Technology

What Interior Designers can Learn from Nerds

 

I love Interior Designers.

If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have devoted my life to making great tools for you (end humble-brag).

However, one thing I’ve noticed speaking and working with hundreds of designers is that for many of you, technology is intimidating.

Which makes sense. Designers come from a world of physical, not digital, things. You love texture and color and form. You want to touch things, and hold them, and feel immersed in a space.

Designers are born of the world of art: a tangible, physical world.

Nerds live in a different world. We find technology exciting and liberating. We live in a world of abstractions. Of screens and pixels and numbers.

Nerds are born of engineering and science.

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Uber, Facebook. These are but a few of our accomplishments. How did we do it? We leverage technology to help us do more, and do it faster.

And so should you.

So try on those thick-rimmed coke-bottle glasses (you can order a pair here if you like) and discover how to use some of the tricks and hacks nerds have employed to grow some of the world’s most iconic businesses.

Two nerdy girls with glasses.

What nerds lack in social skills, they make up for in other ways. Here are some of the foundational components of the Nerd Worldview…

Nerd Priciple #1: We LOVE to learn

You may think you love to learn, but nerds thrive on it. Self-learning is the foundation of all things nerdery and if you ask us, it’s THE number one skill to possess in the fast-moving decades to come.

blog_learn

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
Eric Hoffer

If you can’t learn new skills and technologies “on-demand” you’ll fall behind very quickly and it’ll be hard to catch up.

How to Learn like a Nerd

Learning like a nerd requires creating new habits. Try to set aside an allotment of time each day to learning and you’ll be amazed at the return on the investment.

Here’s some tactics to get you started…

Sign up for online courses.

Online courses are popping up everywhere to help you learn new skills and information. By using video and other creative teaching methods, many of these make learning quite fun:

Training Sites
  • Lynda.com – Lynda is a great resource focusing mostly on software tools and video training.
  • Udemy – Udemy is one of my favs. You can learn everything under the sun here. Video courses are broken out into chapters.
  • Codecademy – ADVANCED: If you really want to harness the power of a nerd, you’ll need to learn to code. Codecademy will teach you the programming skills to build your own websites and apps.

Recommended Courses
  • AutoCad: Basics – Learning AutoCad is one of the best technical investments you can make as an Interior Designer. This course does an excellent job of teaching the basics.
  • AutoCad: Intermediate – Go beyond the basics and become an AutoCad nerd.
  • Abobe InDesign Basics – Don’t know how to use InDesign? It’s never too late to learn. Learning the basics of Abobe InDesign will take your design proposals and presentations to the next level of professionalism.
  • Sketchup – Learn SketchUp, a simplified 3D modeling tool made specifically for Architects and Interior Designers.
  • Accounting – Get a grasp of the basics you’ll need to know to run your own design business.
  • Marketing – If you are not marketing your services (heavily) you should begin immediately. Learn more about online marketing basics from one of the best in the game: Hubspot.

Stay on top of current industry news.

Know what’s happening in your industry and in the broader market by staying up on news and events.

Tools like Google Alerts send you blog articles and content straight to your email inbox every day based on categories and filters you apply. Also, take advantage of article aggregators that keep all of your articles in one convienient place like Medium, Instapaper, Flipboard and more.

Oh, and nerds know to stay away from “news” and entertainment sources. They’re candy for the brain, and will cause mind-cavities. Choose wisely what you grow in the garden of your mind, says Confucius (not sure that he actually said that, but it sounds good. Plus, pretty sure he was a nerd).

Listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

If you aren’t already listening to podcasts and/or audiobooks on your way to work, or during your morning run, give it a try. It’s a great way to sneak in some learning time between the cracks of life.

Check out podcast aggregators such as Sticher, PocketCasts or just good ol’ iTunes and stock up on some great listening material.

Recommended Podcasts

Here are a few podcasts we listen to and recommend for professional Interior Designers:

  • Design Matters with Debbie Millman – Primarily interview-based, the podcast brings together “designers, writers, artists, curators, musicians, and other luminaries of contemporary thought.”
  • 99% Invisible – Allison Arieff, former editor-in-chief of Dwell Magazine, and current architecture and design contributor to The New York Times calls Roman Mars, the host of this wonderful show, “the Ira Glass of design,” after the well-known host of the popular NPR program, This American Life.
  • The Chaise Lounge – Hosted by Nick May and Co-hosted by Phyllis Harbinger this podcast focuses more on the business side of the industry.
  • After the Jump – Grace Bonney’s wonderful and informative podcast, After the Jump, focuses mostly on the business side of the design world.
  • This Old Marketing – A great podcast from two online marketing vets, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose. Listening to this podcast will fill your creative well of marketing ideas. Primarily focused on content-marketing.

Read our full write-up on our favorite podcasts here.

Commit to learn one new skill every month.

Nerds develop systems and habits to get more done. We call it “life-hacking”.

Dedicate yourself to learn new skills on a regular basis. You don’t need to learn kung-fu or how to speak Russian (although if you could combine those two, I’m sure you could become a YouTube star).

Commit to daily technical learning. Focus on small, tactical skills that can help you build a foundation from which to grow.

Personally, I dedicate 1 hour per day to focused skill-learning by reading or watching instructional videos, often while eating lunch or taking a break from work.

Some study-topic ideas:
  • Learn to use Google spreadsheets like a pro.
  • Learn the basics of WordPress (a great skill for blogging and marketing yourself).
  • Deep dive on color theory.
  • Ramp up on Interior Design history. Choose a period and go deep, taking notes as you study.
  • Sign up for Instagram and post one new photo of your work (or something that inspires you) every day.
  • Learn the fundamentals of Graphic Design (it’ll help you sharpen up those proposals and presentations)

Nerd Priciple #2: We love process and automation.

