Valuing design… to charge or not?

The owner of Judith Harrop Interiors on why retailers should be charging for design

The debate about charging for design has been going on for some time in the KBB community. Established design-led retailers, such as Diane Berry, Hayley Robson and Matt Podesta, have suggested  that our designs should be paid for, while others have countered with fears that doing so would result in losing work to other companies that don’t charge.

Some have said if the industry stood together and everyone charged, that would change things, but human nature being what it is, that won’t happen, nor would that be fair, as not all retailers  are particularly hot on design.

I believe we have to change the way consumers think, educate them about our design skills and, to a greater extent, the difference between design and brand.

My grandmother designed and made exquisite clothes, including my mother’s wedding dress, which still stands up to scrutiny. A designer logo doesn’t always guarantee good design or manufacture. And an ill thought-out combination of designer apparel can be seen as ludicrous.

However, the rise of the ‘designer’ product in recent decades has resulted in brand tags being more important than the product itself.

This is, of course, what brand identity is about – the lifestyle and associations being what the consumer is buying into rather than the design of the product.

Kitchen and bathroom brands are becoming just as desirable, but while the brand tag is the element the client wants to wave in front of their friends, the value of bringing these products together in a coherent form is lost. We do not encourage consumers to value our design capabilities. We encourage them to buy brands.

Education

Do our consumers lack confidence in their ability to identify good design? I don’t think so. Judging by the liked images on Pinterest and Instagram, the ability to identify well-designed products and installations is more than apparent.

What is happening here is an appreciation of good design without the knowledge or understanding of how it came about, what has gone into producing it and the value therein. 

We have to find ways of educating the public about design. Specifically about how good design is not necessarily about expensive branded products. 

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That we chose to specify and sell particular brands due to various attributes, such as build quality, function, aesthetic design and after-sales back up, is one thing, but our skills in producing a complete room design should be seen as elevating those products.

Creating a well-designed kitchen or bathroom is a process, often a collaborative one, which takes  time. Brief taking takes time, detail takes time, ruminating on the best options takes time, finding elegant solutions to tricky problems takes time. 

Moreover, it is a process whereby a project has been explored and developed to gain the best possible outcome in terms of functionality and aesthetics.

I know that many, independent KBB retailers offer a lot more than the configuration of key products and installation. Building work, lighting, flooring and wall finishes are all addressed. Their clients are getting a complete design package. And yet charging for design is still the elephant in the room.

For those considering charging for design, I recommend that you try it. Talk about the process, about what you will bring to the project and the time you will genuinely spend getting it spot-on. You will be surprised. If you charge for something, it shows it has a value.

Once you begin the design process, your clients can tell you have their back, that you have listened to their brief, understood their lifestyle, challenged them and surprised them, but ultimately explored a variety of options that give them the room they want.

The dilemma is – how do we change the culture from brand worship to truly valuing design? We have to start talking to consumers about design and stop hiding its value in the total cost price for a project.

We have to stop treating it as a freebie, because if you give something away free, it’s like saying it’s not worth much. So let’s continue the conversation – in our showrooms, with our colleagues, with our clients, with our friends and family. Let’s talk about our design skills and what they mean. Let’s educate the consumer. 

Let’s elevate the profile of design.

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