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The Interior Design Questionnaire | Complete Guide

You’ve heard about the illusive interior design questionnaire, but what is it, how do you use it, and why don’t interior design schools teach you about it?

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The Interior Design Questionnaire | Complete Guide

Table Of Contents

Table Of Contents

You've heard about the illusive interior design questionnaire, but what is it, how do you use it, and why don't interior design schools teach you about it? In today's post, I'll be sharing all of the answers to your questions, ensuring you know what to put in it and when to use it (which clients not to send it to), and I'll even give you my template for you to use.

But first, we need to start with a bit of history around how the interior design questionnaire came about because it hasn't been around for that long! An interior design questionnaire is not something you're taught to do at interior design schools or in interior design diplomas because they teach one method for running a project, which I call the "traditional" interior design process. In the traditional interior design process, an interior designer runs a project from start to finish. It's usually a process that requires what we call "full-service design", including project oversight and procurement (if you don't know what that means, have a look at this post: Interior Design Project Management Explained

The traditional interior design process is the same process that follows the architectural or build process of a project. For example, concept, detail design, technical design, construction/installation, and styling (in the UK, you would follow the RIBA plan of work stages). In this type of project, you'll likely have a type of room requirements schedule for each space and a pre-qualifying client questionnaire used at the beginning of the project to get the client details. In part, this pre-qualifying client questionnaire was the precursor to the interior design questionnaire, but they are inherently different.

What Is An Interior Design Questionnaire?

An Interior Design questionnaire is something you send to a client for a small project or an E-Design Project (not a traditional or services project). I invented it as part of my E-Design or Online Design process in 2012 while navigating how to provide digital online services for clients. Back then, selling interior design and architecture online was not like it is today. People would say to me, "How can you design my home without stepping foot into it?"

There was a lot of figuring out, and before I started using welcome questionnaires, I'd miss information or forget to ask my client for important things. I wouldn't have the proper agreement in place as the projects were much smaller than those I was used to working on in a design office, and I struggled to prove what the client requested back in that initial meeting to create the brief for the project.

So the welcome questionnaire became a tool I used for small projects to work more professionally at the start of a small project. It helped me to:

Welcome Questionnaire (At The Start Of A Small Project) Helped Me To:

  • Create a smooth on-boarding processes
  • Get all the client details and information
  • Start the briefing process
  • Allow the client to write out what they wanted in their own words
  • Create a professional document that I could send to get my client excited about the project
  • Involve my client by asking questions to help them clarify their wants and needs
  • It gave me a clear direction for the project that I could rely on when I wasn't sure of myself
  • It allowed me to cross-check I had achieved the client's goals and requests that they had set at the outset of the project
  • Provided proof of any changes to the brief if my client tried to change their mind midway through the project and ...
  • Provided a critical tool to my "small project system"

It also became a much more streamlined and profitable way of working because the projects I was taking on were much smaller than the ones I worked on when in design firms, which meant the "traditional" process that every designer was using was overkill.

Which Projects Require An Interior Design Welcome Questionnaire?

The most important thing to understand with an interior design welcome questionnaire is that it's not for large, commercial, or projects where you will follow the traditional procurement. For example, a traditional procurement for interior designers usually looks like this: Brief, Concept, Detail/Technical Design, FF&E sourcing, Installation/implementation and turn-key styling. It follows the typical construction process (which you can see here as the RIBA plan of work 2020: RIBA Plan of Work )

That system or process is already worked out, so adding an interior design welcome questionnaire to this system is weird. You don't need to overcomplicate things, and as I mentioned above, you're likely to already have "room requirement schedules" to deal with the in-depth scope of work required with these types of projects. An interior design welcome questionnaire simply wouldn't be comprehensive enough to deal with the requirements of a big, complex project because it was designed to do the opposite!

How Do You Know If Your Project Requires An Interior Design Welcome Questionnaire?

