02 Feb

Do I Really Need to Go to Market?

10704180_10152494869712672_2399195704626047477_nRecently, I was asked this exact question. So, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share why Jackie and I feel Market is a MUST. We understand that designers who have never been can either be intimidated to go; assume it is not a good use of their money or time or just really don’t understand what it is. But, HP becomes the center of the design universe twice a year. With almost everyone in our industry all in one place, Market provides unparalleled opportunities. Here’s our top six reasons to go to Market.

  1. The depth and breadth of products. This almost goes without saying. High Point like other markets or shows is a one stop shop. From flagship showrooms showing every piece in their catalog to new brands launching their inaugural lines, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store.KiLimhomeDJEMuniquedesign-1135
  2. Nothing beats seeing it in person. Latest product launches are great, but more importantly, you get to see what a piece is really like.  Especially in this digital age- a finish, a color, patina, or texture- all of these can’t always be conveyed digitally successfully. Not to mention scale and proportion, there is also something to be said for the emotional connection between viewer and piece. Seeing it up close and personal you get a feeling or it conveys a mood. IMG_4014
  3. Spotting and validating trends. I know this is one of those overworked buzz words in the industry, but going to Market keeps you ahead-of-the-curve. Example: we saw tufted upholstery starting to wane last Spring and being replaced with tuck and roll looks, channels and diamonds. That conclusion came from being at Market and I can now use that information in working with clients especially when they are purchasing investment pieces.market ambella
  4. Learning the design narrative and backstory. It’s not about just seeing the objects, but the story and inspiration behind the collection and brand. Every piece has a story to tell about the designers whose brainchild it was, people who built it from the ground up.market arteriors
  5. Build a better bottom line.  Better product choices can lead to more profitable margins. Catalogs can always deliver the message. Its those one- of- a-kind discoveries or the hidden treasures you otherwise wouldn’t have known about that have can give you better margins and help you position your brand.market wesleyhall-0144
  6. Building relationships in person can deliver value season after season, no matter the economic climate.  Markets have a longstanding reputation as the best place to create and cultivate a successful networks. “You’d be amazed at what manufacturers will do for you when you ask.” through face-to-face communication and eye-to-eye contact.market mastour-7881
  7. Unequaled Networking. Last, but certainly not least is all the amazing networking. To be surrounded by people who are driven by the same passion is an experience that is enlightening and energizing.

If you are a new professional and even if you have a degree in interior design you probably only had a semester or 2 of materials and specs class. If it’s a second career for you- again you haven’t had the type of exposure to products, materials, innovation that you’ll see at market. market design legacy

Join us on the High Point Market VIP tour and experience it for yourself! 


21 Jan

Get to Know the Bienenstock Furniture Library

Bienenstock furniture library

We love to share resources and sources with our Soft Design community, so from time to time we’ll choose one and give you more in-depth info on the companies, services and platforms we love. Today we’d like to introduce you to a one-of-a-kind insider resource, the Bienenstock Furniture Library. The Furniture Library exists to further knowledge and preserve the history of furniture, interior design and the decorative arts.

With 5,000+ furniture and design specific volumes, it is the largest furniture specialty library in the world and holds the world’s largest such collection that is open and free to all. The Furniture Library’s rare book room houses 350+ volumes published since 1543, including original works of 18th century furniture masters Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, and a complete 26-volume set of Diderot Encyclopedia c.1776. This is one of the few places, if not the only, in the world where—by appointment— design professionals, scholars, students, and the public can don a pair of white gloves and examine the original works of the pioneer designers.

Bienenstock Furniture Library_Chippendale_rare books

The Library’s open stacks—available any time you choose to drop by— include 5000+ texts, catalogs and magazines (such as 100 years of Antiques Magazine issues), covering international design history from ancient Greece until present day. Topics include art, architecture, furniture design, style, history, all significant design periods, wood and wood working, interior design, scaled drawings, window treatments, paint and paint finishes, textiles, clocks, porcelain, glass and much more. [Included in the Library’s collection: Design Directory of Window Treatments, by our own Jackie Von Tobel.]

