Do We Really Still Need An Interior Designer?



As an interior designer with over 25 years of experience, both domestically and regionally, I have noticed the phenomenon of consumers themselves opting to play the role of an interior designer for their home renovation in more economically advanced countries like Singapore, Malaysia and China. Many consumers are already questioning the rationale and justification behind the need to hire an interior designer or one-stop-shop renovator when they could quite literally carry out most of the works themselves either through DIY or engaging contractors “piecemeal” to carry out the works and saving a bunch of money and as well as heartache dealing with errant IDs. 


For them, these thoughts would circle in their head:


“What is the real value of hiring an Interior Designer?”


“So many horror stories about engaging Interior Designers…”


“I think this is how we can save more by not getting these designers to do the renovation for us.”



And what with all the expert opinions and ideas that you can find from the internet and social platforms. Consumers and even people in the trade are getting all sorts of inspirations, product and material knowledge, price points and they are doing it without the need to interact with a human who homeowners feel might give wrong advice or have an agenda (trying to make a buck). In short, the internet and its wealth of information is becoming an equalizer for the consumers and we are seeing the users taking control of how they want to design, how they spend and how they dress up their home.


Vendors and merchants are also more upfront in their marketing these days. Gone are the days where they had to rely on the designers to propagate on their behalf and be their advocates. With the rise of social media, they are communicating directly to the consumers. Their purpose is to let homeowners directly know about their products’ merits, usefulness, differentiations, costings, and services. What this ultimately means, is that Interior designers and one-stop-shops no longer seem to have monopoly and control in dictating the choice of products, suppliers, vendors, and merchants. The consumers are the one with the deciding voice now.

This shift got exacerbated even further during the pandemic. The residential renovation demand was still high despite the lockdowns. In fact, home purchases were growing, and the pandemic made sure that all sorts of research had to be conducted online. Zoom and webinars, live streaming shows, google reviews and social postings all took over and became the way that we communicated, researched, and purchased. 


Fast forward to current state, many have started to move pass this reliance on a one stop shop or interior designer. We have to seriously ask ourselves, “Is it even possible that homeowners can learn everything about interior design online? Will they be able to play the role of an ID effectively? Or will this evolve into something that begins to transform the industry, further? 




If we were to conduct an interview of 10 family who had renovated before and chances are, we will get 8 out of 10 of them complaining about their experiences.  As I had explained in one of my earlier articles  ( https://www.sixides.com/articles/spilling-the-beans-4-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-id-industry-in-sg), renovation is a rite of passage for many new homeowners in Singapore. Coupled with infrequent home purchasing, most people will not renovate as often as opposed to  buying a pack of nasi lemak for breakfast. For some fortunate few, they may renovate up to 3 times or more in their lifetime. But for the majority of us, we will most likely renovate 1-2 times and in these times, it is possibly at different stages of our lives:




  • FIRST TIMER – usually dream home aspirants, tight budget, values aesthetics over function, willing to dedicate more personal time and get ‘hands-on’ to achieve what they want;


  • UPGRADERS – usually the family has grown bigger due to having kids, they require more storage and value ease of maintenance, usually have better budget but are generally unable to dedicate more ‘hands on’ time on project, want someone to ‘settle’ for them;


  • SILVER GEN – usually older or senior folks whose children have grown and are ‘leaving the nest’ (getting married, overseas education/postings) and are either downgrading to smaller new units or are renovating to elder proof and because their current property is run down due to years of usage and abuse (especially in the kitchen and bathrooms)


In between each of these stages, we could be talking about decades apart. The needs and fancies are different and of course the available technology and materiality would also have changed quite a fair bit. Hence, the idea of having an expert like an interior designer or a one-stop-shop to carry out the design and renovation seemed justified and necessary. Especially for the Upgraders and the Silver Generation. 


But herein lies the issue, many of the one-stop ID firms are currently more focused on the first timers, that is the ‘dream home aspirants’. They (the dream home aspirants) are easier to sell with forms and aesthetics. Since first homes are usually an emotional affair with tight budgets, firms capitalize on this to offer $30K deals and hire young salespeople (who may or may not be trained in Interior design) to play the role as designers, who speak the same ‘language’ know what people of their age want and value to ‘emotionally’ trigger the first timers into buying into the ‘dream home renovation’. Many of the tactics includes, visually stunning 3D renders, bringing the homeowners to large showrooms to visit reputable brands and their products to add legitimacy to their pitch. 



