create a space that reflects their personalities, interests, and style.  Along with my clients, I want to love and be proud of each and every end result.” 

Have you branded your business? Your image? Your blog?  Was it a soul searching process for you?  Did you know what you wanted to put out there right away or did you grow into it, trying other things out along the way?  I would be interested to have your comments! 

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