If you’re just starting out as a designer, you might be tempted to sacrifice your personal style to draw in as many clients as possible. You would think casting a wider net would result in more inquiries and therefore, more projects, but that’s not the case. It’s an issue of quality vs. quantity. The key to booking the right clients—big projects that energize you + represent your brand well—do not come from one-size-fits-all design. Here are a few reasons why you should develop a signature style + some insight from designers:
Though money and project size are a big factor in determining your preferred client, they aren’t the end all be all. You likely have a personal style that you enjoy and that comes easily to you. The best projects are the ones where you and the client have a shared vision and your aesthetic resonates with them. This signature style is the secret sauce that sets your designs apart and attracts the right clients.
We asked Lindsey Borchard at Lindsey Brooke Design about how she developed her recognizable style. She said:
“I learned early on the difference between designing a space in a style we love versus a style the client wanted that we weren’t exactly thrilled with. Our clients will get our best work if we love the design as well. Of course we can tailor our signature style to different looks like midcentury, traditional, Spanish, etc., but at the end of the day all our projects will always have the LBD touch and look.”
If you live in an area that is heavily populated with interior designers, it’s important to hone in on a particular style to set you apart from the others. Most clients know what they want visually, even if they cannot articulate it. If a homeowner is looking for French Country Eclectic, they will search for that and look for an expert in that style, not a designer who dabbles in everything. This is the time to pick a lane and really own it.
When asked about the temptation to appeal to the masses, Nicole Salceda at Eye For Pretty said,
“I have never believed that good designers do it all. Sure a talented designer CAN do it all, but that doesn’t mean they should have to. At Eye for Pretty, we know what we excel at and how to deliver on that. Our projects are all unique but have a common thread woven through them and that is really fulfilling. I love that our portfolio is filled with pretty spaces that all complement each other because of our signature style.”
Having a signature aesthetic gives potential clients a point of reference for what they should expect and builds trust in your expertise. If you have too many styles in your portfolio, they might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of directing the project or unsure of what the finished product will be. By crafting a strong design style, you’re ensuring people know what they’ll get when hiring you.
We asked Nicole about developing a distinct aesthetic. This is what she said:
“Having a signature style definitely is beneficial, especially in an over-saturated market. The goal is always to have someone look at our work and instantly recognize it as ours. Clients know what they are getting and they feel confident in the knowledge that we are going to deliver our signature look every time.”
Your goal as a designer should be for your work to have a consistent feel to it. Every project is—and should be—unique, but the “feel” should be similar across the board. This branded portfolio of work that speaks to your expertise and honed style is likely why you were hired. It also helps add value to your work and justifies pricing. To read more on setting up a pricing structure, check out our post here.
Designer Lexi Westergard said you can learn more about how your designs resonate with others by asking potential clients:
“We are blessed that 98% of our inquiries are coming to us because they love our aesthetic. We always ask during the inquiry phone call what it is that draws them to our style. Surprisingly, everyone has a different answer and I think it is important to figure that out. It helps you understand what exactly your clients are wanting and why they are coming to you to design their home.”
If being published is on your bucket list, a signature style can help. This is something that editors are going to notice when reviewing pitches. Giving your designs a clear point of view elevates your work from good to great while creating a strong sense of brand. By crafting designs that are easily publishable, you are creating a more marketable portfolio and opening doors to a larger client pool. For more tips, read our post on Getting Your Interior Design Work Published.
When you’re constantly switching it up and trying on new styles, it’s difficult to become skilled at any particular one. Choosing to master what comes naturally and makes sense for your market gives you the opportunity to master your craft over time, and refining that signature style does take time, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t quite sure what yours is. For Lexi, it was all about following the projects that excited her creatively. While Nicole says it’s all about trial and error.
“Honing in on our signature style surely didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “It took years of trial and error, fine-tuning what worked and what fell flat then doing it over and over until it was almost second nature.”
So, how do you navigate clients outside of your preferred genre?
You don’t have to turn away every client whose vision doesn’t exactly match yours, especially when you’re just starting out. You can adapt your style without losing the elements that make it distinctly yours. Remember: your “style” is less about the type of furnishings you choose and more about the feel of the spaces you are designing.
“No one can really appeal to the masses, but I think if you can appeal to a large number of people while maintaining your “niche” then you can be wildly successful. For us a niche doesn’t mean a “small net” of people it just means we are very selective with how we want our brand to be portrayed. I like that we won’t work with every style and every budget, we know who our client is and we know what our niche is and that helps us make better business decisions overall.”
When all else fails, cut your losses. Some projects just won’t be a good fit. If it’s outside your wheelhouse and you feel uneasy about being able to deliver, then it’s best for both you and the client for you to send them to a designer who can better serve them. On this point, all three designers agree: if the project isn’t a win for everyone involved, it’s best to focus your energy elsewhere. Nothing is wrong with politely turning down a project, especially if the best way for you to serve that client is to introduce them to a designer who is a better fit.
I hope this post is helpful for you as you develop and navigate your personal style, and a big thank you to our expert designers who weighed in on the topic.
For more information on creative business strategy, check out these posts:
IDCO Studio is a full-service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help brands built around beautiful living elevate their digital presence to represent the physical spaces they design. Our recently launched limited-release website templates are the perfect way for interior designers to get a luxury website on a budget. These templates allow designers to maintain control of their content. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.