This is a good question because it depends on a few essential factors, but you can use my process as a checklist. Ask yourself the following questions:

Ask Yourself The Following Questions:

  • Is the project residential (as opposed to commercial)?
  • Does the project require only some work stages rather than a full service from start to finish (aka a traditional procurement)?
  • Is the project value less than $100K?

If you answered yes to the above questions, this small project is perfect for using the interior design welcome questionnaire. Alternatively, you can use the tree diagram below:

So now that we've established what an interior design welcome questionnaire is and what type of projects it can be used for, how do you use it, what does it look like, and what goes into it?

When Do You Send An Interior Design Welcome Questionnaire?

The interior design welcome questionnaire is NOT a marketing document! I've seen interior design "templates" advertised all over the internet and on social media, which are sales documents or marketing documents used to secure clients.

A welcome questionnaire is NOT to be used to secure clients. It's part of the process once you have secured the client, so please ignore the nonsense CANVA templates you've seen with random information thrown in about your company and CV or previous designs. That is not a welcome questionnaire; it's a document designed to convert high-value projects and to prove you're the right designer for the job. They are marketing documents which are part of a marketing strategy and people selling you that nonsense aren't interior designers or don't know what they're doing.

We don't send the welcome questionnaires before we have the client unless you're sending it to decipher if the project is a traditional procurement (but usually, you've had client contact at this point, so the only time this really happens is if you've got an automated on-boarding system that automatically sends your client to a welcome questionnaire – which I obviously don't recommend for large, traditional, commercial or luxury projects!)

What Questions Should You Ask?

Every designer will have a slightly different interior design welcome questionnaire because the scope of work they provide will vary. But there are some questions that every single interior design welcome questionnaire should have, and these are:

1 | Contact Details:

  • What are the client's names and contact details
  • What is the project address
  • What is the client's preferred method of contact (email or phone)
  • If there is more than one client, who will be the main point of contact

2 | Project Details

Explain the project requirements in your own words (this is important because you're not forcing them to answer rigid questions. Every project is unique, so let the welcome questionnaire be open and flexible. Being too prescriptive will work against you and the client.

  • Who lives here, and who will use the space? (This Includes children, pets, and regular visitors, especially those with disabilities or special needs.)
  • What is the approximate size of the space?
  • How is the space currently used, and what is missing/lacking/wrong?
  • How would you want the space to be used?
  • How many people will regularly use this space?
  • What do you love most about your current space?
  • What do you dislike about your current space?
  • Do you have any specific storage needs or requirements?
  • Would you like to keep any existing pieces of furniture or decor and incorporate them into the new design?
  • Do you have any hobbies or activities that need to be accommodated in this space?
  • Are there any other lifestyle or functional/practical considerations I need to consider? (E.g. any accessibility considerations or specific lighting needs?)

3 | Look & Feel

Clients aren't interior designers, so asking them to accurately describe their style is simply asking for disaster. I prefer to leave it open for them to describe what they like and then ask them to back it up with imagery to describe what they like or dislike about each photo/image. This helps me to find a much more accurate picture of what my clients want.

I've never had a client accurately describe their style in regards to the technical definition of each style genre – so let's stop asking your client to be the designer and be the professional in the room and guide the process instead.

I also find that it's too early to ask if they prefer a specific colour at this point. Let them explore Pinterest, let them search images on Google and social media, then let them explain what it is they like about the images. Don't specify things, don't put words in their mouth. Let them show you with images what they like – remember, they're not designers so their design vocabulary is not going to be accurate. Find at least three images and explain what it is that you like about them.

  • How would you like the space to look?
  • How would you like the space to feel?
  • Do you have a Pinterest board, Instagram page, or other sources of inspiration that you can share?

4 | Project Timeline & Budget

  • What is your desired completion date for the project?
  • What is your budget for this project?
  • Additional Information | Any other questions in preparation for the consultation/meeting?

What Does An Interior Design Welcome Questionnaire Look Like?