Bienenstock library

Simply open a book on the Library’s shelves, and you can find rare drawings, furniture details, historic color swatches, international design specialties—a treasure trove of inspiration, information, and illustration for anyone interested in design. And, though little known outside the industry, the Furniture Library is located right in the heart of High Point Market. In fact, the HP Market Authority itself describes the Library as: “Like No Other Place On Earth, a truly unique resource for working designers.” Read more about what the Market has to say about Furniture Library, here.

Bienenstock Furniture Library_open stacks


As a non-profit organization, the Bienenstock Furniture Library provides most all of it’s services at no charge. The Library’s staff will be happy to answer any of your questions by email, phone, or in person. An Advisory Board of professional interior designers, college professors and design industry members assist in answering questions on selected topics. For instance, the Library can help you determine the style or period design of a piece of furniture.

Scholarship/Design Competition

Each year, a number of interior design and furniture design students are awarded scholarships through the The Bienenstock Furniture and Interior Design Competition. To date, the Library has awarded more than $450,000 in scholarships.

The Bienenstock Interior Design Scholarship is awarded by juried competition in a residential/commercial based project, directed and sponsored in partnership with ASID. Entrants complete a project to a set of provided instructions and commercial specifications. 1st place winner receives $5000, 2nd place $1500, and the 1st place winner’s school receives $1000 for it’s design department. 2017 judges are: Christi Spangle, June Anderson, Bri Verstat, Rose Dotal, Kara Cox, Gwen Emery, Jessica Alpert and Marilyn Russell.

Bienenstock furniture library 1

The Bienenstock Furniture Design Scholarship is awarded by a juried chair design competition, judged in partnership with ASFD. 1st place winner receives $5000, 2nd place $1500, and the 1st place winner’s school receives a $1000 for it’s design department. 2017 judges are: Dudley Moore, Jr.; Richard Frinier, Scott Coley, Danny Davis, Rick Schroeder, Royale Wiggin and Paul Brayton.

2017 Bienenstock Furniture Library Scholars will be announced in March. Any junior/senior or graduate student majoring in any design related field and attending a United States school or university is eligible to compete in the annual Bienenstock scholarship competition. If you or someone you know is eligible, the Library invites you to enter during the next competition. Details here.

RARE BOOKS Preservation

The Library’s rare books are housed in a climate and humidity controlled environment with monitored usage and white glove only access. The Library is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of it’s rare books in their original format, and has begun a Sponsor-A-Book effort to repair and rebind every volume, as appropriate, through grants and private donations. Rare and important books are awaiting funds for rebinding conservation and preservation. 

If you, or an organization of which you are a member, share the passion to preserve design knowledge and artifacts, the Library invites you to sponsor a book.


While in High Point, and especially amid the 12-hours fast-paced days of High Point Market, the Bienenstock Furniture Library invites you to use the Library’s facilities—and it’s beautifully planted sculpture garden—as a place of rest and respite. You can hop onto a “Go-Anywhere Shuttle” and be delivered to the Library within five minutes.


Hadley Court Center_at Bienenstock Furniture Library_1Should you or your organization have a meeting or special event to host during High Point Market, the Library invites you to use its high-tech Hadley Court Center for Design Collaboration, conference rooms, or its beautiful Pat Plaxico Sculpture Gardens sculpture garden and cottage house for alfresco dinners and gatherings.

Bienenstock Furniture Library_Plaxico Sculpture Garden


FOR QUESTIONS + DETAI LS, the Library invites you to contact director Karla Webb at info@furniturelibrary.com, www.furniturelibrary.com, or join the conversation at:




24 Mar

Off to Market

You’ve done all the planning, packed your suitcase and you’re off to the show. Now what?

At the show

Arrive early and get your hands on a map and a directory. I map out which showrooms I am going to hit and in what order each day, High Point is a big place and you can waste a lot of time waiting for shuttles if you have to criss-cross market, building to building if you didn’t lay out a plan.

Refer to your schedule periodically throughout the day so that you can stay on track and see all of the vendors you want to. How? Set push notifications on your phone thru the Reminders app or your calendar.

Get to know the shuttle system. There are two types of shuttles- downtown shuttles – the Red line and Green line that run a route and make specific stops. The Go Anywhere van which will take you anywhere within a 3 mile radius of city limits between the hours of 7:30 am and 8:30 pm.

