• Susan Dickenson
  • Thomas Lester

Tech Tools of the Trade

Interior designers on their favorite apps, sites, social and software

Developments in mobile, online and virtual technologies have created a new world of opportunities and time-saving tools for interior designers. Industry-specific software is streamlining the back office, social media apps offer networking and inspiration, vendor portals are easing the sourcing process, and virtual/augmented reality tools are opening up new channels for sharing renderings and ideas with clients.

With these developments, however, comes a new challenge – keeping up with the growing number of choices.Tech Tools 1

For this report, Home Accents Today asked 30 interior designers about the technology and software they use on an everyday basis, and took a closer look at some of the industry’s major players and newer entrants.

STUDIO DESIGNER

One of those majors is the Studio Webware/Studio Designer/ Studio I.T. group, which has been providing accounting and project design industry for close to three decades.

Studio Webware founder Lance Haeberle recently joined forces with design consultant and author Keith Granet to create DesignersAxis, cloud technology that connects clients, designers, architects, showrooms and manufacturers. On May 1, a new layer of integration will enable designers to view vendor products, add products to client proposals, track queries and eventually place orders.

In a recent editorial piece, updated for Home Accents Today, Gail Doby, an interior designer and industry consultant, shared her views on Studio Designer and operational software for the design firm.

Doby started her interior design business in 1992 using Quicken, eventually transitioning to QuickBooks, Design Manager and Studio Impact. Today, she uses Studio IT (the desktop version of Studio Designer), occasionally outsourcing her accounting and expediting with a Studio Designer Certified Consultant.

“I speak with many designers these days about their back office, and in many cases, they use QuickBooks which is okay, but not really designed for the complexities of our business,” Doby said.Tech Tools 2

In addition to project planning, billing and bookkeeping, she said there are key features that make an industry-specific software program such as Studio Designer attractive for interior design firms.

“The software is in the cloud so you and your team can access it from the office, your phone or the beach. Your bookkeeper and/or expeditor can be remote, and there are many great Studio Designer specialists around the country that can support your business without being part of your payroll,” Doby said. “Clients can access the information you want them to see at any time. They can even submit payments online. If the client sends you a message, the software adds the task to your task list for the next day. The software also keeps a record of all communication so the client can’t say they didn’t know something.”

MYDOMA STUDIO

One of the newer entrants on the management software side is Mydoma Studio, an operational platform created by interior designer Sarah Daniele in the course of managing her own design business. Developed in tandem with her husband, Mydoma Studio facilitates the management of products, client communications, storage of documents and drawings, receives digital contract sign-off, accepts payments and creates mood boards, reports and other documentation.Tech Tools 3

“I knew what the end goal was. We had to go with the technology first,” Daniele told Home Accents Today. “In 2014, I was volunteering with the design community and through my volunteer work I discovered other designers wanted this same solution. We decided to pivot the software and develop it for the design community at large.”

Daniele said Mydoma Studio’s cloud workflow software streamlines the design process. own online studio branded to their company with a custom product catalog builder. Clients and project stakeholders can be invited to collaborate on a project and be part of the process, provide and receive feedback, sign contracts, pay invoices, approve drawings/ product lists and more.

Launched a year ago, Mydoma Studio is now used in 33 countries, with designers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia making up the majority of its users. Daniele said its community of designers is vital in making the most of the program.

“Part of our vision was to be built by designers for designers. We take feedback to heart on anything we’re building. We want to make sure we’re solving the right problems,” she said. “Mydoma wants to stay at the forefront of what’s happening in tech trends. We’re nowhere near done completing the so_ ware, it’s always going to be adapting to the latest technology. We don’t build it and leave it; it’s constantly evolving.”

STEELYARD UNVEILS NEW PLATFORM

Trade-only interior design resource Steelyard, recently unveiled major new upgrades that enhance and expand its online, mobile and analytics capabilities. The new platform features a more navigable interface, faster search, and an image-rich inspiration gallery.Tech Tools 4

Founded 20 years ago as TODL.com (the Trade Only Design Library), the site’s original goal was to give residential and commercial interior design professionals a digitized, searchable library of products and brands. Building the new Steelyard site was an extensive process that incorporated valuable feedback from the interior design community and the IT, branding and publishing experience of its new owners.

