I'm so excited to share this interview with the multi-talented Sven van Buuren! Sven is one of the principals at the interior design firm Masters of Interior Design (MoID), based in The Netherlands. He is an expert not only at helping clients with interior design, but at helping other designers. The LinkedIn group he founded, Interior Architecture Group, now has over 125,000 members.
Read on to discover Sven's tips for creating a a balance between work, technology, networking, and marketing...
TRAVIS WARD: Sven, I think a lot of interior designers feel that computers, the Internet and social media are taking away time and energy from their true work, which is designing physical spaces. But you embrace technology fully by running a both Web design and an interior design firm. You told me that, “I’ve always loved the combination of practical design, beauty and technology.”
How do you organize your week to achieve a balance between real life, beauty, and technology? What’s your secret for keeping it all healthy and avoiding technology burnout?
SVEN VAN BUUREN: In most cases, it’s absolutely true that social media, in particular, is taking time and energy away from what interior designers love doing. You always end up staying longer on Facebook than you were about to. But that is something you do yourself.
Look at how computers and the Internet helped us makes our work so much easier: Do you remember the time when you needed to find a sample material? You could’ve been looking for days -- looking through piles of books, calling multiple suppliers and agents. It took weeks to assemble the right combination, only to figure out the fabric/color/design/etc. you were looking for was out of stock.
Right now, you go online and you instantly get a rough idea of what’s out there. You make quick choices, order samples, and within days you’re finished.
And what about furniture. There are huge catalogs out there. Online. Where you can add filters to find the perfect sofa or armchair. Lights - the same.
Before computers were mainstream, we used to work on drawing boards to make floor plans. One mistake and there was no back button. Right now, with all the software you can see everything you design in 3D. You can look at small details that otherwise would have slipped your mind.
In short, I think technology has helped our profession to make big leaps, to become more professional, and better in what we do. We are more efficient than ever before. Only when you embrace the inevitable -- technology in this case -- will it help you instead of pushing you backwards.
But hey, until December of last year I was still an old school guy. I started my design sketching on paper. Since January this year I switched to making or having a 3D floor plan first. It helps me get a better feel of the good and bad features of a room. And when I get stuck, I can always return to paper.
I like to believe it makes me create better designs, and at the same time it gives me the opportunity to make the process more transparent and understandable for my clients. Now they can literally see what I see. This gives them a sense of participation: They can see it, get a feel for it, and start imagining living in it.
Also, the fact that it is easier to make changes to the design gives clients the feeling that they have more of a grip on it, even though it seldom happens that I have to make major changes. Especially if you compare it to the past…
About one day a week I’m with clients designing their interiors, together with my team. Three of the other working days I spend on and off the computer, following my gut feeling in what I want to do. If I want to develop something for the website, I’ll do this.
If I want to write a blog, I’ll do that. And if I want to design, I’ll design. By Thursday I’m nearly always able to cross off all the important tasks I needed to do that week. This gives me huge amounts of flexibility to my week. I use Friday for overflow.
TRAVIS WARD: I’m curious about your interior design firm, Masters of Interior Design (MoID). I saw on your website that you tell potential clients the first thing you'll do with them is “map out your personal taste and style, and discover which living solutions fit your lifestyle.” And you promise that after three days they will have a complete interior master plan for their house!
So your top focus is on understanding clients’ lifestyles. Why do you consider this approach (lifestyle first) necessary for interior designers in today’s world?
SVEN VAN BUUREN: Yes, true. We only do residential projects because we like them best… And we’re good at that! Our clients have to live in our designs. So it does have to fit their every need. Not only ‘style-wise’, but it should be fitting their lifestyle like a tailored suit. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pretty house where the owners can’t find their stuff, or it becomes a mess, or they need to do another make-over in a few years. And guess what? If the design didn’t fit their needs, they won’t call you anymore.
We figure out how they live in the house now, what their future living circumstances will be, and what is needed to make the whole house work around the family and for it. It’s like the original "form follows function" principle. If the functions fit, if the functions work, we can add the suitable style to that.
