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The way of the Web

As I sit in my office in London, England and click the send button that takes this article, attached to an e-mail, across the Atlantic to an editor whom I’ve never met, or even spoken to, I can’t help but marvel at the way the internet has altered the way we work, play, study and communicate with each other. The word "publish" has taken on a whole new meaning. The writer’s product can now be read not only on the printed page, but on a website of virtual pages. The writer’s audience is now, in a way which has never existed before, the whole world.

We’ve found that having a clear informative website is like having a travelling sales rep you don’t have to pay. Around 75% of our interior design commissions have come from people who have found our website, which we’ve been careful to place on the major search engines. The clients who approach us in this way have already formed a positive opinion of our company from the content of the site and have a clear idea of how we work and what we charge.

Here in Britain, use of the internet is booming when it involves searching for information, but the British and the internet are not happy bedfellows when it comes to the issue of shopping. The recently published "British Lifestyles Survey" stated that 37% of Britons were "completely uninterested" in shopping via the web and 15% were "totally against it".

But there is a difference between shopping and selling, in the same way that there’s a difference between a catalogue and a brochure. My website is very much a selling tool and it achieves its selling potential by being everything except a shop. It is part magazine, part movie theatre, part school house, part glossy brochure and part advertisement. We seek to convert 1 in every 1500 visitors into a client. But we plan to make the visit stimulating for other 1499 that we never get to talk to.

The British interior design industry is slow to catch on to the benefits of using the internet in this way. Some designers have bought a single page within other directories, believing that two room shots and an e-mail address will be enough to thrill the elusive client. Others have made the decision to avoid having a website because it they’re afraid of people "stealing their ideas". Others see no need because "we’re doing frightfully well without one, darling". Well, fine. In the meantime, the potential clients - national and international (remember this is the world we’re talking to), commercial and residential - who search "interior design UK" will find me, not them. And if you’re not there to be seen, you’re not there to be chosen for the work.

The way interior designers work, or will need to work in order to be competitive, is changing. Technology like CAD, scanners, digital cameras, the internet, e-mail, and doing laptop presentations have all entered my way of working. When I’m asked to show a client a portfolio, it’s more likely to be via a website presentation e-mailed to their personal computer than it is to lug a heavy leather case to a meeting to show boards and drawings.

Many British interior designers, even the most talented, experienced and skilled, seem reluctant to embrace this new technology. And that’s fine as long as their clients don’t mind that they can’t e-mail a query, or see a drawing on-line. I think, as the world becomes increasingly competitive, it’s to a designer’s benefit to be flexible - to be able to offer both the technological options and the hands-on options of sample boards and hand-drawn perspectives if that’s what the client wants.

We’re still a long way from the global village, but I’ve found it a good investment to put up my billboard on the internet superhighway.

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