Re-evaluate your list the night before the last day at Market and see if you need to revise your schedule and re-prioritize your day to make sure that you see the vendors you need to before the show ends.

Don’t just grab every brochure that’s offered to you. Collect the information that is of interest to you or that could be valuable to others in your company. Ask for catalogs to be mailed to you or if they are available digitally.

Divide and conquer if you are bringing employees. Take advantage of show specials, discounts and sales. Check freight costs and delivery dates.

No matter how tired you are, attend a few seminars.  Check out the educational event schedule on Market website. There are always great and compelling topics being discussed. Target industry leaders and contacts you want to meet. Spend some time each day circulating and schmoozing.

4-drohanyou are planning to purchase any custom merchandise, bring your artwork and other files on a flash drive. Most vendors are equipped with laptops and can quickly send the data to the appropriate department.

Keep track of orders placed so you’ll stay within your budget.

3.  After the Show

After the show is over, be sure to keep in touch with your contacts, send out LinkedIn invitations and follow through with your new connections. All of your efforts are wasted if you don’t.  (I recommend waiting a week or so, both parties can catch up.)

Finally, the most important thing you can do is to show up. Just being at Market is the most important thing. Don’t underestimate the power of being there.

Thinking about coming to Market, but think it’s too late to get a room  or a flight?  Don’t have the time to do all the planning?  Join our  VIP #HPMKT Experience tour April 15-20, 2016. Spend the week with market experts, Deb Barrett and Jackie Von Tobel- that’s us. We take care of all of the planning and logistics, so you can concentrate on the show and having a great time. We’ll guide you through the ins and outs, and sometimes overwhelming High Point Market. It’s a must- do to increase your revenue, maximize your product mix and build your brand.

hpmkt sIDER aPRIL 16

21 Mar

What to Bring to Market


I am a “more is better” kind of girl so I definitely over pack and still end up not putting something in my suitcase that I need for Market. Jackie is much more organized- even pulling all her outfits together beforehand and getting a “visual” on her clothes rack before packing. So with loads of trial and error and Markets under our belt , here is our essential packing checklist:

Pack Extra Clothes and Shoes: You never know if you might decide to wear something different or need to change to keep looking your best. Always bring extra shoes and remember that Market requires a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes. If you don’t have an outfit that goes from work to dinner seamlessly, go shopping before the show.  (Who doesn’t like a little retail therapy.) April means an umbrella. Oh, and NEVER bring new shoes to Market without breaking them in… You’ll know in an hour that it was a bad idea.

Bring an Extra Duffle Bag: You will pick up catalogs, promotional products, and possibly even purchase merchandise that you can take with you at the show, so you will need an extra bag to get them home. Shhh.. an insider tip is that the you can cash and carry statement jewelry and handbags not to mention small vintage, antiques and artisan crafts.


One of my favorites at Market- Pyar and Co. a decorative pillow and trim manufacturer-will have these amazing bags in her booth.


I snagged these embellished vintage cans at Last market

Business Cards: Have your business cards ready and hand plenty out to everyone you meet. Bring three times as many business cards as you think you will need. Blogger, product designer, decorator, freelance writer? Bring business cards for all your business ventures.

Craft a one sheet and attach your business card it makes it easier to open accounts and takes less time. (Be sure to have a pen and notepad to take important notes.)

Download and print the High Point Maps available before you arrive. Use the map to plan your daily itinerary. There are over 100 buildings and some manufacturers are several miles away from downtown.


Create a checklist. You should have a checklist of all your must see vendors and must do events during the show. That way you can be sure not to miss any of the things you want to see at the show. Load it into your phone or iPad for easy access. I use Goggle Calendar. but Reminders or Remember the Milk are great task management apps too.

Don’t forget a: roller bag or tote, iPad or smartphone for pics, water bottle, aspirin, phone charger( a MUST).

Next up: our tips on how to maneuver Market once you get there.

hpmkt sIDER aPRIL 16

images via Pyar and Co., High Point Market

19 Mar

Ten Things You Need to Know To Maneuver Market


Pre show planning is the key to having a successful Market trip. Here are 10 things you need to do before getting on the plane for North Carolina.

