Career Path

Flair and functionality

by Maggie Tang

Steve Cheng, interior designer, B&Q Asia Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Interior design plays an important part in people's daily lives. However, good interior design is no hit-and-miss affair. A top interior designer requires artistic talents and technical skills, preferably endowed with formal training and experience.

Steve Cheng, interior designer, B&Q Asia Limited, had a background in industrial and product design before joining the profession in 1994. "Since I was not trained to be an interior designer (ID), there were many things I had to pick up on the job," he recalls. "I was lucky to have a very resourceful mentor who was an expert in the field. Whenever I struck problems, I could consult him."

Elaborating on his job, he says, "IDs must know how to plan a space, regardless of the size, and present concepts visually so that they can be communicated to the client. As such the ability to use drawing software is basic and essential." IDs must also have sufficient knowledge of building materials, and be aware of how textures, colours, lighting and other factors combine and interact to create space. Other factors include structural requirements and even health and safety issues. Finally, since interior design is associated with aesthetic vision and functionality, they must like beautiful things and be detail-oriented."

Mr Cheng notes that IDs are a bridge between the contractor and client, therefore they must also feel comfortable communicating with different people. "We must be attentive listeners and good team players," he says.

The work of IDs does not stop with the presentation of a schematic concept. They must follow through the whole project from assessing the client's needs to completion of the project. And since they will be working on several projects at the same time they must have excellent time and project management abilities to meet deadlines. This means that customer relationship management is another key factor in their careers. "We must understand business planning and be persuasive in selling ideas to clients," he adds.

"Closely watch over every detail to avoid mistakes"

Games for a starter

Mr Cheng's day usually starts at 8am with a briefing by his company. Interestingly, games are the major subject of the briefing. He believes these games energise colleagues and provide a fresh start for the day. Work starts an hour later and involves lots of communication and follow-up work on projects in the pipeline. A typical day ends around 7pm.

"The work is creative, artistic and functional. It is very rewarding when we can solve problems for customers," Mr Cheng says.

The limited space of most Hong Kong apartments spices up the creativity of IDs. "I find working with limited space more challenging because it requires more techniques, and I feel happy helping clients maximise the use of space," he notes.

Put things together

B&Q, the UK's largest home improvement retailer, will open its first flagship store in June in Kowloon Bay, offering more than 30,000 products to home-lovers. The DIY giant distinguishes itself from counterparts by its "one-stop service" concept which is built around Mr Cheng's team of six expert IDs, who will provide one-to-one design consultancy services to customers, calling on the help of other teams such as the quality controllers from the decoration centre. Using the combined talents of all, the IDs will oversee each design project from start to finish.

"Besides interior design services, the centre will also help customers arrange utilities such as phone and electricity, loans, moving services and so on. Customers can leave all the relocation work to us," explains Mr Cheng.

He foresees increasing demand for interior design services in Hong Kong as homeowners upgrade their domestic lifestyles to create greater and more efficient functionality despite the limited space available.

To those wishing to enter the profession, he says: "Hard work is a must. We are involved in project work so we must closely watch over every detail to avoid mistakes. When making site visits you can't take short-cuts. You must constantly be on the look-out for mistakes. If you spot a mistake early, it can be rectified at limited cost. Otherwise, that small mistake will have been compounded by subsequent steps in the process, and correcting it will be costly."

Turning to qualifications, Mr Cheng believes training in graphics design and interior design, while not a must, are certainly advantageous for new entrants. But work experience is the key success factor in the field.

Taken from Career Times 18 May 2007, p. B20
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