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5 Ways Technology Has Impacted Interior and Home Design

5 Ways Technology Has Impacted Interior and Home Design
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From crowdsourcing products to virtual interior design and experiential e-commerce to mobile apps, technology is overhauling the shelter industry

Macala Wright
  • 30 september 2014

Technology has profoundly impacted the $7.3 billion dollar per year (and growing) home industry – specifically within the areas of architecture and interior design. Together social media, mobile apps, and digital connectivity are changing the nature of one of the oldest businesses in the world.

It was Pliny the Elder that said, “Home is where the heart is.” It was HGTV’s David Bromstad said, “Measuring and laying out the room in advance can save you a lot of headaches.” Overlay those statements with our obsessions with Pinterest, Zillow Digs, and DIY and we start to see why consumers continue to leverage technology as a way to take design into their own hands.

As marketers, when examining the extent to which technology has infiltrated the interior design industry, we see that the big picture overall is fragmented. Through digging deeper, the interior design industry may actually be one of the best examples to examine in order to develop a complete picture of today’s tech savvy, digital consumers.

Collaboration Changes How Consumers Design Their Products and Spaces

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For decades, the wealthy predominantly accessed interior designer services. In the past decade, however, interior design is no longer just for those who can pay a hefty price tag. The masses can now receive interior design services as crowdsourcing and community opinion have become viable ways to gain feedback from consumers via the internet. Popular online interior design services include Designer at Home and Olioboard, and there’s a host of full-service, online home decorating services that costs as little as $250 per room. The first wave of online design services and tools are still present in today’s online home design market, but, in the past three years, more sophisticated platforms and services have made their mark – most notably Red Clay Design and Laurel & Wolf.

Laurel & Wolf is the new iteration of online and digital design services. The company is the world’s leading interior design marketplace, providing online interior design services to residential and commercial spaces powered by a talented community of professional interior designers. Users take a simple style quiz and for a flat fee ($299 – $899), a designer can help them create one or multiple spaces in their home. If a user doesn’t like what’s selected, the designer they’ve chosen switches items to things that are more conducive to the look and feel they’re looking for.

The user is then provided direct links to buy items found in their digital floor plans. What differentiates Laurel & Wolf from other services is the game mechanics employed by its designer and customer matching services. In a period of seven days, designers compete for the customer’s business in order to be selected. The process is simple, fun, engaging and time efficient.

This past August, the MAGIC Tradeshow used Laurel & Wolf to develop unique environments within its Sourcing exhibit. The design was done virtually and brought to life two days before the show opened to attendees. “A Service like Laurel & Wolf not only opens up professional interior design services to a massive market of people who have never been able to afford interior design but also has made the design process one that is accessible from anywhere in the world.” said Christopher Griffin, president of SOURCING at MAGIC. “Choice is a powerful selling point to consumers of today and the future.”

Another platform moving the industry is Red Clay Design. Red Clay’s goal is to upend how all products come to market. Their enterprise level platform focuses on transforming how every physical product is designed, by creating an open innovation platform that draws on the collective power of viability (brands), feasibility (designers) and desirability (consumers).

“We founded Red Clay after being painfully aware of the statistic that up to 95% of new products fail (Forbes/Mintel). We are out to reverse that ratio by leveraging technology to bring products to market that consumers actually want (think crowdsourcing/co-creation for enterprises),” says Co-Founder Abigail Kiefer. “My belief is that problems are better solved when you bring the right people together.”

Kiefer’s training as an urban planner offers organizational and big picture vision which has helped position the platform to product development and research tools for manufactures and designers in the home and shelter industries. Brands such as Dillard’s, New York Now, and Giggle have experienced phenomenal success with the platform in designing better products with collective consumer intelligence.

Technology Changed Search & Discovery Patterns

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When it comes acquiring items for the home, 40% of consumers search online for products they want, using social platforms to discover new products. These active search and passive discovery behavior patterns have led to the creation of lucrative online business models. Beginning with a discovery model, Pinterest and The Fancy are leading examples of how brands can drive the consumer discovery process.

These social networks-turned-comparison shopping engines allow consumers to find items in a specific style, genre, or trend without knowing quite what they’re looking for from the get-go. When it comes to Pinterest, “Home Décor” (Interior Design) is one of the most popular categories for women and “For The Home” is one of the most popular board names.

The overall top referral sites from items pinned (and repinned) include West Elm, Urban Outfitters, Poketo, and Williams-Sonoma. A third of female social media users are on Pinterest and spend an average of 89 minutes pinning to boards. It’s no wonder that brands like Home Depot, Better Homes and Gardens, and Lowes (their Build It! board has approximately 3.4 million followers!) are seeing amazing engagement with their visual content.

