E-Design and Creating a Career That Fits Your Life

Albie Buabeng creates “dreamscapes” for her interior design clients. She’s also figured out how to design a dream career that makes space for the kind of life she wants to have: combining her love for interior design while raising her baby girl and holding down the home front when her husband is deployed. It took time and hard work – and a lot of trial and error – to make it all come together. But now that Albie is rockin’ a successful e-design business and living her best life, she wants to help other designers build their dream career too – whatever that means for them

What in the World is E-Design?

E-Design and Creating a Career That Fits Your Life

When you love designing spaces but have no idea that interior design is an actual thing, you might decide to study architecture in college. Which is exactly what Albie did. As she explains, the idea of interior design as a profession never occurred to her: “I just thought if you want a nice house, you make your house nice.”

But when her architecture program began to focus on building structures by hand, Albie realized that this wasn’t the kind of design she wanted to do and changed her major to marketing. She later combined her architectural and marketing skills with an early career in visual merchandising – she enjoyed designing retail spaces.

It was ten years into her career when a job designing home-like retail environments for Kate Spade, and later redesigning her own New York studio to make space for her baby daughter, helped Albie realize that she was missing the human connection in her designs. “I wanted to create living spaces, not just space for a sales campaign.”

Albie made the decision to pivot her career to designing for the home. And then her husband was deployed. Instead of shelving her career change, she dove into researching opportunities for “remote design” and quickly discovered the idea of e-design.

Read: “What the Heck is Online Design?”

Taking her design talent online allows Albie to do work she loves, grow and develop her skills and business, and have the family life that she wants with her husband and daughter. Albie wants the same opportunities for other designers, too – to create a career that fits your life.

How You Can Create a Design Career That Fits Your Life

Most of us have heard about coworking spaces and “the Gig Economy”. But do you know just how big this whole shift in work culture is? Intuit CEO Brad Smith said on an earnings call in 2017 that “The gig economy is now estimated to be about 34 percent of the workforce and expected to be 43 percent by the year 2020.” That’s about 43 million people in the U.S. alone!

What are all of these freelance workers doing? Well, some of them are Uber drivers, plumbers, web developers, or other jobs that you might not even know exist. And yep – some are online interior designers.

If you’re an interior designer (or really, in any profession at all), and you’re wondering how you could change up your work to make it better fit your life, here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Figure Out What You Want: What do you love to do so much that you barely notice time is passing? What’s meaningful to you? What makes you feel like “you”? These are kind of clichéd questions, but that’s for a reason – knowing the answers can help you understand what you really want.
  2. Understand What You Don’t Want: What’s not working for you now? What makes you feel unhappy, or stressed, or lonely? Finding a way to minimize those parts is a big piece of creating a life you love.
  3. Define Your Priorities: What is most important to you? Is it time with your family? Travel? Working with a certain type of client? Living in a specific area? And which of your priorities is “non-negotiable” and which are “nice to haves”?
  4. Know Yourself: The idea of international travel sounds fun and exciting – but if you don’t sleep well on hotel beds and cry at the thought of missing your baby’s first steps, then a high-travel job isn’t the right fit. Know what will add to the life you want.

Tech Tools of the Trade

E-Design and Creating a Career That Fits Your Life

For any remote or online business, technology is the great enabler. Web-based tools like project management software, social media platforms, cloud-based file management, collaborative specifications tools (like Gather), and communications technologies for messaging and video calls make it possible to do work everywhere – without leaving your home office. If you’re thinking about transitioning to an online-based business, let’s brush up on your technology:

Check out Albie’s list of her favorite technology (and other) resources.

How Did You Make Money? Albie Starts Out in e-Design.

No home design portfolio. No e-design contacts. No real process or workflow. In the beginning, Albie didn’t have some of the basic building blocks of a e-design professional. How did she get started? (How does anyone get started in a new career?) She turned to the internet.

When Albie Googled “remote design”, the links that came up were mostly for third-party design platforms like Decorilla and Laurel+Wolf. So, while working part-time in a furniture showroom to get her feet wet in the home furnishings industry, Albie started taking on projects through two of these online platforms. Both companies had her delivering the same end result to clients, but working with their different workflows, pricing models, renderings, and design boards was a kind of education in e-design. Albie learned what kinds of projects and clients she wanted to work with, and which she didn’t. She built a portfolio of different design styles and practiced working for herself within the structure of a large online organization.

Unfortunately, one of the downsides to working for third-party design companies was the low pay. But like many designers, Albie had no clue what she was worth. Even once she started bringing in her own clients directly, she didn’t know how to charge. “I was just haphazardly picking numbers based on what I was making before [with the third-party design platforms].”

A Conference for Designpreneurs: “The E-Design Experience”

There isn’t much information available for designers who want to start an online business. Albie was figuring it out on her own, and explained:

“I don’t discount any part of my journey, but it was exhausting because there weren’t many resources out there.”

Online searches for “virtual designer”, “e-designer”, or other similar terms will pull up a wealth of third-party matchmaking companies (the term for online companies that match clients with designers and provide a backdrop of standardized processes, workflows, and templates).

And then Albie spoke on a panel at the industry conference High Point Market. There was an impressive response to her topic on e-design. People were interested and came up to her afterward to ask questions.

She had never seen an event or conference that was focused specifically on e-design. If it was included, e-design was always just a footnote; a lone presentation or panel. She decided to develop the first conference focused entirely on e-design, and called it The E-Design Experience.

The first E-Design Experience conference will be held June 16-17, 2018, and will be conducted entirely online. (Click here to learn more and register to attend! Registration opened on June 1st, and will be open until June 15th.)

The E-Design Experience will be three days of master classes, panel conversations, and co-working sessions to help new designers and seasoned designers alike stake their path as designpreneurs, gain a fresh perspective on their business, elevate their brand, and transcend the traditional design narrative. The conference is organized into three tracks: Starting Out in e-Design; Growing Your E-Design Business; and Becoming a Design Influencer.

The amazing lineup of speakers includes:

  • Emily Remis Buff, Cohesively Curated
  • Kate Greunke (Kate the Socialite), The Socialite Vault
  • Capella Kincheloe
  • Niki McNeill, SingleBubblePop
  • Jenny Melrose
  • Rachel Moriarty (Rachel Moriarty Interiors) and Dixie Willard, NCIDQ (Dixie Willard Design), Design+Style Podcast
  • Stephanie Owens, Ms. Paper Moon
  • Veronica Solomon, ASID IDS, Veronica Solomon University
  • Chaney Widmer, Mix & Match Design Company
  • Chelsea Brown, City Chic Decor
  • Scottie Elliott, Gather (Yep, I’m speaking too! Can’t wait!)

After the conference, the conversation will continue in a private Facebook group where participants can receive ongoing support and education including tutorials and live masterclasses. Albie’s goal for The E-Design Experience is for the conference to become an annual in-person conference.

“I do want e-designers to leave their home occasionally to connect,” she says, smiling.

The first E-Design Experience conference will be held June 16-17, 2018, and will be conducted entirely online. (Click here to learn more and register to attend! Registration opened on June 1st, and will be open until June 15th.)

Alberthe “Albie” Buabeng provides online interior design services to influencers and creatives at Albie Knows, helping them create their dreamscape with beautiful decor and functional design. She is the founder of the conference The E-Design Experience, and is currently working on her master’s degree in Interior Architecture and Design from The Academy of Art University.

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