Asisat Edu: Principal Interior Designer DIH Designs
Avoid the Comparison Trap
Being successful does not mean you will not feel moments of self doubt whether scrolling social media, or feeling like an imposter in the face of more high-profile designers. “That comparison trap is real,” Fields says. “I literally used to battle with discouragement so bad I would try to avoid Instagram.” But 100,000 followers does not translate to 100,000 clients and you cannot know what struggles that person is facing outside of the pretty images they post, she says.
“I don't know if it's because I'm getting older and I'm feeling more comfortable in my skin, but now I don't have time to compare myself to what other people are doing,” she says. “I'm not in competition with another designer. I'm actually in competition with myself. How can I be better a year from now?”
Wren focuses on the unique person she is. “For me, as a designer, for me, as a person, I rarely care what people think period. I do what I want, I wear what I want, I design how I want,” she says. “I cannot be replicated.” Yes, being a famous TV designer would be great, Wren acknowledges, but that is not why she picked this career. “I design to give people peace and comfort, and so there's no comparison in that.”
Find a mentor, advises Edu, a former middle school teacher, who learned the importance of mentorship when faced with the polar opposite. Early in her career, she had lunch with another interior designer who bluntly told her she should not call herself a designer because she is not one. “My heart dropped because of that one encounter.”
Now, Edu has two mentors, one is a developer and the other builds office spaces in Nigeria. “I think the thing that resonates with me the most about mentorship is to seek those who fill you up.”
Diversity is Good for Business
While attending industry events, as a woman of color it is hard not to feel like a fish out of water because so few of the participants look like her, Wren says. The lack of diversity hurts the design field, she says. “I think it's a disservice to the clients who are looking for designers, and they can't find someone who is able to execute the type of design that they're looking for,” Wren says. “I design very differently than my fellow white designers here in Las Vegas.” She is less timid about using color in her design schemes, for example. “I will import color in everything that I possibly can,” she says.
Making the industry more inclusive starts at the top, Edu says.Yet she cautions against putting designers of color in a single aesthetic box. “There’s a message that there is a single story when it comes to African American interior designers, that we only design a certain way because of our cultural background. Our approaches are totally different,” she says.
It doesn’t help when the industry’s efforts to be more equal are sometimes tone deaf. She recalls one diversity forum sponsored by an industry leader that lost all credibility because most of the panelists were white. “I do think that we have to hold these corporations and companies accountable,” she says.
Set Limits with Clients
One of the trickiest frustrations interior designers face is a homeowner constantly second-guessing them. The ideal solution is to avoid problem clients from the start by adopting a strong screening process that weeds them out.
But Wren admits to having made the mistake of ignoring those initial red flags. Plus, when just starting out, designers often think they need to accept every client. She suggests breaking out of that mindset quickly because the problems are not worth it. Today, she is upfront with clients about her work style. “I'm not the type of designer that can be micromanaged,” she says.
Sometimes, client concerns arise in the middle of a project even as they have liked everything that was done so far, Fields says. A client’s lack of trust can be restored by asking questions and gently reminding them why you were hired in the first place. “You don't want to say it where you're condescending or you make them feel bad,” she says. Instead, bring up the pain points they needed to solve when they first decided to hire a designer: “This was not their wheelhouse, but it is my wheelhouse. This is what I do everyday,” she says.
Also, try to learn what is behind their concerns. “I always try to figure out what the root cause is because maybe they're indecisive or something is out of their comfort zone,” she says.