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Interior Design Project Management Explained

Interior design project management is a term that often leads to confusion in the interior design industry. Many interior designers mistakenly believe they …


Interior Design Project Management Explained

Table Of Contents

Table Of Contents

Interior design project management is a term that often leads to confusion in the interior design industry. Many interior designers mistakenly believe they are offering project management services, when in fact they are providing a mix of services that are not strictly project management.

This misunderstanding can make them appear less knowledgeable. It's crucial for interior designers to grasp the distinction between their role and project management to avoid such confusion and provide accurate services.

If you're an interior designer, this is a must-read to understand the difference between what interior designers do and how that relates to project management so that you're one of the designers who know what they're talking about if you're looking instead for descriptions of services that an interior designer offers, have a look at this post first instead: What Do Interior Designers Really Do?

Let's start with project management as a broad term that describes managing any project in any professional field because this is where the confusion lies in using the incorrect terminology:

What Is Project Management?

  • Project management involves planning, executing and controlling teams to achieve specific outcomes within time, budget, and resource constraints. So basically, using tools and techniques to run a project well. The UK government calls this Business Project Management.

Courses on the internet (as well as universities) teaching "interior design project management" are teaching this broad type of project management, but this is incorrect because interior design is a profession that not only belongs to design, manufacturing and retail; what we do as designers also falls under construction, and when you use the term "project management" in construction, it automatically means something else.

Interior design project management is NOT construction project management, but it might be seen as such if you use that term for a builder or a client engaging a builder. What interior designers do is best referred to as project procurement and oversight, not project management.

Yes, there are many interior designers who also do construction project management, but they are likely a full-service design firm, employ subcontractors themselves or a design and build company. They're not interior designers who are "managing a project".

Using the term project management gets confusing if you're using it in the context of building work because construction project management is a separate profession, like an architect or an engineer. A construction project manager specialises in construction processes and is an expert in construction procurement, regulations, safety and contracts. A business project manager works in various industries, such as IT, healthcare, marketing, or finance.

While their responsibilities may overlap with those of a construction project manager regarding planning, organising, and managing, they don't have the specific knowledge and expertise required for construction projects. So you can see why this is very important. You don't want to say that you're a construction expert if you're not because you don't want to be responsible for signing off on the design or construction of a roof when that's not your expertise…

So, let's clarify the terminology regarding interior design project management so that you can move forward knowing what you're talking about and start correcting the terminology in the industry to help minimise us all looking as though we don't know what we're talking about. So, let's start with what everyone thinks interior design project management is:

Business Project Management Vs Interior Design Project Management (PM)

Business project management is where you plan tasks and manage the people and resources to complete projects on time and within budget. The specific details of each project manager will vary depending on the profession and task. Still, although this might be what you’re doing as interior design project management, it is incorrect to use this terminology in the construction industry because this same process means something different. It is a separate profession called construction project management.

You can get qualified in Business Project Management to run projects, but this is not for construction projects. So, business project management may be beneficial for running a design project it’s not to be confused with construction project management. Business project managers (or just project managers) appear in all professions and businesses. For example, one of my friends is a project manager for a bank, another for a healthcare service, etc.

Using the term “Project Management” is incorrect if you’re offering interior design services or managing any construction project. (Read on to find out why!)

Design Project Management (DPM)

Design project management is a term used in the construction industry by architects to describe their role in managing the design side of a construction project. It involves overseeing the design elements of a project, such as coordinating consultant drawings and specifications, setting the brief, managing approvals and historic building consents, health and safety, quality assurance and client communication (see RIBA stages 0-7: RIBA Plan of Work ). It ensures, as much as possible, that a project stays within budget restraints, meets regulatory standards, and aligns with client expectations, laying the groundwork for the builder.

Some interior designers provide “Design Project management”. If so, it makes sense to call what you do DPM (as long as it’s the same!) However, you might be also be undertaking Construction Project Management if you’re also hiring trades directly…

Construction Project Management (CPM)

Construction project management is a stand-alone profession in the construction industry. Builders, developers or clients usually hire construction project managers on large or complicated projects with many consultants (where the lead consultant/lead designer cannot take on the role – usually because the scope of work is too great).

This project manager deals explicitly with construction projects and specialises in construction processes, materials, and safety/building regulations. They are usually very experienced surveyors, retired builders, experienced quantity surveyors, architects, or specifically trained as construction Project Managers. They work with the design and build team to coordinate all aspects of a construction project. They might also provide something called contract administration (see below).

Historically, architects acted as the construction project manager and contract administrator, (and still do on smaller or less complex projects). There may be similarities between this and what you offer as an interior designer, depending on your scope of work and qualifications or experience. Still, it’s essential to know the difference between PM and CPM (e.g. managing your team as opposed to the design and construction team (architect, sub-contractors, engineers, etc.) as this is a mistake many interior designers unknowingly make!

