Competence: the best designed app ever

Competence_you cannot fake itYou can’t fake your way through anything these days.

This reminder is courtesy of Daniel Pink, whose new book To Sell is Human warns that in an age where anyone can find anything out online there’s less opportunity for the consumer to be taken advantage of. I have finished the book, and the thoughts around information parity made a big impression on me.

The Interior Design industry has also evolved in this regard.

Clients are becoming much more sophisticated. Access to information, be it about products, processes or ideas, presents Interior Designers not only with the challenge of keeping their skills and knowledge current but also of building their experience at an ever-increasing rate. Gone are the days where Interior Designers spent considerable time educating their clients on process while executing exceptional design. Clients still may need direction, but most of them know a lot about how to get what they need.

It doesn’t make the job any easier or harder; it’s just different. We are and always will be the subject-matter experts, but we have to understand that our clients can research information and get answers as well as we can.

Here’s a simple example of how clients challenge us today.

Recently I was in a construction meeting with a client where the contractor was trying to explain why a product delivery was delayed, in turn causing a delay in the completion of a phase of work. As we discussed the details, our client informed us that he had researched an alternative. He challenged the contractor to explain why he had not considered another approach. Fortunately, the contractor had an answer. Not a great answer, but he had one.


How does competence influence your role as a design professional?

We’re all busy, we all have expectations that we need to meet, and none of us has unlimited resources — so closing the loop on every issue that may affect a project is challenging. We can only work to be as proactive as possible, because today our clients are going to be as proactive as we are. What struck me in Daniel Pink’s book was the fact that the buyer (our clients) is becoming more and more sophisticated, so the seller (you) now needs to be more and more aware of their ability to look for answers. He calls it caveat venditor. Simply, let the seller beware. That applies to the consulting world as much as it does for consumer goods.

The important point here is that you, as an Interior Designer, are the subject matter expert — so you better know your stuff.

None of your clients are going to say that they know more about your business than you do, but if they beat you to the answers, then you may want to assess your ability to deliver your services. We are hired because of how we demonstrate our competence (knowing our business inside and out), so we’d better know it through and through. We may live in a world where information is available to anyone, but knowing what to do with that information and knowing how to apply it is where we have the edge. But the more sophisticated your clients become the more challenging your work gets.

And that’s a good thing.

As consultants we need to ensure that our clients get what they ask for, and it’s up to us to have the competence to defend our decisions when they challenge us. That got me thinking about the tools we need to make sure we are credible and in good standing.


Three things we can do to ensure our competence stays intact.


1.      Have the experience to back up your statements.

If you claim you can deliver a service, you had better be able to deliver it. Overselling yourself or your firm does no one any good. This doesn’t mean to quit challenging yourself or to stop trying new things, but don’t do it to your client’s detriment. There’s nothing that kills credibility faster than selling something you can’t do.

If you’re a young designer, you can get a mentor, bounce your ideas off your senior colleagues and make sure you get buy-in before you present your ideas to your clients.


2.      Do your due diligence before making recommendations.

Due diligence is a big deal. If we don’t research our recommendations and we’re wrong, we lose credibility instantaneously. Due diligence is as critical to subject matter expertise as your ability to sell your ideas. If you can’t back up your recommendations with fact and precedent, your clients won’t accept your solutions. “Trust me” doesn’t work, especially now that it doesn’t take long to comparison-shop ideas, solutions or products.

Don’t recommend a solution if you’re not sure it’s going to work. It’s tough in a creative field like Interior Design, because for every tried-and-true method there is something new we all want to explore. It’s great to try new things, but make sure you understand as much as you can about the solution before you pitch it.


3.      Educate yourself on the trends influencing our industry.

The best in their field are the best because they are leading the way. They research, they look for opportunities across new boundaries. Let’s face it, though, we’re not all trailblazers. Average designers just do what they need to do to survive, and good for them. While we can’t all be the leaders of the pack, we can spend time educating ourselves on our profession, staying ahead of the curve as much as possible. Self-regulated practice participation isn’t enough these days.

We need to instill some urgency to push the growth of our professional practice. Participating in continuing education opportunities plays a critical role in our ability to build creative solutions to our design problems.


If we move forward with these skills firmly in place there shouldn’t be any reason for our clients to mistrust us. Competence is key, and credibility is easily lost if there is any doubt of our ability to back up our statements or, god forbid, our services.

Clients’ access to information makes our jobs more challenging, but I think it’s for the better. It forces us to work harder to ensure that we are at the top of our game.

Daniel Pink pointed out that we all sell more than we think we do. A big part of selling your ideas is building credibility. Delivering what you promised, when you promised, is paramount; backing up your ideas is a pretty big deal, too.


If you have some questions or want some further insights into our process improvement ideas you can get in touch with me via email here, call me at  416-500-0374 or you can ask your questions below.

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