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  • Writer's pictureSusanne Desbrow

Let's Answer the Question, "What do interior designers do?"

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

What do interior designers do? Can you explain the interior design process? How much do you charge? I get asked these three questions frequently. The answers to these questions are connected. Firstly, I am an Interior designer, with a background in Architectural design. I graduated in 2002 with a BA (hons) degree in Interior Design. The university I went to shortly after I graduated renamed their course to Interior Architecture. My degree was also the equivalent of a part 1 architecture degree (undergraduate degree) as per the Royal Institute of British Architects. Some of my class mates went onto pursue careers in Architecture rather than Interiors. Every now and again I think about the should have, could have and would have's. However, I do enjoy my career and I now have close to 20 years experience with in commercial Interior design.

What do interior designers do?

The first two companies I worked for were small sized architectural practices, both with less than 10 employees. I was able to dip my toes in elements which weren't necessarily part of my job description and I loved it. I learnt how to detail a full extension ( addition) from wall details to roof joints. Having a more detailed knowledge outside Interiors has proved beneficial over the years. I have since gone onto to have a varied experience in the interior design profession. I have worked on the following types of projects; corporate, hospitality, retail, Educational & medical interiors. As well as numerous private residential projects. Please feel free too check out my experience via LinkedIn.

A set of detailed building plans sit on a desk.

The above drawings were drawn by myself whilst employed at Sampson associates in London, England. They are details showing an extension to a pub.

Secondly I am firm believer in life long learning. In the last five years alone I have taken courses in Revit, SketchUp and exams for NCIDQ certification, LEED and Well Ap. Also I am a member of Interior Designers of Alberta, and Interior Designers Institute of British Columbia which are provincial regulative bodies. As a member, I need to a bide by their following requirements

• Carry liability insurance

• Participate in ongoing professional development

• Uphold a professional code of ethics and standards of practice

I am also a member of the Canadian Green Building Council- Alberta chapter and CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Calgary.

Interior Designers are Not Decorators

My job role often gets confused with the title decorator. However I am not a decorator. Not that there is anything wrong with being a decorator. Some of my good friends are decorators and are very talented individuals. Its just not the full scope of what I do.

Sure there are some elements of my job which involve furnishings and finish selections. An Interior designer can be an Interior decorator, but a decorator can not be a designer. Some provincial governing associations can actually sue individuals for using the term "designer", without being registered. I would say only 20% of my role is selecting finishes, furniture and equipment.

A large number of tile, flooring and paint samples sit labeled on a table.

Cabin in Golden, B.C- Finishes material board

What is the Interior Design Process?

So you may be wondering what I do for the remainder 80% of my job. I am going to give you an example of a typical commercial project from first client meeting to post construction. Some things may vary in real life, as every project I come across is unique and requires their own tailor made design solution.

These are the phases of design. Sometimes these phases can overlap.


This phase is all about asking questions and defining goals. It involves gathering information about specific needs as well as identifying broader issues of human factors, environmental responsibility, and social/ cultural influences on the design. As described in "Problem seeking" by William M Pena and Steven A Parshall. I use a five step process in relationship to form, function, economy and time. The five steps are Establishing goals, Collecting and analyzing facts, uncovering & testing concepts, determining needs & stating the problem.

Client meetings, questionnaires & interviews

Site visit- review the existing space and conduct a site measure

Preliminary code review

Schematic design

Based on the defined scope diagrams showing functional relationship are prepared, which develop into a schematic floor plan. Several options are usually created. Studies are done to establish the design concept of the project.

Preliminary plan

Engineers' fees requested for approval

In house design vision board

Finish selection- preliminary options

Client meeting- programming review

Schematic plan revision

If 3d walk through required, basic wire frame showing space plan

Design Development

The schematic plan is refined and details are developed.

Design criteria forwarded to engineers

BP drawings completed

All floor plans and elevations

Sourcing: finishes (materials)

Sourcing: plumbing fixtures

Sourcing: light fixtures

Sourcing: Millwork hardware spec

Sourcing Furniture- if applicable

Sourcing window coverings

3D renderings- if required

Client meeting- design development review

Construction Drawings

Drawings and documentation are created for Tender and construction

BP code review upon receipt of AHJ report

completion of the following drawings

ID0 Site plan

ID1 Partition plan/ legend/ door schedule

ID2 Power and communication plan

ID3 Reflected ceiling plan

ID4 Finishes plan

ID5 Sections, Millwork & details

Drawing co ordinated with engineers

Schedules for finishes, millwork hardware, plumbing fixtures and Lighting are finalized

Client drawing and schedule review for approval


Contractors submit pricing and the preferred contractor is hired by client and Permits are secured if necessary.

Preparation of Bid documents

Evaluation of bids with owner

Written confirmation to unsuccessful bidders

Co ordination with contracts

*If the project was put out for tender often the general contractor applies for permits after tender

Tendering process and requirements are determined during programming phase. This phase maybe skipped in some circumstances. The client may have a contractor they wish to use or the project is a design Build rather than the traditional design bid build process. I will explain the difference between design bid build and Design Build in my next blog.

Project Admin

We have made it to construction and I will be there to make sure the projects runs as smoothly as I can. I will attend site regularly and meet with the construction team


Site visits

Shop drawing review

Purchase orders

Site instructions

Deficiency list

Post construction/ occupancy

Once your designer, always your designer. I will be there to answer any of your questions or concerns. Queries may arise two weeks after you move in or two years. I will be there to assist you.

As you can see there are lots of moving pieces in the design process. Not every project is same. This is why I like to discuss a new project in detail prior to giving you a fee. Ideally would like to meet at your new location if possible.

What do You Charge?

There are some key aspects that effect my pricing. The size of your project in square footage, the project timeline, location and your lists of requirements. If you have a new project and would be interested in working with SDID, we would love to hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Susanne Desbrow

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