Every interior designer knows that running a business requires investing in a set of tools to help them operate more efficiently. Over the past several years, I’ve come to rely heavily on a small handful of tools that I use almost every single day in some capacity. Some of them help me to stay organized, and some of them help me to complete tasks more efficiently.
When I first started designing, I used tools that were free or very inexpensive. Over time, I realized that by not investing in better tools, I was wasting both my time and my clients. Spend some time thinking about the areas where you spend the most time in your business. I was wasting time creating proposals from scratch every time and on building 3D models for my SketchUp models.
The list below is a roundup of my favorite tools that have helped me streamline the tasks that I perform over and over.
Before I discovered Studio WebWare, I struggled to keep my client projects organized. I would create a detailed Excel spreadsheet listing every single item I specified and update it with pricing, shipping and other information. Then I would create a separate presentation for the client, usually in InDesign, and add photos, dimensions and other information.
In addition, I managed all of my accounting through QuickBooks Pro, which I had to keep on the PC side of my Mac. I hated launching Windows on my Mac so I would avoid it as much as possible. Consequently, my books were never balanced.
It was very time consuming and very tedious. I hated it and struggled against procrastination when it came to using and updating my “system.”
Then I decided to test drive Studio WebWare for a month after I heard great things about it from other designers in an online forum.
Studio WebWare is an online project management software system specifically for interior designers. It has many features, including the ability to make proposals, send invoices, create orders and manage your accounting all in one place.
My favorite feature is the ability to add photos to proposals and invoices. In addition, you can create an online portal for each client where they can view items you’ve selected, as well as an archive of their proposals and invoices.
My clients have raved about how easy it is to use and how professional my proposals and other documents look. For only $35 a month, it is definitely one of my must-have tools.
I wrote a whole e-book on how to choose a drafting program for your interior design business because it is not an easy decision.
It took months of research and thought to ultimately decide that the hefty investment in Chief Architect was worth it, but one year later, I am still incredibly happy with my decision.
Chief Architect is a desktop software program for architectural drafting and space planning. I use the Premier version of CA, which is more expensive, but has many of the features and tools I need for kitchen and bathroom design.
Chief comes preloaded with an extensive library of architectural elements, cabinetry, fixtures and furniture as well as materials, so it’s very easy to create floor plans quickly.
Chief is also a 3D modeling program, so as you draw in 2D, you are automatically creating a 3D model. It has the ability to generate photo-realistic renderings as well as perspective views in several non photo-realistic styles.
SketchUp is still my first love when it comes to drawing floor plans and building 3D models.
I use SketchUp primarily for quickly mocking up concepts in 3D as well as for modeling furniture, lighting and other elements that I import into Chief Architect.
SketchUp has a quick learning curve. With just a few lessons, you will be able to create basic plans and models that you can use to communicate your ideas to your clients. With time and practice, you can learn to create beautiful 3D models and renderings with some of the third party plugins and rendering tools.
Evernote is an organization software program that is available for your desktop, phone and tablet. I take all of my notes in Evernote, and then I know I have them available no matter where I am.
You can organize notes into notebooks and then further organize them through tags. I use a combination of notebooks and tags, but mostly I use the powerful search function to find the notes I need.
Often I will take photos at client’s homes or while shopping and import them directly into a note. Then I’ll add my thoughts below each photograph. No more wondering what I was thinking or why I took the photo!
Many people have developed systems for using Evernote productively and getting the most out of the program. I use Evernote in hybrid with the Getting Things Done system by David Allen. Michael Hyatt also has an extensive system for using Evernote that I’ve adapted to some extent.
After I found this app, I stopped drawing floor plans to document field conditions. In the Photo Measures app, you take a photo of a room elevation with your iPad and use the built-in tools to add notes and dimensions.
I’ll often start with the wall facing the entry of the room and then rotate clockwise until I’ve captured every elevation. You can even zoom in on the photo as your dimensioning to capture minute details.
Ok, this tool isn’t digital but as a sole proprietor, it has made my life so much easier. Combined with Photo Measures, it has significantly reduced the amount of time it takes for me to measure existing conditions. Simply position the back of the laser against the wall and shoot across to the opposite wall. Voila! No unwieldy tape or asking the homeowner for help.
I don’t know how I would survive without DropBox. After a power surge during a lightening storm fried my desktop computer (where I had been backing up my laptop), I decided to subscribe to DropBox Pro and keep everything in the cloud.
I keep my DropBox very organized with a filing system for both my business, school and other interests. My favorite part about keeping everything on DropBox is that I can access client files or business documents from my phone.
I also upload all of my iPhone photos directly to DropBox so I never need to worry about clearing out the space on my phone or losing a photo.
I use Adobe Photoshop to edit photos of items I’m proposing to my clients before I upload them to Studio WebWare or include them in a concept board. I also use it to create images for my blog.
In addition, I use Photoshop for editing perspective renderings. If I generate a photo-realistic rendering for a client, I almost always post-process it in Photoshop to make it look less realistic.
I use Adobe InDesign to create concept boards for my clients and sometimes idea books that contain a page for every product with a photo, dimensions, and a description of why I selected it for the space.
InDesign is perfect for creating both blog graphics and multi-page documents. I find the tools easier to use than Illustrator and PhotoShop when it comes to positioning elements and working with typography.