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Design Devaluation

I often ask myself this question. Why has design become a value-add instead of a selling point? If you ask around who still pay’s for design fees nowadays is like asking who buys newspapers and actually read it? Yes in my experience it is that rare. If one is not a prominent or multi-awarded designer or firm, is it worth it to pay for design fees?

The Office Designer Design Fees

In today’s connected world information is everywhere. Ideas are endless and it is always a struggle to be creative without browsing the web for mood images or design reference. Just like designers, customers also have their own preference. Usually, the ideas they have are something they saw, search or browse thru over the internet.

What is our role as a designer?

This comes to the question, what is our role as interior designer and how will we get paid for our service? On customers mind, our jobs are just copied and paste.

“Often times the customers are acting like the designers themselves.”

In my years of experience doing business in the commercial interior design space in Singapore, I have encountered different kinds of customers. Nothing is worse than what we call “fishermen” or those just fishing for ideas and sending the work to other contractors for a price war.

These type of customers will ask for proposals on more than (3) design companies. Get layout plans,  material specs, artist impressions and call for a few rounds of meeting or email exchanges to compare and get the best possible idea suitable for them. Once satisfied they will hastily ask for a quotation to be submitted within a few days. Chances are you will get no reply back for weeks after all the requirements have been submitted.

Waiting for the result is often painstaking. The irony is when doing a follow-up you are like virtually begging to get a reply. Whether it’s a positive or negative response its fine, at least respond. It’s better to hear a“NO” rather than “NO news”. These situations put the designers and business owners in a very difficult situation. Not only is it demoralizing to the team and disrespectful to the profession. It also affects the opportunity cost lost in the business.

The Office Designer Design Fees2

The Result

Looking at this scenario, The design becomes a “Free” component when dealing with the customers. It becomes a value-add to have a  good design but eventually, it will still be the cost component that wins the contract. It is not always like this in the past.  Design fees are what makes an Architect and Interior Designer a “Professional” we charge based on skill, creativity, and expertise.

The designer has little control over his compensation because of the disruption caused by information technology. It is an inconvenient truth.

The Solution

The exploitation of design ideas begins with the lack of a framework and organizational governance to regulate the current professional practice in Singapore.

“It’s a free for all and everyone is spoiling the market until it crashes.”

No, government agencies will not step in, it will be detrimental to the building economy if fee regulations will be implemented. Professional organizations like IDCS and SIDS are just too weak to initiate change and roll-out regulations.

Only the design professionals itself can solve the problem. It starts with discipline and ends with an internal policy to control design exploitation. Every designer should instill a sense of pride and put a value on their work so customers will be enlightened and the current trend will be reversed. There is still time to save the design profession and it needs to start now. We have to bring back the value of design!

Drop me a comment, I am sure you have something to say about this topic.

You may also want to read this related article: The importance of Corporate Interior Design in Singapore 

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  • by ID
    Posted February 1, 2020 6:03 pm 0Likes

    Hey TOD,

    If you don’t mind I like to be as candid as possible with my response to your article.

    “Lack of a framework and organizational governance to regulate the current professional practice in Singapore.” — I have heard this for years and I still don’t understand why would some in the creative industry expect some protection over their intellectual property?

    I totally agree with the following statement.

    “Only the design professionals itself can solve the problem”

    I like to share the followings
    – I have never faced all the issues mentioned in the articles.
    – I have no design-related qualifications to begin with.
    – I just truly love what I am doing and is enjoying it.
    – I have no qualms whatsoever with charging design fee or even letting client wait for me to work on their project.
    – I just focus on doing what I do best and create the value in what I am able to do
    – Money is merely a by-product of the value I have created.

    We are fortunate to live in a digital economy. Why not shift the perspectives of “anyone can easily set up their design firm via FB, IG or whatever social media platform” to SHOWCASING YOUR WORK? That is what truly determines how much you are Worth. Not banging for government to help you? Not about complaining others are giving free design? Not about you having paper qualifications but some tom dick and harry can call themselves designers?


    As a design professional, I couldn’t be happier to see more groundbreaking works in the local scene that are inspiring and I’ll gladly give a thumbs up from one design professional to another. Rather than whining about the job…

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