Communication and Expectation

Filed under Clients, Project Team, Quick Reference Guides

Yep! When designing a home or working on a remodel, the hardest thing is communication. I have spent some holiday downtime with the relatives and have heard quite a few stories about problems with their home repairs/remodels. I am sure if I was a doctor, they would ask me about their illnesses, but as a designer, I get home issues:)

The most interesting part of hearing everyone’s woes, was that their problems weren’t about shoddy workmanship or budget expansion. Their problems were about communication- communication of details, progress and expectations.

Communication is an area I am always trying to improve upon, because one form of communication doesn’t work for everyone. By everyone I mean clients, contractors, designers, architects and trades.

Every new project has a new set of players and although I try to work with proven contractors, trades and vendors, I can’t.  I say they are proven, because we know how to communicate effectively, so we can do the best job possible. So, you can see why it is worth spending the extra time at the beginning of a job trying to figure out the best way to communicate effectively and efficiently.

What people are looking for is communication which is a combination of:

  1. Visuals
  2. Written documents
  3. Verbal instruction


I use a combination of visual aids to share my vision with my clients. Some love to use Pinterest, others like good old print magazine images or photos. When I give my final presentation, I use images with fabric samples, material samples- marble, tile, wood, etc. and share an image of how it will look in the space.  Some people are tactile and others, visual- and even others just want to see a spreadsheet and a schedule, so I try to discern the best way to convey the vision through early communication.

When I have clients who have partners involved in the decision making process, I have to help with their communication as well. Did I mention I often act as a marriage counselor? Ha! So, I try to use many forms so that at least one visual aid will resinate with each decision maker.

Now, my example is with clients, but I go through the same process with the contractor, trades, architect, etc. Different people, different styles.

Written Documents

Documentation of options and decisions is key. I communicate with Power Point, Excel spreadsheets, Studio Webware documents (interior design specific software) and emails. Then, repeat everything that was agreed upon in another format, to make sure we are on the same page. Some people love a good spreadsheet. Others love a detailed email. The key is finding out what rings their bell.

When you are doing entire homes, there is never a way to remember every decision. The best way, is to record your decisions and share it with everyone on your team. You can do this many different ways, but the most effective is a written document using simple, clear words and sending it everyone via email- or leaving it in a binder on the job site. I created a Meeting Notes PDF Template that I can print or email.

Meeting Notes- Return on InteriorsI take all the documents and emails and put the information on Trello, which is a flexible and visual way to manage and organize your projects. I can upload docs, photos and assign due dates and responsibilities. I get chills writing that. SOOOO satisfying!

Verbal Instruction

Meetings (in person/virtual) are fantastic. I get to use my arms and wave them around to convey what I am trying to say. The hard part is scheduling a time to meet and taking the proper amount of time to go through everything. I love having written documents on the table before we start with an agenda, if applicable.

I also give people a notebook to take notes or make doodles, a printed out outline, a pen and water. Sometimes, you need to pause to drink a sip. It gives you a moment to think:) After all of the discussions, I re-write my notes and reiterate everything via email.


Be sure to set up proper expectations. If you have told your client you will have an HGTV install moment, but when the install comes you don’t have 1/2 the products, they (and YOU!)  will be disappointed.

Flexibility MUST be communicated. In EVERY design project, something doesn’t go as planned. That is life. The fabric which you based your living room design around, has printing problems. The wallpaper installer hurts himself and can’t be there on time. Furniture arrives damaged.

All of this stuff happens- every day with every job. BUT, designers are problem solvers.

It may not be the exact fabric you specified, but I know it will turn out better. When there is a problem, I never panic. I put my thinking cap on and, well, think! The answer always comes to me and it is often a better solution than I had in the beginning.

Design is fluid and you must have the trust to be able to make the best decisions possible. The only way to get the trust, is to communicate that the design evolves over the project- and that’s a good thing!

So, take this year to improve your communication! Be conscious of it. Use forms at meetings. Here, take my meeting form and use it! Or, download the Return on Interiors Sampler. These forms will help organize you and get you ready to tackle your New Year’s projects!

Until 2016!

11-Designer System-Building Team Meeting Notes

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Kathleen says:

Thank you so much Shannon! Happy New Year!! Gooo 2016!