Project Managers: Do Interior Designers understand their value?

Project Managers lead with an iron fistProject Managers are from Mars, Interior Designers are from Venus.

These days our clients, more often than not, bring Project Managers to the table and personally, I applaud them for it.

Yes, this Interior Designer appreciates the Project Managers role on the project team.

It makes as much sense to have Project Managers on a project as it does any other discipline. I don’t say that lightly because I have had my fair share of negative experiences over the years. You know, those experiences where some Project Managers are a less than stellar human beings and understand their jobs are, for whatever reason, to lead with an iron fist.

Now, there’s a visual.

Project Managers only get labelled in a negative way when they don’t know how to work with people. We mask that notion in a bunch of different ways but in very simple terms they can be hard-asses, tough nuts, or firm, whatever, as long as they respect the people they work with they’re fine. There is no mutual exclusivity by function when it comes to understanding how to work with people. Interior Designers can be painted with the same brush.

I would hazard a guess that if you are a person who respects others and understands their role on the team then the relationship will be a positive one. Things only start to go sideways when issues like setting unrealistic expectations and dictating process without collaboration or respect occur. It’s quite apparent how the nicer people are the more collaborative the people around them become and how much easier it is to work with them.

That, in itself, would be an interesting study to conduct; the ratio of increased or decreased collaboration (and ultimately respect) based on how nice a person is.

I suppose by nice I mean a greater sense of awareness.

We all know awareness of the impact of process, scope and responsibility on a project is critical to its success. Project Managers can be Interior Designers, Architects or independent third parties. It doesn’t matter which. What matters is the understanding of the leadership role the position holds. The Project Managers ability to lead a team and remain aware that people are not commodities can make or break a project. Just like understanding the opposite sex, project success depends on the Project Managers ability to understand the people on their team.

And that makes all the difference, doesn’t it?


Can Interior Designers think like Project Managers?

Project management is primarily a left brain activity. Interior Design is primarily a right brain activity.

Project management is generally a numbers game. Interior Design is generally a creative pursuit.

A game and a pursuit.

I suppose that’s why for an Interior Designer who is trying to do something that predominantly relies on right brain activity the mix with Project Management is, more often than not, like oil and water.

Based on some simple research it’s well understood that people tend to a dominant side of the brain, right or left, dependent on what they are doing. If you are interested in finding out where your tendency lies you can take this simple test (click here).

It’s a bit subjective but it’s important to note here that we are not naturally prone to left or right brain dominance but use more of the left or right brain function as a result of the activities we are actually performing. A study conducted by the University of Utah (link here) reinforces this distinction. The science and psychology behind our tendencies isn’t what we are pursuing here but it’s relevant to understanding the differences between how Interior Designers and Project Managers think.

Our activities drive our behaviour and the more we repeat these behaviours the more comfortable we become in their patterns.

Out of interest I tried the test and discovered based on the questions that I tend towards a 70/30 split between right/left brain dominance. Right or wrong, it feels correct to me. Here’s the rub, I am an Interior Designer and I am a Project Manager. However, based on my role in the firm where I work the ratio is split the exact opposite. I am 70% Project Manager and 30% Interior Designer. I am, by far, not unique in my position either.

As you can see the results aren’t ever black and white.

It simply means I approach my role as a Project Manager a little more from the creative side than the analytical side. Does that make me any better or worse than someone who feels more comfortable playing the numbers game than pursuing a creative approach? Not really, it just comes down to a different approach and it all really just boils down to how we manage our relationships.

As project leaders, left brain or right brain tendencies don’t change how we treat the people on our team.


Let the Interior Designers design and let the Project Managers manage.

We know we are all different, we know we all think differently and we know we all work differently so it should be easy to work together in a cohesive team.

Yet, it’s not, is it?

It’s not that simple and there’s no simple answer either.

Going back to Venus and Mars, the old adage that opposites attract should hold true here yet it’s common to hear disparaging commentary from each side.

The Project Manager vs. The Interior Designer.

The griping we may do about each other may be because we tend to step on each other’s toes. We think we can do the job as well or better than the other. Considering that Interior Designers and Project Managers think differently (regardless of the right/left brain dominance issue) why would either want to do the other’s job anyway?

We wouldn’t.

Yet, we think we can and we consistently try to do it. It’s frustrating at best.

All we really have to do is understand the role that we play on a team. Just like Venus and Mars, we need to coexist, we need to work on understanding each other better and we need to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. We need to focus on our job and do it in the way we can be most effective. Sure, Interior Designers can project manage and Project Managers can probably design but that doesn’t mean they should.

Understanding a role on a project is not difficult but taming the ego is. Stepping in the way because things are not going the way one thinks they should or criticizing process because it doesn’t follow a certain way of thinking are by far the biggest project killers. Well, actually ego is the biggest project killer and unfortunately no one is immune.

I know it’s tough when the Interior Designer is the Prime Consultant and some responsibilities between the Project Manager and the Prime Consultant are shared. Conflict is inevitable in that environment.

  • Who advises the client?
  • Who manages the consultants?
  • Who manages the vendors?
  • Who manages the schedule and the budget?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for delivering the project?

The Prime Consultant sure thinks it her and the Project Manager knows it’s him.



Kicking the ego to the curb and ensuring clear role definition is really the only solution. There is a contract with a scope of work. Understand it. Clarify responsibility and go about your business. If we all focus on our job, respect each other and each other’s roles and work together the project has a better opportunity for success.

That’s the thing about projects. They are just a vehicle. They go whichever way we drive them. It’ up to us to make them successful. Together. Left and Right. Game and Pursuit. Venus and Mars. Project Managers and Interior Designers.

We all learn that the hard way.

Just in case you were wondering what makes an effective Project Manager you can look here. It’s a short whitepaper that sums it up very succinctly. If you are the Project Manager and you are the Interior Designer then these suggestions are for you. Interestingly, the emphasis on culture, interpersonal and professional relationships is given as much credence as the need to understand and manage data.

What a concept.


If you have any 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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