Interior Designer, IDS Professional Member
Interview and Transcription by Emily Kallick, Sales & Marketing, IDS Sales Specialist
You do both commercial and residential design. What are the similarities and differences in your approach to each?
Paul Miller: Our goal in both residential and commercial projects is to identify needs and design solutions. Residential design is inherently more personal - often incorporating heirlooms and meaningful pieces - but both forms of design ultimately must project an identity that represents the client sincerely.
What would you say are the biggest challenges presented in commercial design projects?
PM: In commercial designs, there is the need to consider workflow. Depending on the space, those considerations must align with the image the client wants to project about their business. There are markedly different considerations depending on service or product output. For example, a commercial office space may consume the majority of its square footage for internal operations; clients consult in conference rooms or in key offices while whole departments function out of the public eye. Conversely, in a restaurant, the majority of the space is likely to be front-side, requiring more artful presentation of the brand than back of house areas.
In your work in the commercial design industry, have you observed any design trends that just don’t offer any usefulness to either the staff or the guests?
PM: Sometimes a material may come into vogue that is a poor match to some applications, but a thoughtful design team should disqualify those selections during the planning stages.
What steps can businesses take to avoid this mistake?
PM: It's important to distinguish the difference between trends and fads. A trend develops more slowly and speaks to large cultural shifts - and trends are generally answers to questions about lifestyle. In residential design as an instance, think of open floor plans as a trend that addresses the desire with families to feel more connected. A fad is typically more conceptual and less grounded in how we work and live. Fads are commonly expressed in material or surface elements. To invoke a time-tested design mantra, less really is more. If one uses restraint with faddish adornments or avoids them altogether, the design will enjoy a longer run of relevance.
For the average business needing a refresh, what is usually the first thing that you recommend updating or changing?
PM: We recommend looking at the business from two perspectives: inside out and outside in. How staff experience it inwardly and how customers and clients perceive it outwardly. Typically making a meaningful change to the entry space and lobby can profoundly improve perceptions about the business. Yet in cases where the primary challenges are operational, the budget for improvements might be best served elsewhere, for example the kitchen of a restaurant or the tech spaces of an office building.
What specific benefits does that one change provide to the company?
PM: Updating the entry space of most businesses is a fantastic opportunity to improve traffic flow and strengthen branding. For a company that is serious about growth and a sharpened image, this can be a much needed reset. In addition to boosting morale with staff, thoughtful redesigns improve the way that clients perceive the business. We recommend whenever feasible that our clients introduce us to their marketing provider so that we can factor the messaging goals of the company into our design.
Can businesses expect to see major benefits after a thoughtful redesign and can they compensate for the upfront costs over time?
PM: When workflow is improved, employees are able to accomplish tasks more efficiently, which improves output and thus customer satisfaction. By sharpening the image of a business through interior design, clients and patrons feel more confident in their choice and more apt to refer the business to friends and colleagues.
What about a business on a budget. Are the costs and benefits exclusively correlated?
PM: Sometimes the best changes have more to do with editing than additions. In instances where the budget does not allow for elaborate architectural changes, there are still opportunities to improve organization and refine the appearance. Company goals play a big part in determining budget. Perhaps our best tip is advising business owners to consult with a designer before they sign a lease or purchase a building. Picking a space that can grow with the company while not seeming overly large during the early phases is important. A large retail space with a shallow inventory does not project success in an era of massive online shopping venues and large box stores. Something as simple as a shell partition wall - removed with a little effort and some dust later - can make a shop seem full on opening day, keep down the cost of inventory, and prevent a costly move at a later date should the company meet its expansion projections. A good design factors in the future.
You have a retail studio and office on a downtown retail street. How do you employ brand supportive design in your own space?
PM: We have the luxury of being a style-related business, so our inventory creates the look of our space, and is driven by trend. We are big believers in the importance of consistent marketing, so we make sure that our brand colors, textures, and images are fluid from window signage to website and from business card to pamphlet.
What aspects of your own office design directly influence employee productivity and client satisfaction?
PM: Our showroom represents an ideal for clients, so we strive for an experience that is pleasing to all the senses. That means the shop smells clean and subtly fragrant, that the spaces are organized for easy use, but not so rigidly structured that patrons feel uptight in our boutique. As our business has grown, the design office has undergone numerous layout changes to accommodate employee task areas. While this can be a moving target in a small but expanding business, we find that maintaining a clear line of communication with staff helps head off workflow issues through design solutions.