About a month ago in Palm Springs, I heard Justina Blakeney speak and was impressed with her business insight, I'll share some more of her insights a little later in the article. But first, during her keynote presentation, she made a comment that immediately made me want to stand up and defend the interior design industry. It got me thinking the rest of the day and I wanted to share with you to get your thoughts. This is what I heard:
"Interior design is not creative"*
Justina was asked if she did client work as an interior designer and while her business is in the home & garden industry, according to her she is not an interior designer:
"This is funny because I am not really an interior designer. I don't do client work and I did do it for not that long, like about 2 years and it was not for me. As I mentioned I am a very very creative person and for me interior design is not really that creative. I don't like catering my vision to clients, it's not my jam. For some people it is. But I would get unreasonable frustrated if a client didn't want my exact vision. And I was like, I'm not good at this. Because I have a very specific aesthetic and it was very rare to meet someone that would let you do your thing 100%. There are always a lot of constraints to work under and for me personally that felt very stifling as a creative. I"m not really an interior designer."
Okay, so after mulling this over, fuming, and careful consideration, I can see her meaning behind the words. She felt interior design was stifling on her creativity. But interior design IS creative, perhaps even more so because you have the constraints of the clients. It is certainly more challenging than creating for yourself. It can be frustrating as a creative person to have clients that don't see your vision, but interior designers have gotten good at helping clients come around.
Interior design is also about collaboration, using the input of the clients to do something that they love - because it's their house after all. With anything you are selling, there is always client, an end user, even if you are an artist or a very creative person. Whether that person is buying your painting, buying the t-shirt you designed, or in Justina's case: buying the products she designs in conjunction with brands.
I think there is a point of success that allows you more creative freedom. At a certain point clients release some control because they want to have your creative genius. At this point artists can create the art that they want with more freedom than they may have had at the beginning. But most of us never reach this zenith and that's okay.
Instead of making a blanket statement about interior design not being creative, I wish Justina would have said that working with clients didn't satisfy her creatively. Which is what I suspect she meant. Interior design is creative and is much more creative that many careers. It is also challenging, much more challenging than creating for yourself.
But here is a lesson that I think we all need to hear - honor your creativity.
More Insights from Justina
- Thinking of selling your business...ever? You may want to give it a name other than your own, building your brand as your name could mean that if you sell, you have to sell the rights to your name as well. Think Prince (during the time he was known as the artist formerly known as Prince) or Kate Spade (who changed her name to Kate Valentine). Justina choose to create another brand - Jungalow in case she ever wants to sell so she can retain the rights to her name.
- Develop your own aesthetic when it comes to print and pattern if you'd like to have your own product line. If you can do your own designs rather than just curating a collection, it will help get you noticed by brands. Many times people who have big audiences are not designers (in the broad sense of the word, not just interior designers) and can pick things that they like and fit in with their brand, but cannot create original designs for the brand they are working with. If you can do this, you'll have a leg up.
- Network! You never know who you are going to meet at a party who will become your next partner or client. Justina also visits High Point twice a year and goes to the Las Vegas Market where she talks to a lot of people and exchanges ideas. "Always be curious".
- If you are interested in licensing deals, you may also want to consider selling direct to wholesale so that you can also open an online shop. This means that if you work with a retailer (not wholesale) you will only receive a small licensing royalty fee (typically 3-5%), but if you can sell the product in your own online store, you can capture the royalty fee plus the retail markup (typically 50%). See Justina's online store here. Otherwise, licensing deals may not be very lucrative.
- Need a break for creativity? Think about a retreat.
- You can watch Justina Blakeney's full keynote here.
- Share your thoughts on "Interior design is not creative" below.
*Please see Justina's response to this post in the comments below.
Title image photo by Nicole Breanne, copy overlay added.