The best way to really ensure that you have all the information you need before hiring a design pro is to hop on a discovery call with them.
But what is a discovery call anyway?
A discovery call, by definition, is basically getting on a quick call with a professional to see (discover) if they are a good fit for you. You’ll be able to ask all the questions you want to ask about their services, about the way they work, how they deliver their work, and so on.
Discovery calls are not opportunities for you to try to solicit design solutions, however. It would be impossible for any professional to immediately distill any information you might give them about your problems, and give you advice for them, in just a few minutes.
That said, let’s dive in to the best ways you can get the most out of a discovery call with a potential interior design professional.
Pre-work before the discovery call
Because discovery calls are short (ours is 15 minutes, tops), it’s best to prepare any questions you might have for the potential designer.
Remember that interior design—despite there being options already for online or more “budget” versions—is still a luxury service. It’s not a necessary good that people from any income level would need or require. So any interior design service you plan to avail will more likely be an investment than anything.
As such, it would be good to make sure that your needs will be addressed by the design professional you plan to enlist. More importantly, that you and the designer will both be on the same page—in terms of their contract, fees, process, and, even temperament.
These things are usually what make or break an interior design project, and it would be good to know these details intimately even before you start.
Check that the designer's services are exactly what your home project needs.
When you scout for designers for your home project, look through their website first to see that what you could potentially avail is exactly what you need.
Each residential project is unique, and so are the services and packages offered by each professional or firm. If you require someone to handle a renovation project from the ground up, you’re better off with an architecture and design firm that offers what they call “design and build” service. If you are sure you will need heavy renovation works, look for a firm that offers remodel services.
If what you need are suggestions for finishes, materials (say, paint, wallpaper) and furniture and fixtures, then you can go with an eDesigner, interior decorator or interior stylist.
Read through their website’s Frequently Asked Questions too, so you’re sure that any questions you might have are already covered.
Before getting on a call, "stalk" them online.
It’s crucial to know from the onset that you and your designer will vibe well together. More than just looking at their website, see also if you can look at their social media accounts. If they have public personal accounts, even better; this way you get a glimpse of the things they value, what their personality and temperament will be like.
Why are these so important? You will be working with a designer who will be interpreting your wants and lifestyle needs into a well-thought-out design. For them to get you, you both need to be on the same wavelength. You need to be able to say that, once you’re working together: “S/he/they really get me!”
If you are looking at an interior design firm or architectural studio, try to see what their company values, their mission-vision-objectives, are. Also look at their preferred style or overall feel of their portfolio. These things need to resonate with you as well. If you end up getting a design firm that values individuality and a unique personality, but you prefer a common, harmonious design that works for all members of your household, chances are, you won’t have a good working relationship, and may end up with a design that you won’t be happy about.
Formally schedule an appointment instead of "ambushing" them in their DMs.
Check the CONTACT or GET IN TOUCH pages of designers or design firms, and formally schedule a discovery call with them. Email or a listed mobile phone number will be the more official channels for getting in touch, as there may be some designers or design studios that do not have social media managers handling their accounts.
More often than not, their business accounts are linked to their personal accounts. So there may be times when designers are unable to check their social media accounts as often as they should.
Though this is changing, with more and more business accounts enlisting the help of bots to respond to frequently asked questions in their DMs. That said, try to contact them through different channels, so you are sure that they get your message. When emailing, respectfully request a time to call (whether through phone or Zoom), and mention that you are interested in their services. Designers are more often than not looking for business, so if you say that, they will surely give you the time and attention.
But if the designer you are trying to contact already has a booking link where you can pick your preferred schedule, then try that link! Our discovery call link is here, and this is already directly linked to our work calendar. This means, you are sure to get a slot in our appointments calendar with just a few clicks.
Best practices for a discovery call with any design professional
Let’s now go to the meat of this blog post: What questions should you ask a potential designer during the discovery call?
Clarify any verbiage on their websites or socmed accounts that you don't understand.
More often than not, designers’ services on their websites use terms that are very industry-specific. As someone who didn’t take architecture or interior design, would you even know the difference between an architectural plan and a construction document? Is “furniture plan” the same as the “floor plan”? How about “3D perspectives” or “realistic 3D renderings”?
If you are truly unsure of what they mean, even though these are already listed out in the designers’ website, inform the designer during the discovery call which terms you’re unsure of and if they can clarify. Better yet, ask to see any samples they may have on hand. If you are in a Zoom call, they would easily be able to pull up a sample from their files and share with you during the call.