Led by CEO Shawn Hughes and Executive Creative Director Scotty Smith and backed by Steelyard’s UX team, the more dynamic interface produces cleaner, faster search results and has the ability to send and share ideas to collaborators and clients directly from the site. “Between the user experience updates and the technology upgrades, the new platform is unmatched and will be the most useful tool on the planet to specify products,” Smith said.

Free to interior designers, the service enables its users to source product from an extensive online product library, manage projects, and click through to connect directly with a manufacturer.

All the work done on Steelyard is logged, so that information requests and quotes are organized and readily accessible on the designer’s personal dashboard, viewable on any device.

In a new “Inspiration” section, Steelyard editors and guest contributors can create trendforward and themed product collections, peruse installations and projects, and access articles and digital content from partner publications.

COLORFUL APPS

When asked about their favorite apps, the interior designers we spoke to were all over the map. Predictably, their choices included social media favorites like Instagram and Pinterest, mobile versions of Houzz and 1st Dibs, and photo editing and transfer apps.Tech Tools 5

Several brought up color identification apps, which have moved into the mainstream with 24/7 access to the massive libraries of companies like Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams and Pantone Color Institute. With the click of one’s mobile device, an object’s color can be photographed, uploaded and matched with a nearly identical hue in the provider’s fan deck.

As with any data, however, the output is only as good as the quality of the input – objects photographed with a mobile phone are subject to variations in lighting, which can result in a blue that’s several tones lighter or darker than its true shade.

Released in September, an app called Color Muse has developed a device that works in tandem with its app to provide a match that, according to some reviewers, is close to perfect.

The device or “detector” as Color Muse calls it, costs about $50 and resembles a small camera lens. When the lens of the detector is placed directly against the color source – a piece of fabric, for example – all incoming light is blocked. Select the “wake” button on the detector, and an internal LED light source scans the image and sends it to the app, where the result is revealed.

“There’s a set of filters that mimic the human eye in terms of color perception,” developer George Yu told Home Accents Today. “Ultimately, the human is the judge of color. We sourced a sensor that mimics the human color vision to provide the closest representation for capturing color."TT6

Originally developed for paint matching – the Color Muse library includes multiple paint and product brands – Color Muse can also pair like-colored products within and across categories.

“We included carpeting, laminate, textiles, upholstery and leather… The app will take that reading and send it to the Cloud to our server and ask which paint library or category of products you want to search for,” Yu said. “The server will return results including images, product names, where to find it, and the vendor’s link.”

DECORILLA’S VR REVEAL AND ONLINE DESIGN

In the virtual reality category, online design service Decorilla has introduced a headset and app designed to give clients an advance “real world” look at the finished project.

Founder and CEO Agnieszka Wilk said that while the virtual reality aspect gives Decorilla a “wow” factor, the value comes from enabling designers to take on projects across the country or even internationally.

“Designers are usually working in 3-D but they don’t have a way to show designs from every angle,” Wilk told Home Accents Today. “Now with VR and embedded viewers, you can give the client a best view of the space. They feel like they’re there. It helps them make more informed decisions.”

Launched around three years ago, Decorilla has a roster of more than 300 vetted interior designers who can be contracted to design single rooms or complete homes with product from around 70 vendors. Wilk said on average, a typical Decorilla client will purchase 1.7 rooms for design services. Consultations cost around $75 and the price for a room design ranges from $500 to $1,200.Tech Tools 7

“We connect our vetted designers with clients and the designers then create the curated VR spaces based on their client’s taste and budgets,” Wilk said. Once the client gets the feel for the designer, they can get a feel for their portfolio before choosing. They then work with them on the final design.”

When the design is finished, it’s available for viewing in 3-D via virtual reality, and the items can be purchased from a generated shopping list.

Wilk said as more people become increasingly comfortable with online purchases, Decorilla is positioned to capitalize on the interior design market’s shift to digital.

“There’s always going to be a need for in-person but this is a fast-growing sector,” she said. “It works nicely hand-in-hand with the in-person aspect.”

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Susan DickensonSusan Dickenson | Editor in Chief
sdickenson@homeaccentstoday.com

Susan Dickenson is the editor in chief of Home Accents Today, where she has spent more than a decade covering trending topics, best practices and news items pertaining to the manufacturing, retail and interior design segments of the home furnishings industry. A graduate of UNC, Dickenson spent 15 years in the Washington, D.C., area, writing and researching in both the public and private sector. After relocating to her native North Carolina in 2003, she freelanced as a writer of general interest, business, garden and home items for local and national publications before joining Home Accents Today in 2006 as retail editor.

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