Vibrant Collaborative Design Exists on Vancouver Island

The design industry can be a dangerous one. This last decade has brought an even more crowded marketplace, with schools in Western Canada alone graduating up to 60 new designers every year. The interior design practice has been co-opted in many sectors by decorators, stylists, and even architects. The competition between job applicants has become cutthroat, with many volunteering for extended periods before being offered entry-level positions.

Clients are ‘stolen’ by one firm, and ‘stolen back’ by another. When designers leave a practice, their non-compete clauses handcuff them from practicing in that same specialty until their skills are obsolete or they have lost any name recognition.

Is this the industry we chose to practice in? We design for everyone else — now it is time for us to consciously design our own industry — the one we each chose to live and work in. Here on Vancouver Island, we have built our industry on this foundation statement: There is enough.

There is enough work for all. If registered interior designers were doing a decent job of informing the public about what services and what value they can offer, the client base would expand exponentially. If designers were honest with themselves and each other, they would not cling to the wrong project or the wrong client, but instead pass that on to the most appropriate member. Designers can work together to support new graduates and help them transition into peers to be proud to serve with. Promoting each other is good for karma and good for business.

A small but vibrant design community exists on Vancouver Island. Local designers have learned that individually, it is difficult for them to undertake larger projects, so they have taken to contracting one another, form-ing and reforming as entities, as projects shift and change.

Designers keep juniors developing, passing them from studio to studio on a project by project basis, so that they can see how each firm works, what they excel at and where they are lacking. They build their skill sets quickly and invariably are hired full time, usually at just the right firm. This keeps them from having to shift studios every few years to get a broad range of experience and keeps them progressing from provisional to professional status.

Recently, our firm served a client who we knew had a working relationship with another designer. The other designer had not taken care of a warranty issue in a commercial installation, and the project was coming to the end of the warranty period. Because we knew the client socially, we called the supplier and the tradesman involved and dealt with the issue, at no cost to the client.

We did it not to get their business or to become their designer. It was simply to preserve the reputation of the profession. If that client ever hires another RID, then the effort was a success.

We can choose to look beyond the outdated model of viewing other designers as competitors, and instead build a new industry based on co-operation. We can share resources and staff, share clients and projects, share promotional expenses and share knowledge.

In doing to, we create a web of support so that none of us is without work, none of us is without support and we can all represent this profession to its greatest potential. It is time to temper competition with co-operation. The time for ‘co-opetition’ has come. DQ

Ann Squires Ferguson, RID LEED-AP, is chair of the IDIBC Vancouver Island Chapter and managing partner at Western Interior Design Group Ltd. She can be reached at