The Role and Significance of an Interior Design Project Manager in Commercial Construction


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The question of “what value does an interior design project manager really add to a commercial construction renovation or new construction project, ” in addition to the structural responsibility of the architect, has been too long misunderstood. Interior designers who work as project managers seem to get the “short end of the stick “, due to the lack of knowledge by building owners or by the premises of other industry professionals, who do not find any worth in what a certified and practicing professional interior design can provide for the owner’s benefit. After reviewing many sources on interior design and project management, I was unable to locate a “basic‚Äê101 ” educating document that provides an overview in layman’s terms for owner’s representatives that are perplexed or confused about just what an interior design project manager can provide for their project. There appears to be much conceit and competition in our industry where architects and interior designers just don’t mesh well as collaborative entities. Interior designers unbenounced to me, do not want the responsibility of what an architect provides, but rather desire to take the architect’s interior shell of the structurally sound and mechanically, electrically, and plumbing approved project to a different level. A level that concentrates its focus on the safety, health, and welfare in its most appealing and functional aesthetics for the public to occupy, appreciate, and be proud of inhabiting. This paper provides insight for those building owners that desire a specialty level achievement for the interior spaces of their structure.

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The Role and Significance of an Interior Design Project Manager in Commercial Construction

What exactly is an interior design project manager and what do they do in relation with a commercial construction building project? For starters, let’s begin by defining exactly what interior design itself is as a profession. For accuracy and precision the following quote is taken directly from the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), which is an independent, nonprofit organization of provincial and state credentialing bodies since 1974. NCIDQ issues professional licensing certificates to successfully tested candidates, while maintaining its foundation that the interior design profession is one that protects the health, life safety, and welfare of the public by establishing competence standards for interior design and its practice. NCIDQ states, “Interior design is a multi‚Äêfaceted profession in which creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure to achieve a built environment. These solutions are functional, enhance the quality of life and culture of the occupants, and are aesthetically attractive. ” Simply put, an interior design project manager on a commercial level, is one who is hired either by a client or architecture firm that works as a primary designer solo or in conjunction with the architect in designing spaces for a commercial‚Äêtype building structure that meet the clients needs and budgets in a functional and aesthetically pleasing way. Commercial‚Äêtype projects or “contract design ” projects, which they are also referred to as, range from the following: public entertainment, government, institutional, health care, hospitality, office, and retail facilities (American Society of Interior Designers {ASID}, 2011). The interior design project manager’s role within the design of a commercial building structure can be of great importance for a client to achieve their desired design objectives and functions during the initiative development phases and throughout the completion of the processes and phases of a project. Interior design project managers’ roles may vary from project to project, but an outline of these roles can consist of overseeing the architectural design and construction efforts of involved parties and trades, conducting market research and managing design reviews via planning meetings (Guzman, 2010). Although an architect’s professional services are required to perform the specifics for the client involving structure, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical engineering in a given project, if applicable to scope, in a “whole interior building ” type design process, the interior design project manager is contracted at the beginning of the project or in the pre‚Äê design phase to collaborate ideas of design with the architect and client in an integrative team fashion. He or she now adds value to the client’s real estate as well as to their organization under design/study. Specification approval and material purchase justifications for the interiors portions can also be conducted and are followed up with site inspections of the project to ensure that the design specifications and building codes are within conformance to their design. The project manager also reviews proposals and bids by outside subcontractors prior to the building phase and then coordinates their efforts with field personnel. Once in the field and conducting site inspections of the contractors work, an interior design project manager also ensures contractor performance conforms to the client’s contract(s) stipulations and authorizes approval for their payment. They manage these tasks as well as overseeing the completion of all the contracted scopes of work in the clients’ contracts, and then relay status and progress reports back to the stakeholders of the given project accordingly. An integrated team approach is critical in pulling off a successful project and the interior design project manager must have organizational and time management skills above and beyond the design skills themselves to successfully collaborate all the disciplines of a given project (Guzman, 2010; Lipner & Mazarella, 2010; Pulver, 2010). Successful project managers that exude excellence in their performance contribute to the distinction in an interior design application within a given structure, and result in outcomes that raise productivity among employees, improve the selling of merchandise, and improve the overall quality of satisfaction for employed professionals working for the design establishment. Contrary to many misconceptions, interior design itself is not a luxury ticket item, but actually a profession of skill sets that can improve the status of a commercial building type while being flexible to changes in the economy, technology, demographics, and overall business goals within a given organization; not to mention contribute to saving the client time and money (Lipner & Mazarella, 2010; Pulver, 2010).

Duties, responsibilities, and services offered

Duties and responsibilities are plentiful within a commercial building type for an interior design project manager. Again the ultimate goals of interior design are to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all of those who will or may occupy the space, so the services offered all revolve around the mission of the interior design practice itself. Such services or responsibilities and duties include defining the scope of work desired by the client {planning and design}, working through programming {workflow, strategic plan, schedule, budget}, schematic services {dialogue of design solutions including drawings, material samples, budgets, and product mockups}, design development {finalizing drawings and specifications of architectural plans}, construction documents {interface with other trade professionals and consultants}, and construction administration {ensuring as‚Äêbuilt or as‚Äê recorded design and specifications are documented, punch lists are completed and final authorization of payments are administered} (ASID, 2011; Squidoo, n.d.; Van Beest, n.d.).