As HDB dictates that all renovating firms need to operate with a valid HDB license ( https://services2.hdb.gov.sg/webapp/BN31AWERRCMobile/BN31PContractorResult.jsp), the first timer will also see this as an important benchmark to whether the firm is legitimate. Coupled with all these and meeting the budget, it is easy to close the sale. However, possessing an HDB license only means that the firm has met the minimum requirements in understanding the HDB building code and renovation guidelines as set by HDB. If they remain compliant during renovation, they will not receive any demerit points. 


In truth, an HDB license is not an indicator of design credentials, positive consumer feedbacks or firm capabilities. A license is just a license, like an individual with a 20-year driver’s license is hardly an indicator that the driver is an expert race car driver. At best, current accreditations from associations works like a verified expert, it hardly sheds any light on the firm’s performance or track record. Which is why consumers seemed to have put more faith on Google, Facebook reviews these days. 


As much as I enjoy reading “savage” Google reviews, I realized that this is not a fair way to determine the interior designers’ or renovators’ ratings. As opposed to food reviews or shopping experiences, renovation is not only complex, but it usually takes months from first interactions to material selection, price and costings discussions, execution and eventually completion and handover. When things go wrong, a certain percentage of disgruntled homeowners see this as an opportunity to seek redress and to air their frustrations and grievances occurred during the home renovation. Ironically, the good ones, the diligent ones usually go under the radar and may not even have proper Google reviews done on them.



It is in our belief that, firms operating as Interior Design consultancies, or one-stop-shop renovation firms need to have a higher benchmark or standards for consumers to easily identify and determine who or which firm is best suited for them. At the current moment, the best the consumers can do, is research the firms on Google or Facebook review, visit a bunch of renovation platforms/portals, watch their home reveal videos, follow their social pages and type “scam” next to their firms’ name whenever they googled them. 



Of course it does not help that CASE yearly reports that renovation is the leading consumer complaints in Singapore. It is no wonder that consumers are growing wary and tired of our industry. In our opinion, the homeowners are the top of the food chain in the industry, and they are now armed with many game-changing, trade equalizing platforms, like Lazada, Google reviews and Pinterest.  Consumers are opting to be the driver of their own destination.




On the other side of the coin, hiring a real professional will help blind spot many factors that homeowners may neglect such as future planning, safety issues, appliances and product differentiation and the optimization of space planning solutions.


The latter, optimum space planning is usually something a well exposed and trained designer can do very well. Let me give you an example: 


A typical approach most people will take in designing the sample layout above is to use the designated rooms as per what was labelled. Aesthetics and storages will be added into the space and the renovation will be a conservative approach to space planning. In short there is little value creation and optimization to the space.


Here’s what an experienced interior designer, Benjamin (M2 Décor:   https://www.sixides.com/professionals/interior-designers/m2-decor )can do to the same layout for a family of 3  (2 parents and 1 daughter).



Description automatically generated

Image courtesy of  M2 Décor


While not compromising on usage and storage, the designer had designed a generous walk-in-wardrobe for the parents and created a comfortable living hall complete with a functional kitchen with an island dining table. Of course, all projects and homeowner’s requirements are unique, the purpose of this example is to illustrate how, in the hands of an experienced designer, they can quite literally enhance the value and spatial opportunities of the layout based on the homeowner’s unique requirements. In the case study above, Benjamin anticipated that the daughter who is currently 26 years old is considering marriage to an overseas boyfriend in 2 year’s time. As such, the elder couple felt the need of an official dining table could be replaced to something that will work better for them for now and in future.


When faced with a professional designer, who could value add, we would assume that most homeowners would be happy to leave the ‘heavy lifting’ of the design and build project to the professional. 


And to help homeowners identify designers who can carry out the design and renovation works professionally; we had devised a better way for homeowners to easily identify their core strengths. We do this by “measuring” these firms by using a stringent auditing format comprising of 6 Cs.