Ask them to explain to you what their interior design process is—as if you were a six-year-old.
I say that last part semi-jokingly, as I learned this lesson the hard way from a previous experience with a client. After I had explained to them what our design process was, I assumed that it was already crystal clear to them.
You can already guess what happened during the project: They objected at certain points in our process, saying they didn’t realize that is what we were supposed to do. They said they felt intimidated during our initial call when I started using industry-specific terms, and didn’t think it would make a difference if they didn’t ask what I meant. It was quite unpleasant to have to explain that this is what they signed up for in our contract, and they sure didn’t feel like they got the good end of the bargain.
As someone who has been working this job for almost a decade, it is NEVER pleasant to have a client who feels they’re not getting their money’s worth!
So if anything is unclear, or even just a little vague to you when the designer you are talking to starts explaining their process, don’t be afraid to ask them to explain it again. It is so important that you get this before you sign any contracts with them, because you will not enjoy having to discover that your expectations aren’t being met. Pretty sure your designers won’t feel good finishing a job that their clients aren’t happy about too.
Ask for a rundown of every item or deliverable you are supposed to receive.
I know it feels that things are a bit repetitive at this point, but trust me when I say (again) that clarity is of the utmost importance. When you have a list of deliverables to expect, you also see the value of what your designer is going to accomplish for you.
As opposed to just expecting them to give you a “design” for your home. This design can include so many things: mood board, color palette, paint guide, demolition plan, floor plan, furniture plan, lighting plan, cabinetry elevations, furniture and fixture selections….the list goes on.
Will they also be delivering all these in one go? Will there be phases? Knowing their answers also gives you an idea of what to expect when it comes to this next item on our list.
"What will be your timeline?"
Thanks to HGTV and all the decorating shows on Netflix, people mistakenly think that interior design projects can be done in a few days, weeks, max. Truth is, the projects you see on TV (and most every project in real life) take months, even years to complete.
(As an aside, I like how they show this in Dream Home Makeover, where, at the start of the episode, the designer is pregnant with her third child. At the end of the episode, when they do the home reveal, her youngest daughter is already a few months old and almost ready to walk!)
Sure, there may be quick projects, but those are usually the exception than the norm. So be sure to ask during your discovery call with the designer how long they think the project will take. And don’t wait for them to tell you what you want to hear (which is probably “as soon as possible,” amirite?). Ask them for both best- and worst-case scenarios, with delays factored in.
Contrary to popular opinion, designers and contractors never want projects to drag on for a long time. This is almost never profitable for them. But delays almost always happen in every project. So it is always better to have your expectations managed at the start, than be surprised in the thick of things that you won’t be able to move in by the deadline you had set for yourself.
This way too, you’ll be able to choose which designers can give you the best option when it comes to the timetable. For Gal at Home, our eDesign projects take 4 to 6 weeks to complete (from design intake to delivery).
An important topic in the discovery call: The designer's fees and fee structure
Always ask for the designer’s fees for their services, as well as what their fee structure is. Most of the time, they won’t be able to give you an idea of the overall construction cost, as this is dependent on the final approved design. But they may also be able to provide you with estimates of projects they’ve done that are similar to yours.
Unlike other industries, there is no one single way that designers charge for their fees. Some ask for a flat fee (usually broken up into 2 or 3 payment schedules), others on a per-sqm (or square feet) basis. Some charge hourly. Others charge cost+plus, meaning a cost of whatever furniture or item you buy through them, plus their markup. Some even have a procurement or project management fee, separate from the design fee.
Whatever their fee structures are, it benefits you to know at the start how payments will be made, and what you should expect to invest in the project. Lastly, tell them as well what you expect to spend (your budget), if you already have that figure in mind.
Your discovery call is coming to an end. Now what?
Now that you have all the information you need, the last thing you need to ask is, “What are my next steps?” This way, the designer will be able to explain who will be doing what tasks before you sign. Will they draft a contract for you? How long will they need to come up with a proposal? Will they email it or deliver a printed contract to your home? Will they ask you to sign it electronically through an online client portal?
The entire exercise of the discovery call is really to help you manage your expectations (and a way for designers to qualify if your project fits in with their process and structure). This is because every interior design project can really be an overwhelming, at times confusing process for most clients.
Having all this information upfront is crucial for you to make a final decision on whether or not you should go with a designer or firm. It also helps you enter into any interior design agreement with confidence and ease.
All photos from Canva Pro. Pinterest cover image by Gal at Home.