1. Make a plan. The worst way to go to a trade show is unprepared. You need a goal and objectives!

2. Spend some time checking out the trade show’s website- http://www.highpointmarket.org  What companies are going to be there? Which ones do you already have accounts with? Don’t discount visiting showrooms you have accounts with. You will see the depth and breadth of their offerings in person not in the pages of a catalog; plus you can discuss discounts, sales, shipping or any other challenges with the right person. Are any of them potential new accounts?

3. Create a hit list of manufacturers and companies you want to see. Spend a little time researching the vendors, so that you’ll have a clear idea of who you need to see, and what you need to learn from them. That way you’ll have useful questions to ask, and will have to waste a minimum amount of time with small talk. Check out Soft Design Lab’s Hit List HERE.

4. Start scheduling appointments with your reps/ showrooms. Decide how much time you want to spend at the show, and then allot an appropriate amount to each appointment-making sure to schedule the ‘must see’ booths first.

5. Create a realistic budget. Consider travel expenses: ground transportation, accommodations (ask employees to share rooms if possible), meals, snacks, giveaways and the cost of being out of the office for a few days

6. Plan your travel and accommodations. Demand trumps supply at High Point so be prepared to pay more for what you might consider a below average hotel. When making your hotel reservation be prepared to stay in Greensboro, Winston Salem or surrounding areas that are 30 minutes or more from Market . Make sure your hotel is on one of the Market hotel shuttle routes and consider also shuttle departure times.  Most shuttle stop running in the morning at 9:00 AM and in the evening at  8:45 PM. Take advantage of early-bird discounts travel and hotel accommodations.  If you are flying into one of the three area airports, reserve your seat on an airport shuttle to/from the airport and plan accordingly.

7. Download the Uber app.  Uber has come to HP and in a pinch after a showroom party or dinner it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get home.

8. Register for Market.  Where? Visit High Point Market Authority’s website or click HERE.

9. Download and use the My Market App at http://www.highpointmarket.org/mymarket  High Point Market’s online planning tool. It allows you to customize your Market schedule, to find exhibitors, select educational seminars and social events, and to save all of your selections in a personal itinerary.

10. Once you have all your appointments set, make a daily agenda that includes all of the vendors. Use Goggle Calendar or Reminders app to schedule- love those alarm reminders and push notifications! Always schedule some extra time because you are bound to run over some appointments or might take a little longer to see something new and meet someone.


While you are at it, be sure to schedule your time after show is over each night. Attending manufacturer parties after the show is great for networking. You also should schedule in some time to do some homework each night after the show. By homework, I mean reviewing each of the vendors you saw that day, comparing notes and compiling ideas for possible orders so that you can take advantage of trade show specials, exclusives or future projects.

Next Up: We’ll give you a list of what to pack for Market.

hpmkt sIDER aPRIL 16

13 Jan

Design Resolutions You Should Do in 2016

Before Jackie and I are off on more design adventures across the globe, we both did our annual first- of -the- year business organization, declutter cleanse and resolve.  Here are our favorite curated Design Resolutions You Should Do for 2016.

1. Spend More Time with Your Design Family


Despite all the work required of a lone designer like myself, I resolve to find the time to attend events and meetups. They are my “design family”. They inspire me, ground me, and help mentor my decisions. Branch out, build relationships, and spend time with other designers. If you haven’t found your design family quite yet, you could possibly:

  • Go to meetups – from Dribble to General Assembly to Creative Live and more
  • Join an online design group Facebook, Pinterest and others all have great groups. We like Interior Design Community and Designer ER Therapy on Facebook.
  • Join an organization like WITHIT

2. Skip the juice cleanse and do a digital detox instead.

ddetoxA digital detox -switching off all mobiles, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers for a certain length of time enables you to relax, recharge and do whatever you enjoy. And what is that?… Some of us have been so hunkered down in the business bunker, we don’t know what we would enjoy anymore. A detox is generally recommended to ideally be around 24 hours long as a minimum and to build up to 72 hours.

I resolve to turnoff my digital devices every Saturday and get out there.  Jackie resolves to turn off the laptop at least 2 hours before bedtime every night.

