industry insider | Feb 26, 2019 |
How healthy is the interior design industry?

For the past four years, the American Society of Interior Designers has issued a yearly outlook report on the overall health of the industry. The doctor’s note for 2019, in a nutshell: healthy, with a few worrying symptoms.

The study, weighing in at a robust 96 pages, covers a broad spectrum of data, from the highest salary by metropolitan area (surprise: It’s in Arkansas) to the average size of a design firm in 2019 (the vast majority have one to four employees). The biggest topline conclusion is that the business is growing, but the pace of expansion is projected to slow in the years ahead.

The report ties a potential slowdown to macroeconomic forces like higher interest rates that drag down construction; tariffs (which increase the cost of building materials); and a somewhat wobbly stock market. Delicate trade negotiations inject an element of uncertainty into the picture. The report also points to a tight labor market as a source of difficulty for design business owners, as historically low unemployment has made new hires more expensive, adding to an overall rise in the cost of doing business.

In addition to solid-but-slowing growth, ASID focuses on change as a central theme of its 2019 report—the executive summary somewhat dramatically asserts that “change seems to be the only constant we have left.” Whether it’s demographic shifts (the country is splitting between young and old, and is increasingly diverse), technological advancements (and backlash against them) or new business models, the report makes a compelling case for designers to stay nimble and keep their ears to the ground.

How healthy is the interior design industry?Change seems to be the only constant we have left.
–ASID’s 2019 Outlook Report

That’s the big picture, and will likely come as no surprise to most who follow the economy in general and the design industry in particular. Digging into the nitty-gritty of the report reveals a few interesting tidbits that lie outside conventional wisdom. For example: San Francisco and Denver are both huge growth markets for designers, newly added to a list of top 10 cities by employment. Also, though the number of interior design degrees conferred has stabilized, the ASID report shows that it’s still in a “downward trend.”

These and hundreds of other data points aren’t necessarily the kind of news that will cause most designers to throw their business plan out the window. However, they serve as a helpful benchmark. “The best way to use the report is to take it with a grain of salt,” Susan Chung, director of research and knowledge management at the ASID, tells Business of Home. “Outcomes may be different for each individual business. But [the report] can be used as a tool to understand what’s happening in the larger industry.”

In addition to aggregated data collected by outside sources and contextualized by the ASID, the report includes a section sourced from interviews with thought leaders. New York–based interior designer Drew McGukin sums up the mood of the industry in 2019 succinctly: “As an interior designer, I think our role has become less about being the one who gets everything or finds the right stuff, and it’s really become more about being a creative director and willing to operate with your client’s point of view. A lot of what our firm focuses on is using that to our advantage rather than resisting that change.”

The full report is available free of charge to ASID members. Non-members can purchase a copy for $249.95.

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