The Real Reason
Interior Design
is Failing Designers
Published on October, 2019. Last Updated: October, 2019.
by Tobi Fairley 
The Real Reason
Interior Design
is Failing Designers
Published on October, 2019.
Last Updated: October, 2019.
by Tobi Fairley 

I love design and I love designers. I’ve worked as a high-end designer for the past 20 years. After recovering from my own burnout a few years ago and watching so many of my peers struggle to earn what they are worth, and suffer knowing they did “everything right,” but still can’t seem to get ahead—my mission is to reveal how our industry has failed us.

It’s time we got brutally honest with ourselves about the future of design and how we can prevail.
About 10 years ago, I stood before my peers at High Point and made the controversial statement that procurement was killing our profitability and we needed to give it up as a viable revenue stream.

Many of them were shocked, shook their heads, didn’t want to hear it. 

Others sat up straighter in their seats and leaned forward wanting to know more.

This was one of the first times that a successful insider to the design world challenged the broken and failing business model that is now so apparent it can no longer be ignored, even by the head shakers.

When I started coaching other designers in their business, it was quickly obvious that most of our industry dwells in a constant cycle of feast or famine.

Big projects with big budgets allow us to bask in our creativity and get a taste of success. 

But, delivering those projects often comes with long hours, procurement-related headaches, and robs us of the time we need to prime our pipeline for the next client. 

Resulting in gaps between projects that plunge us into the famine phase of the cycle, feeling desperate for that next big project.

In fact, after helping hundreds of designers wrangle their finances, a hard truth emerged: 
Many designers are only a few months away from being completely broke. 

What the established design industry lacks entirely is something foundational to ALL businesses: the ability to scale.

Business as usual is all about finding and signing high-end design clients. Working with million dollar budgets, and long term projects is the dream.

But, only 1% of Americans have annual household incomes over $421,926. 

Think of the best, most lucrative clients. Their incomes are well over that.

So what?

We’re all scrambling to sign people from the tippy-top of the 1%. Continuing to toil away in a procurement nightmare. 

Pushing through the given business model with a paltry 30% profit margin because we don’t see any alternative.
Burnout, rampant undercharging, and the feast/famine cycle are epidemics in Interior Design – It needs to stop. 
We are smart, talented, capable people and accepting anything less than the success and wealth that we deserve is no longer tolerable.

Some of us have already become suspicious that we were lured into the glamorous world of interior design by beautiful magazine spreads, large coffee table books by up-and-coming celebrity designers, and the appeal of having our name on various product lines. 

I’m right there with you friend.

But, something was off. Something didn’t add up. 

Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

There is a high element of ego driving interior design. 

Hey—I get it! 

We’re creatives. 
We have vision.
We bring years of talent, experience, and artistic expression to the table with our work. 

And we deserve the recognition that we’ve earned. 

But, just because you see somebody getting published, getting these luxury projects, getting book deals, getting licensing deals, none of that allure necessarily translates into revenue growth for designers.

So often it's like the tip of an iceberg.

You don't see what's underwater—the lack of profitability, lack of cash flow and beliefs that if you do enough of these things eventually you'll start making money. 

Because of the smoke and mirrors of design—exquisitely staged professionally photographed rooms, partnerships, licensing deals...we wrongly assumed that those achievements translated to success and wealth. 

We’ve been following a path before us that, actually, was all kind of based on a myth! 

Designers around the world are struggling to find their stride of working reasonable hours while making a good living.

A false hope prevails that just on the other side of our next big client is the financial freedom we desire.

It makes us feel like we’re failing. 

Of course, you can name people who have had major success. 

There are always superstars with the right combination of talent, pipeline management, and location privilege, who rise up despite the obstacles in the industry. 

But what about the rest of us?

Nobody is talking about how our industry has failed us, how it’s been set up to fail us for decades.  

Until Now...

We’re going to jump into how to make this right, but first, here’s what you need to know:

It’s not your fault that you’ve been struggling.  

The currently accepted interior design business model sets you up for burnout, feast/famine cycles, and sometimes even failure.

If you are an interior designer that always has a full pipeline, never experiencing gaps between ideal clients, making your dream salary, and working a reasonable amount of time each week (let’s use the standard 40 hour work week as the litmus test)—then you are an exception to this broken model.

However, the landscape of design is changing so quickly that you won’t be immune for long. And, you can easily add elements to your business plan that will ensure your business is future-ready.

What I’m talking about next is for all interior designers, creatives, and all businesses who are ready to emerge from the feast/famine cycle to reclaim their time and their financial freedom. 


1. The generally accepted interior design business model is broken, by trading hours for dollars there is a cap on how much you will ever be able to make.

2. After following the business model given to us, most designers are just a month away from being flat broke.

3. Modern designers joined their profession based on the smoke and mirrors of glamour, without understanding the big picture of profitability.

4. It’s time to pull back the curtain and see new potential in our industry.
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