3. Declutter your workspace


Jackie at Cynthia Rowley’s Floral Desk

The honeymoon period for working on your laptop in bed is officially over. We’re reserving the bedroom for more important things. With that said, the desk and a dedicated workspace are making a comeback in 2016. House Beautiful, Style Beat and others are declaring that desks are having a moment. And why not with so many fabulous options on the market. So treat yourself and design an exquisite workspace like you would for a customer. After all where do we spend most of our time?

If you are diving into that office reorganization here are some tips-

Get rid of tax documents before 2008. Check with your accountant to make sure you don’t have to keep something because of specific circumstances.

Get rid of all those old electronics.  Take to the Internet and sell them or donate them. Another thing you should dump? VHS tapes, cassettes, or any other technology that you can almost guarantee won’t be making a comeback — ever.

Stand While You Work. When journalist and co-author of The Art of Doing Camille Sweeney had to interview 15 prominent newsmakers in just a few days, she made her calls standing. “This was the year I got out of my chair and on to my feet at my desk,” she says. “It’s made such a difference.” Before Sweeny’s portable standing desk arrived in the mail, she improvised and put her laptop on top of a nine-inch square cardboard box on her desk. Now she alternates every few hours between sitting and standing.

4. Cross at least one destination off your travel bucket list.


I did this last year and it was life altering! My tip for you- get it our there. Don’t just dream it;  get it out of your head by talking about it. Verbalizing your intention will help you make it happen.

Blatant plug- Join Jackie and I for the VIP High Point Market Experience at Spring Market

5. Start a side project.


It isn’t just a way to kill time. It is a powerful way to explore your passion, experiment with different ideas, pick up new skills, and develop your own aesthetic as a designer. Your side project could be anything. Just find something you are interested in doing and commit. You could:

  • Open up an online store on Etsy with your design goodies
  • Write and design a book
  • Contribute to an open-source project
  • Volunteer your design skills to a non-profit
  • Create your own textiles

Ohh and finally… and Drink more Champagne…


For more of our Resolutions You Should Make in 2016; see our latest Take Ten on Soft Design Lab TV. 


14 Jan

The Genius Project


“Say it loud and if you already have one, wear it proud.”

At High Point Market in October Jackie and I were deeply honored to receive a Genius button from Mary Knackstedt as part  of her Genius Project. So when we spoke with Mary at HP about the Genius Project we were all in. Not only is she an industry icon who we admire greatly; but we champion her cause.  We have to admit after receiving the buttons to award to someone in our circles we felt a huge responsibility in making sure that who we chose met the criteria that is the Genius Project’s vision. It was daunting, but also liberating- making us step back, reflect and look for the geniuses among us.

After  working in the soft furnishings and window covering niches successfully for decades my mantra has been Specialize and Collaborate- You can’t be all things to all people. Not to mention, as design educators we also believe like Mary that accreditation needs to be reviewed and  brought into the 21st century. The design landscape is changing dramatically and we must change along with it.  Here is the story behind the Genius Project in Mary’s own words from this month’s Design Today’s From the Ranks column. It’s so worth the few minutes it takes to read.



In the early 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright was essentially a world famous, but unemployed architect. His career trajectory altered for the better only when he began working in concert with skilled apprentices. There is an important lesson here for interior designers today.The field of interior design has become so extensive that one person simply cannot know it all. Yet our clients expect us to know it all and be responsible for everything that we do. This is a very tall order, and in order to fulfill it, we need to collaborate closely with other knowledgeable professionals. The fact is, if we expect to work with excellence, we just can’t do it alone. This means that it is becoming more vital than ever to identify the geniuses among us and to create relationships that will enable each of us to raise the level of our profession. At the recently concluded High Point Market, you may have noticed people wearing small black buttons with the word “Genius” printed in white. Or, you may have been given one to wear yourself. At many Market events, the buttons were instant conversation- starters, either between people wearing them, or people questioning those who were wearing them what it was all about.