The only way to do that, is to really get to know your clients. To become temporary family. To know their dreams, their visions, how they celebrate life, live their life, what makes them tick, what makes them happy. Trust is a major thing here. Those clients need to trust you with their heart.
There should never be a hidden agenda. It’s never about creating a beautiful picture, just for the sake of that. It’s all about helping them getting more out of their life, starting with their home, their base.
TRAVIS WARD: You started the LinkedIn group called Interior Architecture Group “the moment LinkedIn introduced groups,” back in 2010. Now it has more than 125,000 members. Based on your members’ posts, what do you see as the greatest challenges that interior designers face in their work lives?
SVEN VAN BUUREN: Well, we actually did several questionnaires about this subject. In the LinkedIn group there are a lot of posts regarding this too.
The biggest challenges our members face is similar to your first question, that’s why my answer is so long, haha. Designers are struggling with how to use technology in their firms. How to find more time doing what they like best, which is in most cases is designing.
I made it my goal to support other designers with that. Somewhere by the end of this year we’re going to start a test project to figure out the exact needs of designers, and see how we can support each other with this.
We all want to be creative, but not spend a lot of time on emailing, scheduling, project management, and construction specifications. So that should be our main goal.
I think we’ve discovered the perfect setup for most agencies, making it possible to do what we’re good at. And we think this could be useful to other designers as well.
TRAVIS WARD: I think that for a lot of interior designers there’s a feeling they don’t have time to engage with other designers in an online group. What do you see as the benefits of interior designers belonging to a group like yours?
SVEN VAN BUUREN: They do have time. There are 24 hours in a day. It’s all about the choices you make, and how you decide to use those hours. You can spend your time like you always did and keep on doing what you always did. In other words: You don’t grow.
Or you can shave that five minutes a day off of something and spend it interacting with other designers, or likeminded people. And if you hang out with the right type of people, they help you save more than those five minutes a day. If you do it right, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
I know I also tend to say, “I don’t have time for this or that.” But what I actually mean, is I don’t have the focus to do 'this or that.' Focus varies.
Right now, my focus is to finish a lot of side projects. We’re making a magazine, that’s nearly finished, and we’re producing a series of ten books that require a lot of photoshoots. Also we’re working on some software tools. Within a month or two, these projects will be finished, after that I intend to switch my focus in two ways.
One is making interior design possible for people who can initially not afford it, but love our work. And the other objective is to help interior designers work on a stress-free basis, resulting in having more fun. Ultimately this results in better designs. I’ll keep you posted, Travis!
TRAVIS WARD: As the founder of such a large online group, I’m sure you have looked at many interior designers’ websites and social media pages. To do interior design marketing really well, what are the top three things interior designers need to be doing online?
SVEN VAN BUUREN: Hahaha, great question! In my opinion there’s only one rule: Don’t build a website around your firm and what you think is right; instead, build it around your clients. What they need, what they like, what they are looking for.
Don’t push your portfolio, don’t tell people how great you are. Tell them how great they are. Help them make up their minds. You only have a split second to do so. If you miss out, you’ll lose them forever.
Ah, there’s another thing. When you catch their attention, tell your website visitors what makes you different than other designers and what’s in it for them. This way you prevent your prospect from making their decision based on money.
OK, here's a third: Figure out what type of clients you enjoy working with and make sure you get more of those by focussing on them. Use their language on your site, interact with them the way they like.
Make sure you’re not taking on clients that drain your energy and creativity. There are other designers that like them better. If you’re really awesome, help those prospects find those designers (and that’s where the connections you’ve made with other designers are good for).
I know this is marketing, and marketing is annoying and aggressive and evil and everything else that’s bad. But you’re a great designer (I suppose) and you can help those people. And it’s your job to make them believe that as well.
For more information about Sven van Buuren and his firm Masters of Interior Design (MoID), visit their website.
To connect with Sven on LinkedIn visit his page.
- This article was published on October 22, 2018.
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