Three typical stages of the design process explained

All of the above duties, responsibilities, and services are summed up into four specific aspects that include detailing of design intent, constraints, constuctionability, and function and are incorporated into three typical stages of the design process (Ballast, n.d.). The first phase previously summarized is the pre‚Äêproduction design. This phase is inclusive of the initial planning by the interior design project manager to review and analyze the design goals of the client. Much research and development goes into this phase for the project manager of successful and similar past projects, specification creation, risk solving, and presentation of design solutions. The second phase is design during production. This phase encompasses the executing and monitoring of the project management processes. Here is where the interior design project manager bases design goals with continuation for improvement of proposed designed solutions and testing them for accuracy of safety, health, and welfare in accordance with function, aesthetics, and constuctionability. The third and final phase is post‚Äêproduction design. This phase is inclusive of the monitoring and closing processes of project management. The design solution is introduced to the environment and the interior design project manager improves or changes the design solution if required, to meet or exceed the client or stakeholders expectations. In this stage, the project manager also makes a summary of the processes in an evaluation and develops a conclusion of the results of the project’s completion and duration to archive for future projects and a record for the stakeholders’ use (Sha, 2009).

Job qualifications and requirements for the profession

Along with the knowledge of what an interior design project manager actually does in the aspects of a commercial building type, what are the job qualifications and requirements for one to become this type of professional? Education is the starting point in the journey to become an interior design project manager. It begins with acquiring a baccalaureate degree (BA or BS) with a concentration in interior design. High precedence in the field’s industry is set on acquiring one of these degrees from one of the 151 CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation), formally FIDER (Federation for Interior Design Education and Research) universities. Five to ten years of professional practice experience would follow next or if desired, but not mandatory, to pursue a Master’s in Interior Design or MID first, which only seven states currently offer (ASID, 2011; IDEC, 2011). Once the fundamentals of education and professional experience are in place, fluency requirements to become a professional in interior design project management must be met. In order to manage a commercial building project successfully, a project manager must be fluent in the following: research and analysis {clients goals, constraints, and requirements, and development of documents and drawings} and formulation of preliminary space plans (2D and 3D concept sketches based on knowledge of interior design principles and human behavior} with confirmation that these are safe, aesthetically pleasing, functional, and meet all public welfare, health, and safety requirements. This also includes meeting or exceeding all current building codes, ADA accessibility requirements, and environmental and sustainable measures. An interior design project manager must also select finishes, materials, and colors for the project in accordance with functionality, life‚Äêcycle performance, maintenance, and environmental and safety performance requirements. Next, one has to be fluent in specifications and documentations for furniture, fixtures and finishes, equipment, and millwork to facilitate budgets and procurement, and oversee proper and quality installation practices of the items. Preparation of budgets and schedules are also required as well as preparation of detailed, inclusive construction documents. All the documents and drawings are to conform to regional and local building, municipal, and fire codes applicable to the structure being constructed. Coordination and collaboration is required for an interior design project manager with other trades involved with the project, ranging from architects, engineers, and specialty consultants. Services focused on the bidding and tendering process and negotiation can be required by the client as well as having the project manager administer the confirmed and compliant contract documents, multiple job site reviews for accuracy, marriage to codes, and surety that safety and welfare are met throughout project’s completion and close out. Finally, the interior design project manager must conduct reviews and reports for the client and stakeholders while the project is in progress and upon completion, as well as conduct periodic and contractually obligating post‚Äêoccupancy evaluation reports (ASID, n.d.; Guerin & Martin, 2005; NCIDQ, n.d.). In conclusion, the benefits of using an interior design project manager can be essential to the needs of select clients who are pursuing excellence with aesthetics, function, and constuctionability of their desired building structure. The knowledge of their services and capabilities is one that should be understood and known to be readily available to all future, current, and past building owners wishing to pursue excellence in their design. These professionals can create a unique space that has the client’s expectations and visions put forthright before any imposed ideas or personal taste factors. They can make a space that relates to the clients’ employees, clientele, business, location and image. They also can save clients time and money by providing design solutions prior to their execution, on time and in budget, once contracted in the onset of the project’s establishment (ASID, n.d.). These beneficial traits are achieved through the project manager’s initiatives, training, execution, and skills during consultation and the remaining phases of interior design project management. These are the professionals that can provide superior excellence in interior specialization of one’s given interior environment. These are the professionals a building owner should consider first in achievement of their dreams, goals, and functions of their personal building structure’s interior and its integrity.

About the Author

Kathryn Grube has worked in the commercial construction industry in the architectural millwork and commercial casework specialties since 1998 after acquiring her BS degree in Interior Design. She has held positions of chief estimator and senior project manager of the subcontracting services industry, which service the southeast region and west coast areas of the US and parts of Canada. Currently Kathryn is completing her Masters in Interior Design and pursuing teaching interior design professionally for a Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) accredited university. She is a member of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), International Interior Design Association (IIDA), and has received her credentials as a LEED Green Associate. Kathryn’s ultimate goal is to share her professional and educational experience and make a difference in the quality of our future industry professionals pursuing the interior design and architecture fields.

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