Here’s the scoop: I created the genius button concept because I believe it is imperative to get to know the home furnishings industry’s best and brightest, the experts in every field, if we are to move forward. I had a limited number of genius buttons produced, and I shared half of them with a well-connected industry friend just as Market was about to begin. Together, we set about awarding buttons to individuals across all categories and specialties who we know to be exceptional in what they do and bring to our industry. To each of these people, we gave two buttons: One to wear, and one to award to someone else in their circle of influence, since it takes one to know one. Think of the genius button project as old-school social media that very quickly went viral. I launched the concept because so many companies today are using licensed names, stars of television or other media, to represent their products. That’s fine from a consumer standpoint, but unfortunately, these “names” mean nothing to the professional designer. We need to know the people—often behind the scenes— who really know their company’s products.

Frankly, I think we need to focus on the work. In seminar after seminar, I hear so much about personal branding, but I really believe that our individual brands are developed by the quality of the work we do, not just by mastering the art of marketing and publicity. Rather than focusing on self-promotion, to be truly successful in the field, I believe designers must:

1.) Figure out our strengths.

2) Determine the market that is appropriate for our abilities

3.) Create a system for presenting our special ability.

When we have an area in which we are truly experts, we are very happy to take full responsibility for what we do, but it is really frightening when clients expect a designer to be totally responsible for a project, and the designer does not have a full spectrum of the knowledge required, or the supporting team that is required to get the job done right.

If we are to be creative and try new things as designers, we must make certain we’re using new products appropriately. Otherwise, we can get into a lot of trouble. Additionally, as designer will tell you, clients expect us to know how to fix all the problems. So it is imperative that we develop resources that will work with us and above all ensure that we are using their products appropriately. These resources must also be willing to partner with us on the responsibility regarding the use of those products.

Enter the genius button. Awarded to those who care deeply about their craft and who are really passionate about what they do. Have you got yours yet? Our clients today want to know much more about the products they purchase. They want more technical information. By presenting this technical information to them, they realize that our recommendations are not just our personal preferences, but that there are substantive reasons behind each of the selections. In essence, clients today are buying the stories behind the products. They want to hear about the personalities who have sacrificed and exerted exceptional effort to create the products that will become a part of their environments. They want to know what inspired them. Presenting these stories well creates excitement, and affords our clients the ability to share the stories with their family and friends.

For many years I have talked to ASID and anyone else who would listen about the fact that our field needs to have more specialized categories. Instead of just taking the general NCIDQ qualifying exam, we need to be tested and accredited in individual specialties. Imagine, for example, kitchen specialists, lighting specialists, medical facilities specialists, technical laboratories, residential specialists, work environments specialists, and on and on. This type of advanced interior design accreditation would make a tremendous difference in the organization, and also the level of practice within each category. It would also be an excellent opportunity to introduce the specialists within each of the product categories to each other. Until then, we have the genius button. Awarded to those who care deeply about their craft and who are really passionate about what they do. Now, when you see someone wearing one, you’ll know to ask them about their special genius. And you can tell them about yours.

We’ll be keeping the project going next week at Design and Construction Week- the perfect storm of shows and markets.  Look for us and our Genius buttons.



Mary’s article from Design Today From the Ranks column, January 2015.

22 Sep


Over the past couple of years as designers have worked hard to redefine our industry and carve out new niches and business models  an alarming trend has emerged.  Individuals of questionable levels of design education, experience, training, and practice are claiming DESIGN EXPERT status in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the pack. 

Claims are wide ranging and are worded to  place the person behind them at the very top of the ever growing pile of competitors.






The problem with these claims the use of one little world – THE .   These individuals are not just claiming that they are experts in a segment of design or design in general, they are claiming that they are THE TOP DESIGN EXPERT, THE KING OF THE MOUNTAIN, THE BE ALL AND END ALL OF KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTISE.

The definition of EXPERT is:  A person who has special skill or advanced knowledge in some particular field.

The definition of THE TOP EXPERT is:  A single person who has more special skills and advanced knowledge than anyone else in a particular field.

While there are many levels of expertise in any given subject there can only be one top spot.  The problem that I have with using this verbiage to describe your individual skill level is that there is no way for anyone to vet your skill level and it is easy for anyone to make a similar claim.

In his book The OutliersMalcom Gladwell illustrates that exceedingly successful people who become top leaders in their fields have spent on average, approximately 10,000 hours of totally immersive study and practice, over at least 10 years honing their skills and perfecting their craft.

