• Jeff Kaper

Questions to Ask When Choosing an Interior Design Firm


When looking to hire an exceptional interior design firm, there are numerous considerations to balance: Talent, cost, creativity, efficiency, and portfolio, to name a few.


Beyond these considerations, I would like to introduce three questions to ask when choosing an interior design firm that you may not have considered asking, which provide beneficial insights.


Question #1: Do you “do” Cracker Barrel?


Perhaps the most significant characteristic to determine when choosing an interior design firm is their trustworthiness. Successful design projects do not happen in the absence of trust.


For the purpose at hand, trust is defined as the confidence you hold in a company’s character.


Trust is built over the life of the designer-client relationship, but never discount first impressions—especially unfavorable ones.


The first question takes a simple, no-investment phone call, and it goes something along these lines:


Interior Design Firm: Good morning, XYZ Interior Design, how may I help you today?


You: Hello XYZ Interior Design, I would like to know how much it would cost to design my living room to match the look of a Cracker Barrel?


The point of this call is to ask the company an odd yet plausible question. When asking these types of questions when choosing an interior design firm, how are you treated?


Listen closely. Is there dismissal on the other end of the phone? Do you feel pretense coming through? You were not just put on speaker phone for their entertainment, were you?


Did the voice provide thoughtful answers? Perhaps try to mentor you and help you along?


Call all your design finalists—you will be amazed at the differences. And let your gut do the rest.


All successful design starts with trust and a solid relationship. The individual who answered your call shared the tenor of the firm’s character, culture, and ultimately from a first-impression standpoint, trustworthiness.


Question #2: Do you believe the customer is always right?


There is a natural and healthy tension in design. You have a client who is investing. You have a design firm that is composed of purported design professionals. Two completely different perspectives come together to create something that is very specific and personal to the client.


So, who is the ultimate arbiter in a good faith difference of opinion?


It often depends on the answer to the question, “Is the client always right?”


When asked, I imagine myriad designers would readily answer, “The client is always right.” But do they genuinely believe that?


As a paying client, is that the answer you would like to hear?


As a designer, I would answer the question this way, “No, the client is not always right.”


But before you hang up the phone or politely show me the door, I would explain, “Our clients will always get what they ask for, but they may not always be right. And it is our firm’s responsibility as a trusted partner to let you know our professional opinion in a respectful way.”


This answer illustrates that a design firm has your best interests at heart and a strong foundational design philosophy. Just like a good friendship, honest and open exchange is critical to the success of a project.


Question #3: How do you measure project success?


A happy client? On-time? In-budget? A glowing reference? A portfolio piece? A magazine feature?


Note how the first answer, “a happy client,” is the only one client-focused. And how is one to precisely measure happiness anyways? Nonetheless, this is a common and valid measurement for success.


I also consider the happiness of our clients a metric of success, but it's not our sole measurement.


We prioritize two other success measures. 1. Did we solve your problem? 2. Did we minimize your effort while doing so? It seems like if we can get these two right, the happiness tends to follow.


Interior design is really a problem-solving process. Designers are hired to solve a problem through both form and function. From the beginning of the design process, your designer will collaborate with you to identify the problem(s) or pain points of the space. Once those points are defined, the design work is focused on solving those high-level issues. This measurement of success is assessed with a straight yes/no answer.


Another of our success criteria is considering the effort it took you to interact with us throughout the project life cycle.


Process is so important. Clients are busy and have no time for inconsistent communication, lack of clarity, poor listening, broken schedules, and missed budgets. The right combination of organization, communication, and creativity can make your experience positive, smooth, and as low-effort as possible.


In a Harvard Business Review article named Stop Trying to Delight your Customers, a study was published that puts its finger on what customers (across industries) really crave. The article evaluates conventional thinking: Customers are loyal to companies that exceed their expectations through, say, customer service, a free product/service, or rebate.


But the article’s summary concludes that what creates customer loyalty is helping customers solve their problems quickly and easily. Choosing the right designer can make or break this metric.


The above Questions to Ask When Choosing an Interior Design Firm are meant to supplement the more common questions and I would encourage you to ask a lot of them. These questions simply provide different angles to help you determine to whom you want to entrust your design project. When you have the right combination of trust, talent, and process, your design project is sure to provide a wonderful experience and outcome. Problem solved!