Illustration of process

What most people accomplish in 5 steps, we’ll devise a way to do it in 3. This means that we get more done, faster.

Here’s how you can do the same:

Work on elements in your business that you can automate.

Have you heard people say “you should be working ON your business, not just IN your business”? Well, it’s sage advice.

If you are always putting out fires and running from deadline to deadline, you’ll never build a sustainable business that can grow and mature without your being involved in every detail.

Take some time to build systems that help automate common business procedures. You can then delegate those tasks, or automate them using software. That way you can focus on doing the high-level tasks your firm needs from you to grow.

When you find yourself slaving away at a task that someone less qualified (and less expensive) could easily replicate, write a step-by-step process in Google Docs so you can easily share it when the time comes.

Tools & Resources:
  • Systems Rock – Great tips and tech advice on using systems.
  • Sweet Process – A blog (and product) to help you systematize.

Get an assistant.

Scheduling, small tasks, and basic marketing functions are easy tasks to offload. But you don’t need an expensive in-office assistant to start.

Consider using a Virtual Assistant to help you out. Virtual assistants are people you hire (often for as little as $5-$10 per hour) to help do common administrative tasks for you. No need to hire a full-timer to start. Just find someone to help out part-time and go from there.

Resources for finding an Assistant:
  • ODesk – A popular resource with a huge pool of VAs and other task-oriented contractors to choose from.
  • Freelancer – Another great marketplace for talent.
  • Virtual Staff Finder – VSF does the vetting for you and provides you with 3 qualified candidates. I have hired through this service and can personally recommend.
  • Zirtual ‐ More expensive, but they offer only dedicated U.S.-based college educated VA’s.

Hire Pros and outsource the things you don’t do well (or don’t enjoy doing).

This could be things like accounting, purchasing, 3D rendering, ect. Look for specialists that can help you execute more efficiently. Think more like the Director, the General, the Visionary and less like the accountant, the graphic designer, the project manager.

Tools & Resources:

3D modeling services

Done-for-you Purchasing

  • Objekts LLC – I highly recommend Objekts if you need high-touch purchasing services. They will help you through the entire process of selection & purchasing, especially for larger commercial projects.

Accounting

These accountants are knowlegeable of the ins-and-outs of Interior Design accounting processes.

Graphic Design

Graphic Designers can make your presentations, logos, websites and marketing materials shine. Here are some resources for finding designers that don’t break the bank.

  • 99 Designs – Get multiple designs for your project. Designers compete, then you choose the winner. Can be hit-or-miss sometimes, but it’s quite affordable.
  • LogoGlo – Focused primarily on logo design, this service is affordable and does good work.

Website Creation

Creating websites and web content is so much easier these days. Here are some resources to point you in the right direction.

  • Squarespace – Probably the easiest way to get started with a web site. Beautiful themes, easy-to-use interface, and plenty of certified experts to help you set things up if you don’t have the time or desire to do it yourself.
  • WordPress – You’ve probably heard of this hugely popular Content Management System by now, but I’m including it in the off-chance you haven’t. More than 75 million sites run on WordPress. It takes a bit more effort to set up, but it’s incredibly flexible and there are a huge number of themes ∧ plugins to choose from.
  • WP Engine – Probably the easiest and most reliable hosting solution for WP if you want to get set up with the least amount of hassle.
  • Theme Forest – Desc.
  • WP Curve – If you choose to use WordPress as your Content Management System, this service can help you resolve issues related to WordPress themes, plugins and more.

Nerd Principle #3: We love to share.

Share

Let’s face it, the Internet would never have been created if nerds didn’t like to communicate openly and share their ideas. It’s the bedrock of our modern world.

Interior Designers would be wise to shed the mindset that their work and ideas are to be protected. Embrace the modern ethos which is: Share, contribute, and advance the industry.

Share your Work (and the work of others)

Web and software designers spend a lot of energy developing their online portfolios. We’ll tell you everything about our work, share it on social networks and generally shout it from the rooftops. Interior Designers: if you aren’t over-sharing you’re missing a huge opportunity to advance your career and the industry at-large.

Share your Thoughts & Ideas

I’ve noticed that many designers hold their cards very close. Some even feel threatened by the spectre of competetion from other designers. Don’t. We live in an open, sharing world. You have a great opportunity to share what you know, help more junior designers and become a thought-leader.

Collaborate Openly

Software startups and digital creative agencies work directly with their teams and clients in real-time. Don’t horde your work for the great “unveiling”.

Design is at it’s best when it’s a collaborative process and all voices are heard. It doesn’t mean you have to incorporate everything from everyone (remember, you’re the General!) but opening your eyes and ears to other perspectives will make you a better designer.

Use tools to “herd the cats”. Deep down, everyone wants structure in their lives. It’s a human thing.

That means, as “The Director”, you need to get your team, your client, and your vendors on the same page and keep them there.

Use the right tools to do this and you’ll gain the insight and control you need to orchestrate the thousands of moving parts a design project entails with grace.

Collaboration Tools

Wrap Up

The Interior Design Industry has come a long way when it comes to technology. These days, there are even several tools made specifically for and with designers in mind.

However, when compared to many other industries it’s still lagging behind. I sincerely believe that young designers fresh out of school will merge well into the current technological climate. They will lead the charge, but the veterans will need to keep pace or they simply will not be able to compete in this new, fast-moving business world.

Follow some of the tips and guidelines outlined above however, and you’ll have an easier time keeping pace.