Technology Created New E-Commerce Models

When we combine the behavior triggers we find in visual search (described in the examples above), add traditional discovery parameters such a browsing by “price”, “color”, “fabric”, and mix in flash sales models, we see the birth (and evolution) of popular e-commerce sites such as Joss & Main, Wayfair, and Hayneedle.

These sites aggregate products into trends and themes and then allow consumers to narrow relevant results through key filters that they can utilize in order to search and find the goods they want. The stroke of genius in their business models is the limited availability of their products. Price, quantity, and/or time-constrained factors come into play, encouraging the customer to hurry and purchase something they would not have previously thought to seek out or buy in the first place.

Technology Enhanced The Shopping Experience

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Another element of these success sites in convincing consumers to buy home goods online is customer experience. As we’ve found with physical store environments, the better the experience, the more people are likely to make a purchase. In 2004, IKEA launched its annual catalog, which takes up 70% of its annual marketing budget. Two years later, they added comprehensive, interactive extensions to the catalog and it has since continually evolved year after year with new digital features (3D overlays, augmented reality, computer generated design, in-app purchases). By 2013, the catalog has been produced in 62 versions in 43 countries. Also, it’s one of the most downloaded products in iTunes and Google Play (208 million downloads) app stores. The success of IKEA’s digital catalog as a marketing tool lies in how Ikea leveraged users’ online behavior data and matched it those users’ active search and discovery patterns to drive in-store and online purchases.

Mobiles Apps Bridged Online and Offline Purchases

The success of the IKEA catalog demonstrates two important points. First, Ikea understood where its consumers were beginning their product search process and chose to be where its consumers were in the digital space. Second, Ikea took a risk and adapted its traditional catalogue to current consumer behavior trends. Similarly, mobile apps and the retailers and brands that have created them demonstrate an adaptability and understanding of current trends and online consumer behavior.

According to Apigee’s The Mobile Mandate For Retail, about 66% of U.S. consumers are more likely to buy from retailers that have a mobile app compared to retailers that do not have an app. The study also found that 90% of today’s smartphone owners expect mobile to change their shopping behavior by 2015. “The rise of mobile isn’t just changing e-commerce. Our research finds that customers not only want brick-and-mortar retailers to deliver key services via apps, they expect them to,” said Bryan Kirschner, Director of the Apigee Institute. Here are seven home interior apps that may be useful in the product discovery and purchase journey:

  1. Houzz: Houzz offers a collection of more than 120,000 professional interior design photos. If you see an idea you like, save it to your virtual idea book. The app is a collection of photos of nearly every type of room, location, and product. The company’s editorial team curates products and the app includes a directory of local professionals including designers, architects, and contractors. The app is available on iOS and Android.
  2. MyPantone: Browse more than 13,000 Pantone paint colors with this app. You can also be given a color combination if you’re in need of a few accent colors. The app is compatible with AirPrint so you can print out a color palette. The app is available on iOS and Android.
  3. Remodelista: The app is called the “sourcebook for the considered home“, it’s content features daily postings of news, how-to and DIY projects and design world interviews. The paid version has thousands of photos that enables users to save their inspiration sources and shop them later. It’s available on iOS.
  4. Adornably: Adornably can scale a product image to the size of your room on your iPad. From there, you can shop from a number of furniture options to virtually redesign your space. Visualize stunning 3D photorealistic furniture in the space to best decide what products work best for the room you’re designing. It’s available on iOS.
  5. HomeTalk: You can crowdsource millions user-generated questions about renovations, contractors, decorating, and DIY projects. It’s available online and on iOS.
  6. To The Trade: A B2B resource, designers can use photographers to manage design projects by vendor, color, and room. It has social sharing, group list features and DropBox cloud syncing. It’s available on iOS.
  7. House Account: House Account let’s you shop independent fashion and home boutiques in the U.S. A customer service-oriented app, it’s equipped with store assistance and virtual chat. It’s available on iOS.

From design collaboration, unique product offerings, limited edition, idea discovery, and one-of-a-kind items, these resources help consumers find the people, products, and services for their home needs – online and offline.

Let’s Continue To Move Design Forward with Technology

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Overall, interior design and home decor have come a lot farther than marketers realize when it comes to integrating technology into sustainable business models. Yet, at the same time, as we’ve seen serious change in the last few years, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in ter

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