trade tales | May 14, 2021 |
10 designers share how they deal with clients who can’t visualize

For every client who totally gets your vision, there’s a client who just doesn’t see it. We asked 10 designers—Brittany Bromley, Hattie Collins, Andrea Marino, Julia Paulino, Lisa Peck, Nichole Samuel, Jo Smeeth, Lauren Stevens, Gioi Tran and Melody Vaughn—how they help clients who just can’t seem to visualize.

Jo Smeeth
Jo SmeethCourtesy of Jo Smeeth

Tell a good story
“Mapping out design concepts with bright, bold vision boards and big, vibrant storytelling can get clients really excited about ideas. Rendering tools can be additionally helpful for visualizing space and style, especially when it’s harder to connect in person. No matter the scenario, taking the time to refine a project’s storytelling and visualization practices at the outset will always pay off because it leaves less room, once the walls are torn down and materials have been ordered, for surprises or changes of heart!” —Jo Smeeth, INDA Interiors, Toronto and The Kawarthas, Ontario

Lauren Stevens
Lauren StevensCourtesy of Lauren Stevens

Feel it out
“I help clients visualize through tapping into their senses. For instance, as it pertains to sight, I provide renderings for each project that specifically coincides with the clients desires. The renderings go along with the mood boards, giving my clients different types of views to see my vision come to life. Touch is also a sense I cater to, as it not only helps clients see a material in the flesh, but it also allows them to feel some of the different textures that may be incorporated in their design. Samples are a great way to cultivate patience in clients because it gives them a preview of what’s to come, as the design process takes time.” —Lauren Stevens, LA Design Affair, Los Angeles

Lisa Peck
Lisa PeckCourtesy of Lisa Peck

Trust the process
“My main tactic with clients who cannot visualize is an old-school method: Gain their trust. I gain trust by clearly explaining the concept I am using to create their interior at the beginning of the project. Then I show how each decision ties back to the concept. This inspires confidence in my professional skills. In addition, using multiple layers of visual tools to explain my design is helpful. I use mood boards, Sharpie over photo sketches, hand-sketches and renderings to engage their understanding. I match the method to each client.” —Lisa Peck, LiLu Interiors, Minneapolis

Melody Vaughn
Melody VaughnCourtesy of Melody Vaughn

Digital tools
“To help my client understand the overall vision of the project, I lean on technology, from virtual storyboards to vendors’ online websites and, of course, other designers’ amazing photos. In this age of remote working and learning, everything is merely a click away.” —Melody Vaughn, Melody Vaughn Interiors, New York

Andrea Marino
Andrea MarinoCourtesy of Andrea Marino

Different skill sets
“This is where trust comes in. We are not all visual thinkers, and that’s OK. If you are investing in a designer, you likely already know the value they bring to a project. Part of that value is the ability to see beyond what is on pen and paper or a computer screen. We are equipped with a skill set that allows us to think big picture and therefore are able to make recommendations based on what we know will or will not work in a space. I kindly remind my clients of that and always try to reassure them that having trust and taking risks always results in the best end product.”—Andrea Marino, Andrea Marino Design, Dallas

Hattie Collins
Hattie CollinsCourtesy of Hattie Collins

Inspiration images
“If a client is still having trouble visualizing their space even after seeing the room-by-room conceptual presentation and tactile samples, I try to provide as many additional inspirational images as possible. Pinterest is obviously such a great resource for this, but I’ll also tear images from magazines, send snippets from movies or TV shows, and share Instagram posts that echo the concept we're trying to achieve.” Hattie Collins, Hattie Sparks, New Orleans

Nichole Samuel
Nichole SamuelCourtesy of Nichole Samuel

Listen up
“Although 3D renderings are one of the best ways to get clients to visualize their space, I find that bringing them full circle with a personal touch really brings the vision home. We start by listening to them go to ‘dreamland,’ talking about their lifestyle and their goals for the space. Then, while presenting our 3D renderings, it’s important to use keywords that they used to describe their space so that they can really envision themselves in the model. It also gives us a level of trust and connection that lets them know we are listening and creating a design just for them.” —Nichole Samuel, Goddess Interiors, New York

Brittany Bromley
Brittany BromleyCourtesy of Brittany Bromley

All together now
“It is not uncommon for clients to have trouble visualizing. As a matter of fact, we probably would not have nearly as many loyal clients if they were excellent visualizers! Our job is to give them the highest level of certainty as it relates to the finished product, and to reinforce that all elements of the room will feel considered. We do this in a variety of ways, including artistic renderings, fabric and material swatches, floor plans and design concept presentations—all of which, together, help to give a glimpse of the finished product.” —Brittany Bromley, Brittany Bromley Interiors, Bedford, New York

Gioi Tran
Gioi TranCourtesy of Gioi Tran

Like a charm
“Clients who can't visualize require a lot of different strategies. We usually take them to the showrooms to see, touch and feel the pieces. We start with hand sketches for architecture, and if that doesn't work, we go to the next step of photorealistic renderings. This way, the clients can envision the space without struggling to visualize our concepts. We also have in-person presentations with samples of every material to see, feel and experience the design. As we talk through the design and refer to the drawings, renderings and materials, the clients feel more confident and understanding of our design plan. It truly works every time.” —Gioi Tran, Applegate Tran Interiors, San Francisco

Julie Paulino
Julie PaulinoCourtesy of Julie Paulino

One at a time
“In the case where a rendering is not enough to convey a more concrete vision, I may approach the project differently than a turnkey one. If it's a new client, in order to gain trust, I advise implementing changes slowly in order to assimilate those changes in a way where the client can start visualizing the space and have a better understanding of where it's heading. The closer we are to the midpoint of the design implementation and the client is happy with it, the closer I am to gaining their full trust in my vision and process.” —Julie Paulino, Julie Paulino Design, Columbus, Ohio

Homepage photo: A project by Brittany Bromley | Courtesy of Brittany Bromley

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