So, I am going to start by being honest: I’ve fallen into the trap of working with E-Design platforms. It was a quick way to make money, before I got my business off the ground. But that also means I’ve had a peek behind the curtains, and I can say for a fact - they’re a scam. Now, I’m not talking about E-Design across the board - a lot of great designers (including yours truly) offer e-design services. I’m talking the big platforms that offer to “match you up with the perfect designer!” Scam. They’re a scam for clients, and they’re a scam for designers. So here’s all the things those big E-Design platforms don’t want you to know.
Not all “Designers” are Designers
Imagine if you went to meet with your accountant, and after paying them for their services, you find out they’re actually a “finance-hobbyist” and their background and training is actually in sales. When you say “uuhhh, hold on - so you’re not an accountant?” they reply with “well, it’s finance related?” This is the experience of MANY e-design platform clients. Now, you many be thinking - “do you really need a degree in interior design to do it?” And that’s a debate for another post. There are self-taught designers out there who are smart, qualified, and capable of creating a functional and beautiful space. That’s not what we’re talking about here. E-design platforms advertise to “design enthusiasts and traditional designers”, some go as far as to say “no experience needed - just a good eye!” without offering any training. So this means you could be getting a designer with master’s degree in interior architecture and 5 years experience, or you could get Kathy, who like.. read Elle Decor once and has a pinterest account. But you don’t get to decide, and it’s the same price either way.
They Restrict Designer Sourcing
Every platform I have worked for has restricted designers to sourcing from companies that they have contracts with. This means that even though there’s a gorgeous hand-painted end table from a private artist that would look DIVINE with your sofa, we’ll have to pick something different from a big box furniture store - and the best part is, the client never knows there was a better piece out there for them, because they don’t know the designers are restricted! Designers are encouraged to dissuade clients who find pieces they love from vendors outside of the approved vendor lists. So even if a designer loves that one of a kind painting you found on Etsy, they have to encourage you to get a mass produced print from Crate + Barrel instead.
Designers Make Less Than Minimum Wage
Designers are required to check in every single day with updates and revisions, weekends included. When I was working on E-Design platforms, on average I’d spend about 20 hours on a single room project. And when the payout it 75-200 dollars after the platform takes it’s cut.. well, you do the math. Designers are also docked pay if a client doesn’t love it. Reminder - designers are limited to a handful of vendors, without the client knowing, which can make for some pretty restricted designs. I once had a client who wanted “as many handmade items as possible” and when I delivered a design that was as required by the platform, and they were displeased because it lacked original items (which.. same) the platform withheld my pay.
You Don’t Pick Your Designer
A designer should be a very personal decision - matching personalities, budgets, and style should all come into play. When you sign up for an e-design platform and they have you complete a “Find Your Style” survey to “find the right designer for you!” You know what that is? You guessed it! A scam. On the back end, designers check off their style, but are encouraged to “check all the boxes to access as many clients as possible.” That means that minimalist design you’re looking for may be assigned to a designer who’s signature look is rustic vintage. Yikes.
Designers are Required to Aim for the Top of Your Budget
Just in case you thought it couldn’t get any less ethical.. here we are. Designers are encouraged to aim for the higher end of your budget. If your budget was 2k-5k, you better believe you’re getting a 5k design.. even it could have been a 3k. As a designer, I get an absolute thrill when I find a great deal for a client. No such thing on these platforms. Laurel and Wolf (RIP) would actually block designers from submitting projects that came in under budget. That meant we had to find more expensive alternatives to items we selected before ever even showing the client the design! Ick.
Designers: You’ll be Robbed of your Identity
This one is for the designers who are considering offering services through a platform. Read those contracts very carefully - nearly every platform keeps the rights to your designs. Which means they can advertise with them, removing your name completely. This also means - they aren’t your designs. So even though you did every ounce of work and were the sole point of contact with the client - you have no rights to the images you created.
So, what does this all mean for you? Are you destined to either drop tens of thousands on a full design service or settle for the low quality offerings of e-design? Nope - there are tons of e-designers who offer services at a comparable rate! Take some time to research and find a designer that’s right for you!
Some things to look for:
Qualifications - are they accredited or have a degree? How long have they been practicing?
Portfolio - do they at least have SOME pictures of work they’ve done? Do they match your style?
Cost - this varies by project and scope for most designers, so you’ll probably have to reach out for pricing!
There are tons of talented, affordable designers out there - don’t go through a platform because it seems easier in the moment. It’ll cost you your budget, good design and your sanity.