An welcome questionnaire is NOT a marketing brochure, and it doesn't resemble anything you have seen on the internet masquerading as an interior design welcome questionnaire. There shouldn’t be extensive project information either. The questionnaire’s main purpose is to help the client explain what they want in their own words and to provide all of the project details before you start designing. These questions are what I sent to hundreds and hundreds of clients at the start of my business to create successful and profitable E-Design projects.

This type of interior design welcome questionnaire was the pinnacle in streamlining my onboarding workflow and process to help make my small design projects profitable. It meant that the client did all the leg work and came prepared to our meeting. It also meant that I was able to prepare for our meeting/consultation with background knowledge already in place so that I felt I could deliver the next steps professionally and confidently.

For me, it looked like a word document that I sent to clients that had a photo of me, a short introduction and my design philosophy. It was very simple and I didn’t overcomplicate it because the more complicated – the more likely that my client wouldn’t return it or they would have problems filling it in (e.g. PDF forms or online forms). You are welcome to use this template and copy it for yourself, but please remember that this is only to be used for small projects (projects where a traditional project structure isn't required or projects under $100K in budget).

Download this template here:

EXAMPLE | Download The Template

How Do You Use It?

Finally, now that you know what it looks like and what you would use it for, how do you use an interior design welcome questionnaire to run your small projects profitably? It will become a crucial part of your onboarding or project workflow. Your workflow will, of course, vary for a large or traditional project, but a small project or E-Design workflow might look like this:

Example

E-Design Workflow

Client Contact

STEP 1

Price & Terms Agreed

STEP 2

Send Welcome Pack

STEP 3

Receive Payment / Book Consultation

STEP 4

Receive Completed Questionnaire Before Consultation

STEP 5

Consultation

STEP 6

Design Time

STEP 7

Send Designs

STEP 8

Client Aftercare

STEP 9

Offboarding Workflow

STEP 10

So, you use your welcome questionnaire to send it as part of your welcome pack to your client (not as a first contact to "find out more about the project" – that's only for large or traditional projects!) You'll only send it out once the client has agreed to hire you as the interior designer for their project. This is the critical difference. Those designers who know what they're doing and who are making a profit with E-Design do things this way.

You don't use the welcome questionnaire to price a project! No, no, no! You also won't go to someone's house for a free consultation! There is no fee for this in a small project.

For E-designs or small projects to be profitable, you have a set fee for a set design service that I delivered within a set timeline. Designers design and client procures. That's it. The client already knows what they'll get and how much it costs. That's the beauty of E-Design or small projects. If you want to read more about how to create profitable E-Design services or to learn if E-Design is the right fit for you, have a look at this post: How To Provide Interior E-Design Service

If the client wants you to do everything on the project… well, in that case, they have to raise their fee to accommodate the extra work. That then turns to the traditional design structure that we all know (but use for the wrong projects!).

Do’s & Don’ts Of Welcome Questionnaire’s

  • Do personalise it and make it feel on brand.
  • Do add your contact details and next steps to help your client know what to do once they fill it out.
  • Do tailor it suit your own needs.
  • Do make it all about your client and make them feel like their project is important to you.
  • Don’t ask too many questions (under 20 is best).
  • Don’t get too specific (keep the questions broad)
  • Don’t force your clients to make design decisions (that’s for the consultation).
  • Don’t use this as an opportunity to market your company. Your client has already purchased your services.

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Conclusion

The interior design welcome questionnaire is necessary for handling small or E-Design projects smoothly and professionally. Unlike the traditional full-service design process you learn about in school, which covers everything from start to finish, this questionnaire is perfect for smaller or simpler projects. It simplifies the onboarding process, ensuring you get all the critical details and requirements from your client immediately and without spending time asking all the questions. It helps clarify what our client wants, sets clear expectations, and gives a solid starting point for the project whilst keeping the onboarding process streamlined and, most importantly, profitable!

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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