  • Credentials – individual and firm’s qualifications such as design certifications, licenses;
  • Consumer Feedbacks – the gathering of all feedbacks, good or bad and determine an aggregate score
  • Capacity – firm’s size and capacity to undertake quantity and quality of work
  • Competencies – whether the firm is well equipped with an in house designing, manufacturing and other essential capabilities
  • Creativity – if the firm has had a record of winning design awards (entrepreneurship awards, those with the Singapore lion head symbol does not qualify)
  • Competitiveness – pricing and service competitiveness based on their market segment and clientele range





We had built a system of identifying these designers based on the 6Cs auditing format above. From the yearly audits, we will present our SIXiDES trust badges to them. ( https://www.sixides.com/badges) This means that there is a better way to identify each firm’s value proposition fairly quickly and easily. You can check out our panel of audited ID firms here:  https://www.sixides.com/professionals/interior-designers 


Though it is still early for us to proclaim that this system is going to work and become the leading system for consumers, we do believe that as a platform, we can lead the way on this. Who knows, maybe the 6Cs will evolve to 60Cs in time to come!





In my humble opinion, a resounding “Yes” if and only when you get the professional ones. The ones that can value add, that can help blind spot for you and are able to provide answers to challenges that are found pre, during and post renovation. I am not saying this because this is my trade, but because I know that dedicated and professional designers exist, (not all hope is gone!) and they have important roles to play. The thing is, Googling symptoms and getting assumed diagnosis from the internet does not make anyone a doctor. At best, it offers some understanding, at worst, you could have a life-threatening misdiagnosis. 


Knowing how you want your home to look like, or how much it may cost is just the starting, qualifying conditions. Since this is a complex subject, it helps that we can quickly determine design directions and set aside budgets for the whole project! To help homeowners achieve this, we had built an online renovation quotation system that is capable of delivering a proposed furniture layout plan of your unit, a renovation estimates breakdown and some visual references. We call this EQuote (E – Easy, efficient, estimate) 

 ( https://www.sixides.com/equote). 

The intention is to use a simple to answer questionnaire to determine, property type, lifestyle requirements and user needs to instantly come up with pricing estimates. There is no wait, this is not a lead generation feature where we ‘farm’ your enquiry and sell the contact information to interior design firms to follow up. We value your privacy and will never do this. Rather, what we are doing is to understand your needs and requirements, then match make you with the selected panel of designers with badges that best meet your needs. Which means, instead of selling your information to others, we are selling the skills and merits of the designers, to you, the homeowner. 


But, for many, the reason why homeowners turn to a designer in the first place is also about the design themes, colour schemes and suitability. Many homeowners do not know design, they know what looks good and some may have gathered a ton of design references and visuals. EQuote understands this ritual that many homeowners are doing now and so, inside EQuote. you will find a section where you could upload your reference images and the Design style recognizer AI feature (Co-developed with local university, Singapore Institute of Technology  https://finance.yahoo.com/news/powering-interior-design-ai-040000851.htmlwill read and identify the design theme and determine a cost factor based on the uploaded images. This is an important aspect, as different design styles would affect costings. As a qualifying tool, it will speed up discussions and manage expectations from both parties in terms of pricings and deliverables. 


All these are just the tip of the iceberg with what SIXiDES wants to do. We are just beginning the journey on trying to help the industry better itself. Through better practices and allowing homeowners to navigate or research online privately with peace of mind as opposed to worrying about salespeople from different firms calling them incessantly about their home renovation. 



How SIXiDES works will be disruptive to how the industry presently works. Everyone operates according to the status quo, earning their qualifications, accreditations, and licenses, and doing their best to maintain them. There’s no incentive to do better. Having transparency and allowing homeowners to have a say would, as they say, rock the boat but more importantly put the power back into the consumers hands.


This is not disruption for disruption’s sake. We really want to improve the industry for everyone: the homeowners, the IDs, the vendors… everybody. We believe that it is going to be challenging but we also firmly believe that it is high time that our industry gets disrupted and pivot into the next positive phase of our industry.

Check out the eQuote!

Posted on 7 October 2022

Astley Ng

The Designerd


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