At the very least I think we can all agree that it takes many years of  education, study and practice to become proficient enough at anything to become and expert at it.  Attending one lecture or online course, or reading a pamphlet on a subject is simply not enough to certify a person with expert status.

Today it is very easy for anyone to find information on any subject online and reword it as their own hard earned knowledge and many people seem to be taking this shortcut to set themselves up as the go to source for a particular niche.  The problem with this scenario is that without doing the hard work themselves they are merely putting out borrowed information that they don’t truly understand and calling it expert advice at the same time.

I have seen some really unbelievable example’s of this online lately from misleading blog posts to  lectures full of inaccurate information at trade shows and industry events, to “advice from the EXPERTS columns” in leading shelter magazines that are giving out incorrect information.

As an industry of professionals it is vital that we have industry standards and best practices that have a basis founded in legitimate expertise and experience so that the quality of service, workmanship and product has a level of excellence and  consistency that the buying public can rely upon.


In addition to this self appointed, top of the pile “DESIGN EXPERT some individuals are also handing out their own private brand of NICHE CERTIFICATION  to other designers who frequent their websites or blogs, attend classes given by them or buy self published booklets they have produced.  This is unaccredited certification for sale to anyone and it is a potentially dangerous trend that will undermine legitimate accreditation and weaken our industry.

Certification is defined by Wikipedia as:   The confirmation of certain characteristics of a person. This confirmation is often, but not always, provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit. Accreditation is a specific organization’s process of certification.

There are very few professions in which members can appoint themselves as certifying bodies and hand out official certifications to their peers.  A lawyer cannot grant another person a certification stating that he is an expert in law.  That person must go to law school, pass his Bar exam and become legally licensed in order to call himself a lawyer.  In the area of design we have many legitimate organizations that provide the education and guidance necessary for an individual to garner certification on a variety of niche topics.


Certification usually consists of the following component’s:

  1. Intensive, scaled, and targeted education provided by instructors sanctioned by the certifying body.
  2. A standardized test of your skill level administered by the certifying body.
  3. Continuing education to keep your skills fresh and current as a condition of continued certification.

My advise is to leave certification to the legitimate licensing bodies.  Don’t fall for false and empty certification scams.

Certification vs A Certificate of Attendance, Participation, or Achievement.

An alternative to an official certification that can be a benefit to the individual designer is a Certificate of Attendance, Participation, or Achievement.  This type of document certifies that a person has participated in or attended an educational event.  This is a legitimate document that anyone providing educational content or events can award to their attendees without crossing the blurred lines of official certification.

Any designer can proudly display such a certificate without any doubt to its validity.



I would advise anyone that if they are seeking out advanced or continuing education in design that they do some homework and at least Google the individual or group offering that education to see if they are truly legitimate.  Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  1. How long have they been practicing in their particular area of expertise?   Is this a new niche for them?  Do they have a history of providing education in this niche or are they just now jumping on the bandwagon?
  2. What type of formal education do they have in this niche?
  3. What type of certification do they have in their particular field?
  4. Are they affiliated with professional organizations or associations in their field?
  5. Are they recognized by their peers as an industry expert or are they just tacking expert onto their name?
  6. Have they published books or professional articles on their subject of expertise? If they are advertising themselves as authors do they have a legitimate publisher or are they selling self published material.  The term author is historically reserved for professionally published writers and as the author of 4 books for the trade it is a distinction that is very hard to earn and one that I cherish as such.  That being said, self published material can be very well put together and full of real expert education and information – just be wary of the “fluff”  that some people are generating right now.
  7. Have any of your peers taken any of their classes or purchased educational products from them?  What was their opinion of the material?

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Experience vs Education

Education and Certification do not always trump life experience. There are many individuals who have honed their skills over years of practice and have become true experts in their fields and excellent teachers in their own right.  Most of the time they will have well documented proof of expertise on their websites and a long history of practicing their craft that you can easily track.


The educational landscape in Design is getting more crowded everyday and there is an increase in competition for every dollar being spent and every open slot at educational events. Unfortunately there is no easy way for you to know who is legit and who is faking it. So it is up to you to do the research and make the judgment call on whether or not the person in question has some real substance and good information.  If you do take some time to vet the people who are offering you their services you should have no trouble finding great educational opportunities.