It’s incorrect to use the term “Construction Project Management” to refer to your service unless you’re undertaking CPM as defined above because this is what your client and builder will automatically think you’re offering!

Contract Project Management (CA)

Contract project management, also known as Contract Administration (CA), is something an architect, quantity surveyor, construction project manager or other construction industry professional (including some interior designers) does. Contract management ensures that the legal and financial aspects of the contracts on the building site are appropriately managed, which, depending on the type of project procurement, contract, and project type, can be substantial. Contract management/contract administration is one of the tasks a Construction Project Manager will do as part of their job, or there might be a separate Contract Administrator. I have worked on all types of projects, some with separate PM's and CA's or some with simply the Architect or Interior Designer acting as both.

So, while construction project management focuses on the broader aspects of managing the entire construction project (scope, schedule, budget, resources, and quality), Contract Project Management is one focus area of construction project management. Contract Administrators (or Contract Project Managers) specifically deal with the contractual relationships and obligations of the project stakeholders such as the clients, builder, sub-contractors and other consultants. Providing CA services requires contract and construction law knowledge and carries much responsibility and liability. It requires you to release payments in line with the formalities of the contract between the client and the builder.

If you're a new interior designer or architect, it's unlikely that you will offer this service, which is best left to experienced industry professionals.

It’s incorrect to use the term “Contract Project Management” to refer to the service you provide as an interior designer unless you’re administering the contract between the client and the builder. This means you’re responsible for releasing payments in line with the contract and assessing the quality and scope of work a builder has completed.

General Contracting (GC)

General contracting involves managing the on-site physical construction process and coordinating subcontractors, materials, and schedules to ensure the project is built according to the specifications. In essence, it’s what a builder does. This usually expands to include hiring individual sub-contractors (like the carpenter, plumber, etc.) General Contracting (GC) focuses on hands-on execution. In contrast, Construction Project Management (CPM) involves coordinating the various consultants and people involved in the project (including the builder) and activities to ensure the project succeeds.

In most cases, I wouldn’t need to explain the difference between construction project management and project management, but interior design services can overlap with general contracting when a designer also offers a build or installation service. So this is where it can become very confusing and critical to know the difference between existing industry terminology.

If you’re an interior designer who also offers general contracting, you can safely call yourself a general contractor or interior design project manager because you’re likely undertaking PM, GC, CPM, CA, and project procurement PP!

Project Procurement & Project Oversight

Most interior designers manage consultants, manufacturers, suppliers, one or two trades (such as curtain makers and upholsterers), and maybe some labourers or installers, depending on the scope of work. We do a little bit of all of the above, but not enough to accurately describe the existing project management terminology. That's why Project Procurement (PP) and Project Oversight (PO) best describe what interior designers do.

Project procurement involves acquiring goods, services, or resources from manufacturers, retailers, vendors or suppliers. Project oversight involves monitoring and controlling progress, performance, and compliance with project plans and objectives. They work hand in hand to describe what we do as interior designers and create an accurate description of what we do without crossover or confusion between existing professions and design or construction industry terminology.

As interior designers, what we do is unique because our service offering crosses over between designer, business project manager, construction project manager, contract project manager, retailer and manufacturer (if we're offering custom-made items). What services an interior designer offers varies from designer to designer, so you can see how using the term project management might mean something different to different people. We cannot afford to have confused clients, especially if we think we're offering one thing and a client thinks we're offering another. So, from now on, please use the correct terminology and help stop the confusion.

The terms Project Procurement and Project Oversight provide interior designers with specific yet flexible terminology to describe the way we manage projects without using existing terminology that means something else.

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Stop Saying “Interior Design Project Management” – It’s Incorrect

So, although, as interior designers, we offer some of the same services that project managers, design project managers, construction project managers, contract administrators, or general contractors offer, we don’t refer to what we do as interior design project management. That’s because project management already means something else in the construction industry and can get confused with business project management, contract project management and construction project management.

Architects and interior designers use the term “design project management”, which is more accurate to describe what we do. Still, if you also offer some procurement and installation as part of your service, then explaining the difference to a client can be confusing if you use the same terminology (especially if there is already an architect on the project who also offers design project management in addition to your services), so my suggestion is to use the terms Project Procurement and Project Oversight instead.

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak

Jo Chrobak is an architectural and interior designer and mentor at the Interior Designer’s Business School that trains interior designers to set up professional and successful interior design businesses and gain experience working on real projects. She is trained in architecture, interiors, business and life coaching and runs her architectural and interior design studio in London UK.
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